But I don’t know how to do that!

One of the things that I have noticed changing in class recently is the student response to a new project. In the past I would hear a lot of “but I don’t know how to do that” as an excuse for why a student was participating. There were a lot of versions of the same thing; “I am not good a computers,” “I am not creative,” “why can’t you just give us a work sheet?”  But that has changed this year, for the better.  Now, when a new assignment is given, more often than not I get a “Hmmm.” And a long pause. And then, eventually, “I know what I am going to try…”

Part of the change is because I stopped giving grades for assignments. I still have to put a grade on a report card, but instead of a grade on an assignment I put comments and I ask questions. I encourage them to try again. And again. And I spend a lot of time talking with kids about their work. In fact, I spend almost all of my class time now talking with individual kids about their work. Those individual conversations have changed everything. Now I think the students feel safe to try something they don’t know how to do.  It is OK to try over and over until they understand the concept, and they aren’t going to fail the class because of it.

I always thought the “I don’t know how to do that” comments were odd. Of course they don’t know how. Why would I ask my students to do something they already know how to do? This is school! We are here to learn new stuff, and how to do new stuff!  I think we have trained kids to “do school” instead of learn at school. I think it is the result of ten years or pacing guides and workbooks. Find the answers. Fill in the blanks. Copy and paste. Copy the notes from the PowerPoint.  We lost the learn. We stopped creating. We kicked “I wonder” out of class. Lets bring those things back.