Learning is hard. Teach your students how to LOVE the hard stuff!
Let’s face it, none of us like to feel like we are NOT good at something. We will even go to great lengths to hide it. Our students are no different. I believe in differentiation. I believe in self-assessment. I believe in peer assessment. In order for any of these things to work in the classroom, I must first make my students feel comfortable (and dare I say…celebrate!) the fact that learning can be HARD!
From the first day that students walk into my class, I teach them “Mistakes are part of learning and learning is part of mistakes.” The first part of that quote I got from a former colleague. She was (and still is) an amazing teacher. At any point you could walk by her kindergarten class and hear the kids chanting, “Mistakes are part of learning!” It felt empowering even to the oldest of learners (me). The second part came from one of my first graders. One day we were discussing how mistakes are part of learning and she chimed in with, “And learning is part of mistakes.” The rest of the class nodded eagerly in agreement and cheered because our class motto had just been extended. I don’t think I cheered right away. It took me a moment to pick my jaw up off the floor and maybe dry a couple of tears. They got it! They had internalized one of the most important lessons that I could ever teach them. How had we gotten there?
Day 1 of School… teach them how to walk.
The build up to this lesson is fantastic. It is one of those lessons that makes me giddy inside because, aside from a child puking on my shoes (or some other major first grade catastrophe), nothing can go wrong. I start by telling my students that I am pretty excited and that I have been working all summer on becoming a better teacher. I tell them that I have an amazing lesson and they are going to LOVE it! Then I ask them to all stand up. They all stand up and you can see the excitement on their faces. They are ready. They are big ol’ first graders and they are ready for their first lesson. Next, I tell them that I am going to teach them how to…WALK! It is very important that I do not pause at this point because I can feel the deflated egos of these first grade newbies. They were ready for amazing and their new teacher has already failed. I quickly rush into the lesson. I take them step by step through the motions of walking. Then comes judgment day. I ask them to try. They try it. They are AMAZING (even though they are looking at me like I am an idiot)! I jump for joy and tell them that I must have done a great job of teaching them because they are experts! I hear 25 first graders yell in unison, “But we already knew how to walk!”
Then comes the real lesson…
First and foremost, I want my students to realize that I would be a very bad teacher if I only taught them things they already know. However, that is the stuff that can feel easy. Learning new things can feel hard and scary. However, new things are also fun and exciting. The HARD STUFF is fun and exciting! I am also honest. I tell them that sometimes this will feel hard. It might feel scary. They might want to give up. However, mistakes are part of learning and learning is part of mistakes!
Practice the hard stuff…
The final part of this lesson is to teach my students the cup song. This literally gives a hands on approach to understanding that mistakes happen. I start off by showing them this YouTube video (they take it way past meeting the standard!). This video builds excitement. All the kids want to learn this song.
Then we practice together. I go really slow and one step at a time, but we do not practice much (I don’t want them successful). Next, I show them a video that starts off slow and picks up to a very fast pace. All the kids start successful while following the video and quickly begin to make mistake after mistake.
On day one this will show me a lot about my new students. There will be some who rejoice in the fact that they are making mistakes and learning something new. There will be some who push the cups out of the way (once it gets tough) and mumble, “I already know how to do this anyway. This is stupid.” There will be some who are more concerned about the mistakes others are making, and we all know there may be some in tears. I celebrate each reaction and use it as a teaching moment. I will go more in depth with how I do this in Part 2. I have yet to name blog #2 but I am considering: Learning to Ski, Getting Vulnerable with Six Year Olds, or A Class of Yetis. Stay tuned.