Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Why students need frustration

Frustration leads to learning, so why aren't why isn't there more of it in education?

My students are currently working on what I have named the American Teen Project.  I got the idea after watching a piece on The Veteran Photo Project, and a book I have called It's Complicated: The American Teenager.  I come up with a lot of great ideas while watching or listening to the news.  You can check out the instructions here http://bit.ly/1ABXmyW, and use them if you like.  We will be sharing our final product on Twitter.

We are on day three of the project.  The first day (a Friday) I spent time in class going over the concept, introducing the required pieces and discussing expectations.  They were then given the weekend to take the required two photographs.  They returned on Monday, and we reviewed what a manifesto is and they were given time to draft.
As we all know, a manifesto is short and sweet.  However, it is a meaningful piece of writing and usually is in a very different format than the students are used to writing in.

Yesterday was such a great day.  It was a great day for me, and a FRUSTRATING day for the students.  This feeling is what drives me to blog today.  I often hear teachers and administrators discussing the concept of student frustration, and they often feel that there is no place for it in the classroom.
Isn't frustration a natural part of life? Isn't it our job to help students learn to not only succeed when feeling frustrated, but to flourish?  Think about it..... What would have happened if Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King or Marie Curie had just decided to avoid frustration?  What a sad world we would live in, and what a sad bunch of individuals they would have been.
Frustration is a natural part of the learning process, and a sign that learning is occurring.
I believe we need to frustrate our students more.
Because of this belief I viewed yesterday as a success.  Students were frustrated and made comments like "this is hard."  When I asked them what made it hard they responded, "Because you are making us think."
Now, I believe they have to think in their other classes too.  I know I have made them think before.  But the thinking was very controlled and confined.  I believe we often give them too much and ask them to do too little.  We scaffold, explain and put everything in a box.   I find this to be a huge issue in ELA because of testing.  Students are often taught only one way to write, and therefore only one way to generate/display ideas. This works and is necessary for some lessons.   But, we must also give them room to struggle and allow them a space to problem solve.  We must let them find their own answers, their own instructions and models.  We must ask them to THINK, to seek out information, and to ask probing questions related to what they are learning. Writing and thinking are by nature messy.  Neither is clean or linear until a final draft is complete.  Such is thinking.  But if we never give students the opportunity to refine this thinking through independent inquiry, then how will they ever be able to do it? And this is the root of the frustration. I ask them to do something they have not done a lot of, and naturally there is pushback.  "Think and figure it out on your own," I tell them.

This is what we do as adults isn't it,  and  this is what the 21st century job market demands.  So why aren't we creating more of these moments in our classes??  What exactly are we afraid of?

So far the students are feeling more confident today.  They worked on revising and editing their manifestos.  Some of them finally had their aha moment and began an actual draft.  They looked to each other and Google for answers.  They looked to me for guidance.  The frustration level was limited, and the learning enhanced.

A wonderful day indeed.