Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The F Word.

Today was a TDO Day.  (Talent Development Opportunity).  It's the third time this semester that the kids are working on their self-designed project.  Some kids are far ahead, others are still trying to refine their projects, and still others are already trying to change their projects, less than a month into the semester.

The reality is that the reasoning behind this project is anything BUT the final project, because what I teach is actually not the topic -- it's the process of reflection.  The kids who have been in my class before get it -- and the new kids kind of panic, some acting like they can't define a project for a semester-long time commitment for fear of failure.

 Failure.

Imagine being so paralyzed by perfection that you are unable to take a first step.  Think about the kind of fear where you're in the woods and there's a giant grizzly bear looming overhead, standing on its hind legs, arms raised, while your feet feel like they're cemented to the ground.  Confusion and indecision -- quite possibly the only human reaction is to faint dead away, as the blood is no longer able to pump to your brain.

There are brilliant kids who feel that way every single day.  Some of them feel that way in your presence, or in your classroom, afraid to disappoint you, embarrass themselves in front of their peers, or risk being incorrect in their responses.  Part of my job involves getting kids to take risks.  I'm not talking skateboards without helmets, here.  I'm talking responsible risks  that allow for learning experiences and actual growth.

Research shows that gifted kids often think they have learned something, after 1 - 3 repetitions.  The reality is that the information is readily available for a short period of time -- usually just long enough to get an A+ on that exam, and then be forgotten.  But minds learn and retain knowledge when they are able to process knowledge and reflect on that knowledge in a way that allows a little manipulation of the material.  

Picture the manipulation, turning, and studying of a Rubic's Cube in the hands of a bright kid.  That kind of processing is what causes the brain to get to move that learning into long-term memory, cementing that experience for as long as a lifetime.

So we're doing our gifted and talented kids a disservice by allowing them to answer quickly and move on.  We're doing them no favors by allowing rote answers with short bursts of facts.  We need to stretch their brains, force them to take risks, and teach them to twist that Rubic's Cube in their brain.  Oh, and experience the F WORD.

Failure.

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.  Or so they say.  (Although I'm not sure who "they" are...)  Providing a safe environment -- a very personal environment -- to fail, is an absolute necessity in the education of our gifted kids.  TDOs are similar to Genius Hour , which is a great environment to experience failure.  Everybody is doing an independent project, so there's no basis for comparative success.  This year, in my class, the project is not being graded, the PROCESS is the focus of the assessment.  As long as students can reflect, modify, and identify metacognitive processes used in their projects, they succeed.

Even if the project itself is a dismal failure, based on the standards of its creator.