I find the first few weeks of school the toughest. Generally my students are wary of me and so they are reticent to offer ideas in class discussions and afraid to take risks (even on tiny assignments that aren’t being marked) because they’re so deathly afraid of making mistakes. I get that. They’ve spent years learning that mistakes are the worst things they can make in school. It takes time to get them to trust me. But it’s still frustrating.
The one thing that’s frustrating me the most right now is that I teach an enriched grade 11 English class, filled to the brim with very bright, high achievers (and a few very bright underachievers). My take on an enriched class is that my students complete the same summative assessments as the other grade 11 classes, but they get to design their own formative projects. I give them lots of guidance on this. We’re very clear about their learning goals and success criteria. I give them exemplars. But so many of them would rather just do worksheets because they would rather be bored and guaranteed a good mark, than engaged and risk a not quite so good mark. EVEN THOUGH this is formative, and the major marks come from the summative assessment. Insert coaching analogy:
It’s like I’m coaching a cross country team (because that’s actually the only coaching I’ve done), and I give the athletes the choice between running laps on a track or playing a new game, and they all choose the laps because they’ve done it before.
Problem #2 and this one really bugs me. The students have chosen to take enriched grade 11 English (Or their parents chose for them which is another problem altogether), and yet when asked to choose a novel for their independent studies, many of them only want to read YA fiction or airport bookstore murder mysteries. You know, books with simple plots, simple characters, and unimaginative writing styles. Now before I get gasps of horror from YA fiction apologists, I like YA fiction. I love the Divergent, and Hunger Games series. But these books do not challenge my students. And that’s the problem.
Many of them don’t want a challenge. Many of them have expressly said “I want an easy read.” They don’t understand the pleasure of the challenge.
Many of my students have been told they are bright, and talented, and gifted since they were in grade 1. I feel that, as a result, many of them also believe that learning should be easy. They should never experience frustration of any kind when learning. I want to tell them that frustration is a part of learning–that, if you are not persisting in the face of a challenge, you’re not really learning anything.
I think many of my students aren’t interested in learning. They’re interested in grades.
And so I’m frustrated, which I suppose means I’m also engaged in a challenging learning process.