Viral videos online attract a lot of attention and normally I don't buy into the hype, the video below is not one I had seen before until I saw it in another teachers blog. However with over 20 million views in less than a year it was clear to me that a lot of people had seen it. It was video I came across in a link in Dan Meyer's blog. The link was a link to another blog that contained the video below, watch the video before you read their post or mine. I would encourage you to support the people that led me to this post by following the links in orange to their blogs.
I really like how the teacher used this video..... I really like it a lot, why I said to watch the video first is what that teacher got out of it when they saw it was not what I initially got out of it, but after reading their post I also realise that there is a whole lot more that this can be used for. In the post the author writes
After we watch this, I like to make the connection to the classroom.
I think that this video works so well as almost every student can relate to two people in the video, the lady trying to fill up and the person watching the monitor.
When you first watch the video you find yourself as the person watching the monitor, you find it hard to put yourself in the place of the lady trying to fill up because you don't really understand why she is finding it difficult to figure out, why she is continuing to make the same error over and over without seeming to learn from it
But after reading that post I started to see both myself and some of my students in the role of the lady trying to fill up because to be honest there are times in our schooling and our lives where we feel like (and we are not) making any progress, we seem to be making the same mistakes over and over and we just can't seem to break the cycle. Quite often I feel that kids won't share their thoughts about the work we are doing or they won't ask for help because they don't want others to know that they are finding it difficult, they don't want to be the only one who asks a question because they feel that others are laughing at them. For some reason they have this reaction to maths more than any other subject. However it also made me think of a few other questions that I may ask such as.
What really struck home though is the last question that this teacher asked about what would happen if the lady gave up and just drove away. It got me thinking about what are the short term consequences and what are the long term consequences on giving up on it. Does she just fill up tomorrow? Does she run out of petrol on the way home? If she does run out of petrol what does she miss, is she late for work, does she miss something really important.
It got me thinking about both the short and long term consequences of giving up in the classroom, I had obviously thought about this before, but this got me thinking about it in a new way. In the short term it might mean they don't understand that concept, they might not be able to do that work over the next lesson or two but from that point it begins to snowball. The course is hopefully built in a way that one idea helps to build on the next, so if you don't understand the concept from this week maybe you also won't be able to follow the ones next week and the week after. Maybe this will mean you can't do the assessment task and that you get a failing grade. But a failing grade again is not the end of the world, but since your program is structured in a way that the ideas build then not understanding that topic may also mean that you don't understand the next topic and the next. Since the work in a year of school builds upon the previous year then maybe you don't understand next year either. Maybe after all this you give up on maths completely and maybe when you have kids yourself you pass that onto them, and they pass it onto their kids.
The account above is a bit dramatic I know but over the days, weeks months and years this builds into a self-concept of yourself as a mathematics learner. Your experiences shape you as a person, you make a decision as to whether maths is something you can do or you can't do. Your self-concept towards a subject effects how you approach it and how you talk about it. How you talk about it can influence how others see you as a learner of a subject and can also effect how others see themselves. If they feel they are doing as well as you and you start saying that you are really bad at maths then they may start to feel that they are not doing as well as they think. This self-concept is something you can break by doing something different, you just need to stop doing the same laps of the same petrol pump.
I have been wanting to talk about this for a few months but have only just got around to it now. It was a conversation I had with one of my students whilst he was attempting some difficult questions in class and having little success with them. He had asked for help and I had provided some assistance with the question, however the conversation quickly turned to him wanting me to show him how to do it. It would seem to be quite a reasonable request but I knew that if I did, I would be taking the learning away from him, it was just a question that he had tried and failed a few times and he didn't want to think about it any more. The assistance he was given was enough to get him started, but not enough to show him what he should be doing. This is where he said to me
"This class is pointless, you don't teach us anything, you just make us learn"
It was said in a way that I think was supposed to make me feel somewhat bad about what I was doing, that by not showing exactly how to solve the question he believed I was being a bad teacher and I should feel bad about that. However the comment had quite the opposite effect on me. It made me more convinced that I was on the right path with them. As I said to him at the time, I believe that it is one of the most positive things anyone has ever said about my teaching.
I think in that moment he had recognised that the schooling process was not about me as the teacher anymore, I was not the central person in the process. He discovered that he was the person central to his learning, it is only my role to be there to support that learning. I have been making a very conscious effort to support productive struggle in my class, to not jump in and save them at the first sign of struggle, to let them to continue to think about it and to try new things to work with others. This comment I believe was a clear indication that I am on the right track.
With the new school year starting for me in just over a week I have been thinking about what I want my mantra for the year to be. What is it that will not only raise the achievement of my students, but also that of my own work and the teachers in my faculty. "Fail more often" is going to be my starting point for the year as I think it has the potential to be the path to greater success. This mantra is similar to what was said during my leadership training with Education Changemakers, quite often the program facilitators Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner would say "Don't worry, be crappy". This idea really resonated with me and fit well with some current reading I have been doing on the Growth Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck.
The idea of failure, no matter how small, is debilitating to lots of people. They would rather not try and avoid failure, rather than give it a go and having the possibility of not being successful. Why is this... because generally as a society we are very intolerant of failure, it becomes a label on the person rather than a commentary on the situation. Instead of "I failed to get this right", the internal dialogue becomes "I'm a failure", instead of "that program didn't really have the intended outcomes" it becomes "They are bad at their job". This view has to change, students need to see that failure is a major component of success, it is not the opposite of success. They need to see that failure is an important part of the learning process and that it is vital to fail if you are going to identify and rectify those areas of weakness.
So why do I think this idea of failure is so important, well I have a few main reasons. You will have to forgive me with this post, I am a bit of a fan of a nice quote and this post is going to contain a few
I am curious to see how this goes and how students and staff respond to my quest to fail more often, but I will comment on this as the year progresses.
I have been thinking about my previous post on the importance of developing a growth mindset towards all aspects of your education and how this can be done. The word 'yet' has the potential to dramatically improve your outlook on your education and encourage you to try harder, but why?
Saying 'I am not good at Maths' gives the impression that it is a feature that defines you, it says that you are just a person that will never have the ability to do well in the subject, it just isn't in your DNA. However by saying 'I am not good at Maths yet' it completely changes this outlook. It does acknowledge some difficulty in understanding, but it also acknowledges that it is something that can be improved on, it is something that is possible to attain. 'I can't do it' says that no matter how hard I try, it just won't happen, so extra effort is pointless. 'I can't do it yet' means that with extra effort there can be improvement and if I continue to work and continue to improve then I can eventually overcome those difficulties.
This is a message I need to instill in my students and in my feedback them. Whenever they say 'I can't do it' I need to make sure I get them to also say 'yet'. I don't want them to take this easy option as it limits their improvement and their outcomes.
Senior Leader of Pedagogical Innovation and Mathematics Coordinator in Regional South Australia.
Opinions in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.