Learning can be scary, especially if we are being pushed beyond something we have ever ventured to try before.
Remember your first bike ride? How many times did you fall off before your first successful pass on two wheels?
Although there may be scars or other traces of evidence from that learning experience, had you never tried something new, you wouldn't have had the many adventures that undoubtedly followed once proficiency came.
Think about the independence. Freedom to escape situations and explore with friends and that is just one learning experience well worth the discomfort.
Now bring those skills to the classroom replicating the necessary steps to become proficient in essential skills.
While we learn to ride our bikes, our loved ones hold the back dutifully and don't let go until they feel we're ready. In the classroom, we hold the bike and that bike is the learning.
First, we must develop a safe place for risks to happen, fostering security so the students feel confident enough to get on the metaphorical learning "bicycle". We do this by building relationships, investing in our kids and creating an enriching learning space that incorporates the familiar with elements of the unknown.
Then the serious risk-taking can happen.
Many students aren't averse to trying new things if it is offered to them in the right way. We must transparently share with students what the intended outcome is and what they will get from it before we start.
Everything must be intentional.
If we want students to successfully accomplish big feats, they must be scaffolded with lower stake trials first. For example, when trying to build up analysis skills coupled with writing skills, why not get kids on blogs writing about their independent reading? This way they can choose what they read and what they react to while developing their own voices. Then we can build up to formal writing assignments reminding them of the earlier work, helping them make the connections.
Their minds already remember the skills, like muscle memory and they are able to apply what they already know to a new learning experience that is more advanced and sophisticated. This application is where mastery starts to be demonstrated.
As teachers, we must provide a multitude of opportunities for students to take these risks, with each one that level of confidence-building until they are able to successfully teach these skills to their peers.
Whether differentiating specific tasks or performing mastery level functions, every child needs his/her opportunity to take that initial ride.
What are you doing to facilitate that learning? Please share
This piece originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in January of 2015.