Monday, April 16, 2012

We Do Hard Things

A while ago I read a post on a family blog I adore that a saying in their family is “we do hard things.” Meaning we don’t shrink from a challenge. I loved that because I think often kids today (Lord, that makes me sound 80) don’t want to challenge themselves. So I immediately began using that phrase with Luke and Liam – in our family we do hard things. 

What does this mean? That Chris and I don’t swoop in to help them. For example, Luke had a biography report a few weeks ago. He had to read a biography book (on Brett Farve), create a poster about Farve, and present to his class. Luke did 100% of his project. He read his book, he created his poster, he prepared for his presentation. Would it have been more beautiful if I had worked on his poster with him? Would his presentation have been more polished if I created his note cards? Probably. But he worked hard. He was proud of himself. Did he complain? Only a little. He came home with the assignment, asked if I would help, I said I’d proofread the poster once he was done. He looked at me, I said our phrase, and he said ok.

We’ve done this with Liam too on his 100-day project. I remember seeing these amazing projects when I was in the lower elementary building and thinking, “There is no way six year olds created these.” I promised myself then that I would let my kids struggle – not to the point that they give up but so that they do their own work. His 100-day project was creating a giant (two poster boards wide) drawing of Angry Birds. My contribution, cutting out some of the 100 Angry Bird he printed. He created his world, he copied and pasted the birds, printed off 100 of them, and glued them on.

I’ve been trying to remember this lesson in the classroom as well. Several of my students, especially some of my lower students, seem to be ok with sitting back and waiting for someone to swoop in and help them. They don’t want to work, to struggle through to find an answer. I don’t teach math but I see this when kids are working on math and hit a “guess and check” problem. Holy moly, you would think the world was over. They have to try and try again? Crazy talk!

Or when I talked to my reading classes about improving our reading. I talked about achievement gap. I talked about my son, Liam. He was below level in reading this year at the start of the year. I knew that to improve he would need to read more. To close a gap we have to do more than what everyone else is doing. If we all read the same amount, we’re treading water. Liam (in first grade) read about an hour and ½ a night for the first half of the year. It wasn’t torture. We’d read what his teachers would send home and our own books. He and I would read Elephant and Piggie and use different voices. We’d predict what would happen at the end of the story. You know what? At Christmas time Liam was caught up to grade level. But too often that isn’t happening. We, and I mean my students here, don’t want to work harder. Quite frankly, I often find that my lowest readers are the ones reading the least at home. See a correlation here?

So I keep talking. I keep telling them that in this classroom we do hard things. I don’t think people have found cures to polio, created the iPad, or created the Theory of Relativity by giving up when things got tough. I talk to them about stepping outside of their comfort zone. Trying new things. Being creative. Being adventurous. Think of something in a new way. Going the extra mile. In that vein I think I will post our motto above our classroom door next year: In this classroom we do hard things. Might as well be upfront about it. J And I will also show them this video. Because this is the type of spirit I want to instill in my students. Go. Try. Be. You’ve got one shot at this glorious and beautiful life. Make it count.