I think that learning should be a balance of both but that might be because learning is hard work for me but I love learning. For my special education students, learning is very hard for them and by the time they reach the high school it has been a traumatic experience. They cannot imagine learning being fun because it is such a hard struggle for them.
I usually start off the year by giving assignments that they can be successful doing. This may need to be accomplished by using technology or peer tutors. I will take whatever steps necessary the first couple of weeks for my students to be successful. Since their self esteem is already so low, many of them feel like they shouldn’t bother trying since they think they will fail anyway. I start off on emphasizing that the effort is what is important during this time and they will receive credit for how much effort they put into the assignment even if they get all of the answers wrong. This kinds of shocks them but I tell them it is like exercising. We need to build up to working on accuracy but right now we are focusing on endurance. After 2 weeks, they feel more successful and willing to take some risks. I have also established a rapport and some trust within our relationship. They have learned that I will not humiliate them or degrade them if they make mistakes and will not let others do so either.
Now I start focusing on their individual weaknesses and try work on building them up so they cease to be weaknesses. I explain to the students that they will be working on different skills because just like people who grocery shop for different foods because they have different needs, we will do the same in the classroom. Students seem to respect this view and are more respectful to others with different weaknesses. As they find success in their work, many students are excited about learning more new things as long as I don’t overwhelm them. I have heard from many parents that their children are coming home smiling, talking about school, and even looking forward to going to school for the first time. I remember being in elementary school where I had a great third grade teacher who made learning fun for me and I think it stuck with me and I wanted my students to feel the same way as I do about learning. They may never feel the enthusiasm and love that I feel for learning but if they could feel that learning is not something to be terrified or avoided, I would be happy.
Some teachers have disagreed with me about my process in doing this because they don’t have the time to do this. I feel that we need to make the time in order to make the rest of the year more productive. The students are more receptive and willing to learn which would make a teacher’s life much easier. That rapport and trust will go a long way when the student is being taught a difficult skill and feels frustrated. I know this strategy has worked for me for many years and might not work for everyone. How do you provide successful opportunities for your students or do you even do this? Please share and let me know.
Photo credit: Learning to Fly by firma