Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Just because it's hard doesn't mean you can quit.

Over the past few weeks I have noticed this phenomenon with my students.

This is hard. = I quit.

My brain doesn't work this way. If something is hard or I can't solve a problem, it motivates me. My kids not so much. So, this brings the question:

How can I help my students see that 'hard' is is the beginning, not the end?

When trying to encourage student voice, I often have students walk up to me and say I can't do this. My response is first (always made in jest), " Well, you are the one that designed this project." And then more seriously, "It's not that you can't do it. It's just that you have not yet done it."

The next step, ask " What resources have you used?" What resources do we have in our room that can help you with your problem?" I am finding that students don't automatically know what resources are available in the classroom. It may be that they don't see a resource as a resource. Here's what I have in my room:

  • The student's brain - When things get hard it may take more effort to overcome the difficulty. The first resource resides between the ears of the student. I remember when I first jumped into Doctopus (if you don't know what Doctopus is, it's a script that helps sharing and organizing of documents in Google Drive with your students.). I was sure there was no way I could teach myself how to use this script. I just didn't get it. But I hunkered down and tried (with the help of a few other brains and a brilliant tutorial) and succeeded. Same with the kids.... let's go!
  • Other student's brains - You students know who's the "resident expert" in your classroom. They know if there is a certain subject or learning target they don't get, who probably gets it. What if we built a climate where a student was comfortable thinking, "I don't get this, but Jenny knows this kinda stuff really well. I'll go ask here" and then went to see Jenny AND Jenny actually helped her through the material?
  • "Google" - Well not just Google, but their iPad. We are a 1:1 school and our students are not yet used to finding answers for themselves. I get this a lot. "Mr. Barner, what is _______?" To which I politely reply, "Gosh, I wish there was a device that had all of the answers to that kind of question and that it was sitting in your lap." Teaching quality searching skills is very important. I want my students to use their resources, analog or digital.
  • And finally, me - When I started the first unit this past trimester, I said to my kids, "While you are working I may go and do some work or practice or something. If you need me, please interrupt me. Whatever I am do is not as important as anything you need." To which one student responded, "Wow, I've never heard a teacher say that." I wanted to create a culture in my classroom that said, I (the teacher) may be working on something while you are researching or collecting information or collaborating with your team, but anytime you need me you are my priority. As I was typing this I had a student walk up and have no problem interrupting my typing to ask a question. That's how I want my classroom to run.
This is always a work in progress, but when student understand the resource they have in the room they become more self-sufficient learners. 

What are you doing in your room to help your students get past the "hard?" Share your ideas. I would love to hear them.

Your comments are encouraged and valued,

Dane Barner


  1. I recently finished reading a book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. It essentially reports the findings of a lengthy study of some of the most talented individuals in the world, whether it be in music, sport, education, etc. One common denominator in the path to success of all the groups studied was their willingness to take on a hard task, struggle, and then learn how to overcome the struggle. I read excerpts from the book that explained how it is the struggle that makes us smarter. They seemed to buy in to the concept, and no one has complained or given up on trying to understand while reading Shakespeare.

    - Ryan Berg

  2. Excellent comment. My next question is how do we get students to commit to overcoming hardship. Is learning enough of a reward?