Friday, January 13, 2017

The Role of Risk

My daughter and I have spent more time outside than usual on this winter break because of the warmer temperatures. The other day our outdoor adventure made me reflect on the role of risk in my classroom.
While chasing my crazy three year old around my yard, I noticed I had lost sight of our dog. It then became the mission of D'Arcy (my daughter) and I to spot Hooch (our dog). After a moment or two, we finally found the dog on the far corner of our yard in some tall weeds. I was completely satisfied with the simple act of calling him to us, yet this was not good enough for D'Arcy, who was determined to bring him in herself.
My daughter D'Arcy
I followed her until we reached a large puddle of ice. The ice was crystal clear and extremely thin. I warned my daughter of the dangers of slipping on the ice and immediately grabbed her hand. She smiled at me instantly and hesitantly took her first step on the frozen water. I followed right behind her by taking my first step on the ice.
We looked at each other with fear for the sound made us both nervous. The water below was not deep yet I was not in the mood with dealing with wet boots on either of us therefore I was ready to retreat. D'Arcy however shoots me a look of determination and takes another step. A smaller cracking sound was heard but it was not as menacing as the earlier sound. This lesser intense noise gave her the courage to step again... and again... and again...
Until our arms could not stretch anymore while remaining connected. 
"Come on Mommy!" She cried
"Mommy can't go on the ice baby! It will break!"
We had a bit of a stare down while it was sinking in on her that if she wanted to go farther on the ice, she would have to go without my hand and my help. After a couple of double takes back towards me, she looks forward and runs across the remainder of the frozen puddle. She was willing to take the risk and it paid off! She made it to the other side!
I went back into the house that morning thinking:

  • Are my students willing to take that kind of risk? How can I get my students to run across the ice without my help? One of the issues I seem to struggle with especially in 6th grade is the level of dependence on the educator in the classroom.  How do we know when to hold their hand and when they need to go alone across the ice? My class is very student centered and I truly think that is key here. D'Arcy did not go across the ice because I told her to. She made the choice. Do I think I'd be writing a much different post if she failed? Absolutely! Regardless she put herself out there. We can push our students to take these risks, but ultimately they have to make the choice to take a step on the ice. The question is how do we get them to that point with them coming back with the classic phrase that makes my skin crawl "This is hard!" Even though the projects in my classroom involve choice, I have noticed this year especially that students are going for easy and safe. I had a vocabulary tic tac toe project that completely failed in my eyes because all but five of my students (in all of my four classes) chose the same three boxes. Why are they afraid to run on the ice? 
  • What "runaway dog" can I put in place as a motivating factor for my students? Motivation is the secret ingredient in combatting the problem displayed in the first bullet. I could sit here and say that my students were taking the easy way out or I could ask myself what I did to motivate my students to take a risk. This year I started playing around with gamifying my classroom. To gamify is to take your class content and turn it into a gaming experience for your students. At first this idea seemed silly to me, because I have never been much of a gamer. However, I then found a program called ClassCraft (@ClassCraft). It provides the backbone of this emerging philosophy. The reaction from the kids was outstanding! Within the next calendar year, my intention is to expand on this concept by exploring adventure paths and adding more gaming elements.
  • What risks am I taking to better help my students succeed? The students should not be the only ones taking risks. My #OneWordChallenge2017 is PUSH.  This is a multiple step challenge. I will PUSH myself to write these blogs and get my voice out there. I will PUSH myself to do more to connect with my Twitter PLN. I will PUSH myself to try new things and not be afraid to try. I will PUSH myself to be the best educator that I can be.