Why don’t we all just work hard and be successful?

I was struck by the topic for today’s post following a lesson on descriptive writing and, in particular, creating imagery. And, even further in particular, similes and metaphors. I became frustrated because, at the point of learning (ie, when the students had to think and apply the learning of the first part of the lesson), several of the class drifted off-task -(albeit quietly). This irked me because I have spent considerable time explaining the need for a growth mindset, and trying to establish the behaviour of ‘ask for help or struggle through’ if the work becomes difficult, and not ‘have a chat’.

We’ve all taught and maybe have classes that scoot a crafty eye out of the window, or – bizarrely – putting heads on desks to escape or, in more extreme cases, run away from the class when things become all too difficult.

So, if we all know the secret is to work hard, struggle through with deliberate practice and learn from our mistakes – why don’t we always make students do it? Well, for a start, it’s exhausting to drag students from a low starting point to a place of progress, and that’s just the willing ones.Who hasn’t felt the need for a DVD or poster or craft lesson with ‘those’ classes?

What’s the solution, then? Struggle and failure often leads to disruptive behaviour – in polite schools like mine, it’s low-level disruption, in other places it’s definitely higher-level and much more confrontational with colleagues.

Worse still, though, I believe, than the odd ‘relaxed’ lesson is the continual drift of the sequence of lessons where there is no struggle – the ‘spoon-feed’ lesson, where students go through the motions but the work is so heavily scaffolded that there is no need to think. And then, when we try to wean students away from the spoon, there are no strategies in place for them – they’ve never had to really think and really struggle, so they are on a hamster-wheel of failure and vulnerability.

I have no answers to the question posed at the beginning – just a view that, if we plan our lessons so that students don’t even have the opportunity to work hard by, you know, thinking for themselves and trying and failing, then it is only we who are to blame when they are, ultimately, not successful.



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