Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Challenging Students Mentally

As a sub in different classrooms, I get the impression many students aren’t challenged hard enough or often enough.  The only reason I get that impression is because students are often so lazy!  And they have such an aversion to doing work or thinking, for goodness’ sake!  It seems like a foreign concept to some.

Of course, some kids are going to be lax about their learning no matter what, but I think a lot of cases are just that they are not in the habit of pushing themselves mentally.  They’re allowed to coast on minimal effort.  They could rise to the occasion if it were expected of them but often, unfortunately, it’s not.

It brings me to a larger point that reminds me of the Cold Call video.  I read around the net for opinions on the Cold Call, and a lot of people critique it because… well, it seems harsh to ask students to think on their feet.  Yet that’s the very reason I like it.

Typically, it’s the gifted classes I visit that seem to emphasize critical thinking and actually putting effort into schoolwork.  Challenging work and “higher-level thinking” are embraced there, and I think it’s simply because teachers in gifted classrooms explicitly make learning challenging on a regular basis, and they assure students that they’re smart enough to meet those challenges.  It’s how GT teachers are expected to teach their students.

So, what’s different about those gifted kids and non-GT kids?  A lot, probably… but not as much as some might think.  The capability might be higher for certain kids, but just the practice of pushing students mentally is something that should be in ALL classrooms.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence GT kids think they’re smart (almost to a fault, at times… on more than one occasion, I’ve subbed for GT classes and had a student absently ask a question aloud and was actually surprised I could answer it or offer help for their work... I assume they’re dubious about the intellectual capacity of people outside their classrooms), or ready to embrace vigorous work.  I think it’s a habit they’ve formed after being told they’re smart everyday by parents and teachers, and by being encouraged to do that kind of work because it’s expected of “smart” kids.  Over the years, it becomes second nature.

I pay attention in conversations with teachers, and I’ve heard so many GT teachers speak with elation over their students’ abilities.  It just seems to me that it has an affect on how they teach, and how their students work.

It’s definitely something I’d like to keep in mind when it comes to my own classroom, regardless of whether it’s GT or not.  I’m always looking for ways to encourage critical thinking.

I’ve been a personal witness to students’ grumbling when their asked to do something that requires a bit of thought, then struggling with their understanding, and then finally GETTING IT!  Honestly, it’s a thrill for me to get them to that point.  They began by doubting themselves but, with a little push, they were able to show they COULD do it and CAN use their brains.  I’m often surprised by the level of talent, creativity and downright intellect a kid can show, even if they’re not labeled “gifted.” Far be it from me to ever hold those minds back because I have low expectations.


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