Wednesday, October 9, 2013

risky business

One of the things I try to foster in all my classes is a willingness to take risks.  We learn most when we fail and then correct our mistakes, and every day I try to allow students to share their work in the hopes that if they make mistakes, we can collaboratively correct them.  There's no penalty for getting a problem wrong during class.  Students only lose if they make mistakes on assessments. If I can fix their mistakes in class, they are far less likely to mess up on a test or a quiz.  And a lot of times they do things well, and I can give a lot of positive, public feedback for that.
Some students buy into this right away.  They put their work up on the board, and we immediately can see how far along in a problem they got or where they made the fatal mistake.  The ability to proofread each other's work is no less vital in math than it is in any writing course.  I am confident that seeing another person's work is integral to learning.  Students come to understand that others think as they do and that there is more than one road to a solution.  But still they are hesitant.

They tell me they are embarrassed when they make mistakes.  They freeze and mumble and cannot explain their work or their problems. 

"I don't get it," is the phrase of the day. 

Teenagers are the consumate risk-takers in so many ways.  They take physical risks in playing sports, riding skateboards, and surfing.  They take social risks by dressing in unique ways, playing music in public, drinking, and taking drugs.  They take emotional risks when they ask a date to the prom or have sex.  These are pretty big risks with significant potential consequences. 

But asking them to take intellectual risks is completely different.  Apparently forcing them to make a mistake in public is a much bigger deal than I imagine.  And it's the thing they really need to be doing.

I don't get it. 

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