I Would If I Could, But I Can’t So I Shan’t: Fostering Risk-taking in Learning

As a former teacher, one of the hardest things to foster in students was perseverance in problem solving.  Whether it was a math story, logic puzzle, or science experiment, I saw the same thing over and over.  Students want immediate solutions.  Often if they can’t figure out the “right” answer immediately, they give up.

This was even true for my advanced readers and mathematicians.  Interestingly, these students would not only give up, but also be critical of themselves or the activity itself.  I’m not completely unfamiliar with this reaction.  I remember being the same way as a child.  It seems possible to me that those deemed “smart” by others are used to figuring things out quickly.  To be unable to do so is unnerving and uncomfortable.

My solution was to always challenge the students to KEEP WORKING ON THE PROBLEM.  After I assured them repeatedly that there was no mistake in the problem or scenario, they would then attack it from a different angle.  And then another, and another.

Now parents, don’t fret.  I didn’t send your kids away with a “Figure it out yourself and leave me alone” attitude.  They would often sit at my desk and struggle through it, asking me questions intermittently.  I would ask questions back (really annoying at the time, I know) to help them think outside the box, but I absolutely would not give them the answer.

And you know what happened?  They’d figure it out.  And a smile as wide as Texas would spread from ear to ear.  You see—there is something extremely satisfying about delayed gratification and perseverance.  It presents us with an intangible reward: satisfaction and renewed confidence in ourselves.  And perhaps more importantly, the faith to take risks in the future and tackle the “impossible.”

My next posts will detail an often more palatable way to encourage this critical thinking in your child…through reading.  I’ll provide you with a handy tool to help you engage your child in higher-level thinking using pre-made questions from Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I’ll also direct you to Mystery resources for your child including picture books, I Can Read, and chapter books.

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