Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Teaching Them to Persevere

My name is Amy, and I have been an overly helpful teacher. I will admit that the first-year version of myself took a lot of satisfaction in being able to explain something so well that no one had any questions.

Even now, I still have to fight the urge to rush in and save the day whenever my students are showing signs of distress. And it works both ways. My students expect me to rescue them. When I throw something overly challenging at them, they freak out. Panic. Even shut down.

I just want them to try something. Anything. Just play with it. Think about it. Make an effort.

In order for a culture shift to happen in my classroom, we have to take baby steps.

Here is what I've been trying lately, and students have been responding really well:

First of all, I've been trying to present the most challenging of problems in class rather than sending them for homework. For now, students need to know they have a safety net.

I begin by saying something like, "Guys, I could stand up here and do this for you, but you already know how to copy stuff. You're going to learn a lot more if you struggle with it yourself first."

I set a time limit, so they know I will not leave them flailing indefinitely.

I expect them to try something, anything.

I walk around the room to monitor progress. I try not to say too much. I must resist my natural urge to throw out life preservers.

Once most everyone has something on paper, I go ahead and silently write something on the board. A hint. A first step. Something. Most of the students will already be there, a few will go "oh, yeah", and erase/adjust what they have on their paper.

I give more time, then another step or hint. Repeat as needed.

By the time we are done, I am amazed by how many students have been able to stay a few steps ahead of me. Of those that got stuck along the way, many just had minor errors that they were able to fix by looking at my hints and then continue on their own.

The more I do this, the more students are seeing the value in diving in without me. There was actually a moment when I started to work out a challenging problem in front of the class and someone says, "Hey, can we try this one ourselves first"?  Of course you can. What was I thinking? (Inside, I'm doing a victory dance!)

Maybe I am training myself as much as the students.

Baby steps.


  1. Great post, Amy

    I agree, and I sympathise. I also have a bit of a "saviour complex" when it comes to teaching problem solving. I just love to help people understand - isn't that true of all teachers?

    I also appreciate your policy of keeping the most challenging problems for classwork, sending easier ones home for practice. That will work so much better for families and students, who can achieve success more often.

  2. I love your blog, Amy! Even this English teacher picked up some ideas!

  3. ClassProf -- Thanks for the comment. I think that saving challenging problems for in-class is one of my best ideas lately. Why save them for the end of class and send them home for students to complete without support?

    Thanks Mrs. E! :)

  4. I am cutting, printing, and pasting this into my reflection journal! I struggle with this also and I appreciate your insight on this.