Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Keep Calm and Struggle On

So, my four year old got a bike LAST Christmas but she was a little chicken about riding it for awhile. It does have training wheels, but it was still a big step up from a tricycle. Over the summer, she got brave and gave it a few tries.

We talked about riding a bike. She watched mom (and a neighbor kid) ride a bike. We practiced in the driveway while I held onto the bike. You know, gradual release.

She wanted me to hold the bike while she rode the whole time, but you can only take that so far. At some point you have to let go.

So I did let go. And my kid crashed.

She skinned her knee, cried, and everything.

And then, after a pep-talk and a band-aid, she got back on her bike. I had to hold on for a bit again. She was timid about it but she gradually gained a little confident.

This time, she rode it a little further before she crashed. And this crash wasn’t as bad. No blood, no bandaid. Just a little scratch. And a few encouraging words.

And she was a little braver about getting back on.

The third time she rode by herself, she rode quite a distance. She didn’t crash until we were trying to maneuver an odd sidewalk curve.

And when she fell, she caught herself and caught her bike. She landed on her feet. No injury.

Now, she’s a kid who can ride a bike. She’s not “learning to ride a bike” -- she’s a bike rider. She has the skill. She has muscle memory and the confidence and the knowledge.  

I tell this as a metaphor for teaching social studies.

First of all, I did explain how to ride a bike. But I didn’t just tell her and then get mad when she fell off. I had a few steps in between. I used gradual release. I told her how to ride a bike. Then I helped her ride a bike. Then, she rode it by herself. That’s gradual release - “I do”, “We do”, “you do”.

Kids have to struggle through learning new concepts, new skills, new content. Gradual release will help.

You can’t just explain something and expect a kid to do it right the first time. That didn’t work when I learned to hit a baseball, when I learned to drive, and when I learned to balance a checkbook. So often, we try something with our kids and when it doesn’t go well, we give up.

We utter the Teacher’s Words of Doom -- “My Kids Can’t Do That”.

So what if your kids or your lesson crash? That’s how we learn to fix what we did wrong and do it better next time!

When you say “my kids can’t do that”, you’re really saying “I don’t know how to teach them how to do that”.

One of my favorite quotes that I keep by my desk is from Teddy Roosevelt. He said,Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it.”
If you don’t know how to teach your kids how to write a decent DBQ essay, go to DBQ training on Oct 20. Or ask for help from me. Or your DBQ Guru at your school. Or ask your English/Language Arts colleague how he or she teach essay writing. Gradually Release that skill.
Don’t just decide that they can’t do it.

If you don’t know how to teach your kids the complicated concept of the Electoral College, ask me. Or ask your Civics/Government colleagues. Or email the folks at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. Then, gradually release it.
Don’t just decide that it’s too hard for your kids.

If you don’t know how to teach your kids to work in collaborative structures, ask your reading, science, or math coach. Or me. Or your administrator. Or your AVID colleagues. Then, gradually release the collaboration skills.

Don’t just decide they can’t handle it.

Let your kids struggle. Don’t be so nice that you give them all the answers and never let them work to figure it out on their own. We have to let them fall down and scrape their knees, figuratively. We, as teachers, can’t do all the thinking for the kids. We can’t tell them all the answers. Let them struggle.

We have to let go of the bike.
Gradually released, struggles and all.

How do you approach new things with your kids? Do you gradually release them? Can you stand it when they struggle? How do you figure that out? As always, I love to hear from you!


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