I used to try to alleviate my students’ stress level by telling them that what they were about to learn would be easy. I had good intentions . . . I just wanted them to relax a little and trust me. It was a bad idea.
This played out for real in my most recent unit on radicals. My Algebra II kids always struggle with this. Square roots aren’t so bad, but when you throw in cubed roots and beyond plus rationalizing the denominator and solving radical equations . . . well, they struggle. So, this time around I told them how hard it was going to be. Brace yourselves, I told them. You are going to have to work harder than you have ever worked to figure this stuff out.
They killed it. Highest scores EVER.
So then I realized that telling them it is easy sets up a lose/lose situation for students. One of two things is going to happen:
1. They’re successful, but it is no big deal. Who is proud of being successful with something that is supposed to be easy?
2. They’re not successful, and it is depressing. Not only were you unsuccessful, you were unsuccessful with something that your teacher says should have been a piece of cake.
Telling them it is hard sets up more of a win/break even situation:
1. They’re successful, and they can be proud of it. They just accomplished the impossible!
2. They’re not successful. But after all, it was hard.
I am going to try to stop saying anything is easy.