I came across the video below while perusing my TweetDeck stream yesterday. Often, I believe, teachers are too quick to alleviate students’ frustrations with a problem or task. We see certain students struggle with something for five-to-ten minute and we step in to help guide them to a resolution. While this might help the student reach a desired conclusion, albeit short term, what is the lasting impact of such an interaction between teacher and learner. Often in education you hear about the idea of learned helplessness. I know I have spent countless team meetings complaining, questioning and rationalizing why students refuse to attempt problems, but would rather be given the answer. I used to think that learned helplessness was a result of educations endless drive to cover curriculum. Students learn that if a problem takes to long the teacher will solve it so they can move on. This is in part an issue of differentiation. Teachers do not have the understanding, time or often resources to actual differentiate their classrooms. That’s right, I believe the canned differentiation techniques are a facade. Teachers do not truly differentiate. We may slow down teaching, or give pre-tests, or test corrections, or eliminate answer choices, but are we truly giving each child a chance to get the most out of their education. I really don’t think the problem lies in the strategies we employ; the strategies match the desired outcomes: test scores, grades, movement to the next grade level, etc.
But let us consider a more important outcome of schooling: to create creative, independent, decision makers with the capability of being empathetic people with the goal of bettering their lives and the lives of those around them. While this seems a bit idealistic/liberal/utopian, it is reachable. Think about it...if this is our goal, won’t the other goals (listed above) naturally occur? This isn’t rhetorical; I’m actually interested in your thoughts.
Sidebar done, back to my original thought. In general, I believe that learned helplessness occurs because teachers are not given enough time to truly allow students to work through a problem. The way people in the “real-world” work through problems. Frustration is an integral part of creative thinking and problem solving. As the film discusses, the “Eureka Phenomenon” seems to happen after we walk away from a problem because of our frustration. When I’m frustrated I jump on my motorcycle and ride. I think about the air, the scenario, poetry, anything but the thing that is frustrating me. I let myself get lost. When my mind decides to wander back to reality an answer usually emerges followed quickly with the “why didn’t I think of that?” moment. My point is simple: The structure of education isn’t just effecting our ability to help students become creative, independent thinkers. It is taking away essential emotional growth that is part of how our brains function. It is taking away our ability to feel frustrated, defeated and beaten. Look at sports for a moment. The idea of competition in education is not what I mean; standardized testing already creates a cycle of competition between teachers, schools and states (and it isn’t helping). The example I believe we should take from sports is the idea of what happens after someone looses a game. You go home and forget about it for a bit. Then you watch film, talk to coaches and other players, and use logic to come to a a creative solution to do better next time. That’s what education needs. Teachers need to frustrate their students. They need to allow students to feel failure (not everyone gets a certificate people!!). Confucius (I think) once said, “People only learn from that which they do wrong”. This makes a lot of sense to me, and it is why I am so smart (I have done a lot of wrong in my life!). When we do something right we often simply move on. Even Garth and I spend less time reflecting on things that go well compared to things that don’t go so well. When we make mistakes something inside inspires the majority of us to reflect, analyze and fix those things so that we do better next time.
I ask everyone reading this post to take some time and truly think about the emotional roller coaster the next big problem in your life brings. Think about the frustration, anger, depression, and feelings of inadequacy that are associated with that problem. Then think about the jubilation, happiness, pride that you feel when you do finally solve that problem. As you reflect, think about if those feelings of awesome would have been possible without the feelings of sorrow and frustration. I like films and books, directors and authors that understand human emotion. I have talked about Jack Kerouac before, but this time I want to discuss William Goldman and Rob Reiner. My favorite all time movie, well tied to first at least, is The Princess Bride. Towards the end of the book the hero finds himself frustrated and defeated. Goldman and Reiner illustrate these emotions by having the hero trapped in a torture chamber aptly named “The Pit of Despair”. It is only after dealing with his own feelings of failure and inadequacy that the hero is able to successfully rescue the girl and live happily ever-after. Another great Reiner film, When Harry Met Sally used the same type of situation. The characters have to lament their frustrations and failures before realizes that they could find a solution (happiness) with each other. If our students are never given the opportunity to feel such things then think about how boring the movies they create will be! The ironic part is that I have been concerned about how to stop learned-helplessness for years and it wasn’t until I stopped thinking about it that I found the film below. Now I think I have a solution to the problem and I definitely think that all of my frustration is worth my Eureka moment.
..Look logic backs me up too (err I think)
(A) If schools are based on standardized testing, grading periods, and grade levels created based on age then those factors
create learned helpless
(B) Schools are based on standardized testing, grading periods, and grade levels created based on age
(C) Therefore learned helpless is created by schools.
...I’m hoping someone can show me examples of schools that do not group students by age, standardized test scores and grading periods and hopefully demonstrate that learned-helpless is not such a problem; ergo proving my hypothesis.
Mike and I have always followed a constructivist approach to learning. We believe kids learn best when they construct their own knowledge. That does not mean we just hang out during class, but our job changes from standing in front of the room and "force-feeding" them information to being more of a coach; we have the ability to work 1-1 with students whom are struggling with specific information. Our Middle Age webquest is a real constructivist lesson that incorporates flipped teaching, mastery learning, collaborative Googledocs, blogging (cross district blog grading) and role-playing. Check it out
. However, it lead many students to take it upon themselves to go deeper--the key in constructivist learning. The following is an email I recieved (posting with permission) from a parent. I think he [the parent] sees the power of constructivist in education. Also, watch the kids trailer for
their out of school, no grade, no credit collaborative, skype based learning. Dear Mr. Holman,
I thought that you'd like to know that your Middle Ages teaching is being absorbed and reflected back very well by our kids. I am coaching a DI team and recently I had seven 7-graders at our house for lunch.
As they sat down around the table, they discussed who would be allowed to be present and how they would interact with the proper roles. As you probably know, Mindcraft is taking up a lot of time for BOB (name has been changed) and his friends, but they seem to learn the content in a different way and context as part of their digital environment. In general, it's amazing to watch how this generation creates study groups via SKYPE, discuss notes and compare their blogs. BOB submitted a blog entry and received feedback from a Chardon student within a few minutes about his weak ending of the story, while he was still working on the story. That's pretty instant feedback.
BOB enjoys your class very much and I appreciate your ability to integrate technology into your teaching and curriculum. I observe your process with great interest as we use gaming and other digital interactive tools for our services for universities.
Thank you for your great contribution to BOB's and all our kids' education.
Mike and I will be doing several posts on the constructivist approach in the classroom over the next few weeks.
Love to hear your comments!
Final 18 minute tour of the entire middle ages village on green screen
Welcome GCEDC members to the March13th seminar concerning Cloud Computing. Cloud computing can save districts money, time and effort. Mike and I will present this from a teachers point of view and explain why Cloud Computing is a great thing for teachers.
Always have your stuff when you need it with @Dropbox. 2GB account is free! http://db.tt/YtsngyxNovember 13, 2012 GCEDC Presentation
The State of Tech Podcast
is a bi-weekly educational technology podcast done by Eric Curtis (North Canton Schools), Eric Griffith (Mechanicsburg Schools), and Sean Beavers (Consultant for SOITA) . In the first few shows, they covered Google Apps, Tablets, Tech Support, Tech in Math, Interactive Whiteboards, BYOT, Etech Ohio (a live show, short clip below) and Digital Textbooks
--Mike and I were guests on this show talking about our student created textbook. The show runs this way: News for five or ten minutes, three awesome tech things, and then a lively discussion. The podcast usually run around one hour and fifteen minutes. The five minute clip below gives an example of the podcast as they reflect on the Ohio Etech Conference. In this clip, they discuss the students created textbook.
Contact The State of Tech: Thestateoftech@gmail.com
or on the google plus: http://bit.ly/ydKAmi
Sean Beavers: @remedy1978
Eric Curtis: @ericcurts
Eric Griffith: email@example.com
What are you leaving behind?
Mike and I often talk with our students about leaving positive digital footprints for others to follow. These positive digital footprints could be called digital citizenship, but footprints sounds better and sends a deeper meaning to kids.
To help kids understand this, we teach them about how the web really works. We show them the Way Back Machine
, read the Facebook
user agreement, and explain how google works. Students facial expressions show their reactions to what they are learning. They really do understand what you do on the web, is forever.
We even show the youtube
"Digital Footprints--Your First New Impressions" about the impact your digital footprints will have as life moves on. They are truly impacted.
However, as teachers, we have to "assess" their learning. That can be a difficult task. How do you evaluate what they do on their home computer at 12:30 am on a Saturday night? How do "grade" their personal digital footprint? How do you make sure they are leaving a "positive digital footprint" for others to follow? I guess the answer is we don't. But teaching them how to make positive footprints on the web is a life long skill. Yes, one that will never be graded for "value added" or "merit pay", but one that I would argue is as important as the effects of the Crusades. In fact, I would say much more important in the world of the 21st Century.
While Mike and I were skyping a few nights ago, making changes to the middle ages webquest, I tweeted out a blog link on some new big thing--don't remember. I use two accounts on Twitter (@HistoryHolman,
for my students to follow, and @garthholman
for my professional tweets). I sent it out to my students and in a second it was re-tweeted. I comment to Mike I did not recognize who tweeted it. I clicked on the name and to my surprise below is what I found:
I love the bio this student wrote. In case its to small I will retype: Hello Internet and all who inhabit it! Hmmm...How Shall I leave a positive digital footprint.
I guess we have to believe what we do makes a real difference in student's lives and just because it will never appear on a test does not mean it does not add value to our students. Keep teaching and keep building a digital footprint for others to follow.