Friday, July 22, 2016

Tears to Cheers! (Perseverance!)

If you were a fly on the wall in my house this morning, you would have heard this coming from my 10yo during math...

[sniff, sniff]

[sniff, sniff]

[sniff, sniff]

Background: At the beginning of the summer, I noticed that my son struggled to solve multi-digit subtraction problems. So, for the last several weeks, we've been adding strategies to his toolbox. He's caught on fast. Yesterday, as we discussed one strategy he grinned and said that this made sense!

Fast forward to today.

He's working on a problem. I ask him to call me over when he's ready to talk about it. When he does, my heart sinks. (More on that later!) I immediately see that he attempted to apply the strategy from yesterday. But it didn't work. Basically, he tried to make the strategy into a series of rules. He tried to follow "the rules." He forgot "the rules." And when it didn't work, he just accepted whatever answer came from the procedure. He forgot that math MAKES SENSE.

My gut reaction? I wanted to immediately jump in and show him where he went wrong. I sorta did. That was sorta terrible on my part. Luckily, it was short-lived and he went back to working on the problem on his own. He struggled. And struggled. And struggled.

[sniff, sniff]

Then he got it. Sorta.

At this point, you might say his knowledge was shaky. He did figure out the problem. He did use his strategy. But it was very unclear as to whether he really "got it."

So he continued to the next problem. Wherein my heart sank again. (Yeah, yeah. More on that later...) He used the same strategy in the same, wrong way. This time, I asked him to talk me through what he'd done on his visual model. His words made sense, but he couldn't show it on the visual model. I repeated what he'd said, but explained that I couldn't see that on his model. He looked at the model, obviously perplexed. He KNEW that it didn't match what he was saying. It was dawning on him that this DIDN'T MAKE SENSE! I asked if he could revise his model to represent what he said and told him to call me back when he was ready.

[sniff, sniff]

[sniff, sniff]

Now here, folks, is where I'd usually jump in with two never-let-my-child-suffer feet. I mean the kid is CRYING! (Or at least sniffling!) Who wants to see their kid in agony?

I wanted to intervene. I wanted to get-him-back-on-the-happy-track. Maybe ask a good (pointed!) question. Or suggest an avenue that might lead him to discover where he'd gone wrong. I wanted bunnies. Pink ponies. And rainbows.

But today, with every-ounce-of-my-being, I kept my mouth shut.

Guys, it was SO HARD!

Time passed. It felt like FOREVER. I think it must have been at least, what, TEN MINUTES! An eternity!

[sniff, sniff]

[sniff, sniff]  

But then, tentatively, he calls me over. He talks me through his visual. He explains why it makes sense. And it DOES! It REALLY DOES!

So here's what I said to him: "You know what was cool today? You persevered. Do you know what persevere means? [no] It means you kept going. You stuck with it. And look what you did! You kept going until it MADE SENSE." I cheered!

Herein, the child grins. Tears falling, while grinning.

Guys, he GOT IT! And I ALMOST, with my Momma-doesn't-want-to-see-you-suffer-mentality, TOOK THAT AWAY FROM HIM!

So back to my heart sinking...

When I see a child make a mistake, my natural reaction is to cringe. It's in me. I admit it. I want to FIX IT! But we know that mistakes grow the brain. We have to let kids make mistakes. Toss, turn, and roll in their mistakes. Until they discover that MATH MAKES SENSE.

You know what would have happened if I'd intervened today: a few less tears and a whole lot less learning.

Obviously, I don't want math to hurt. Shoot, no one wants to see kids in pain. But sometimes there is a little pain in perseverance. And if we never let them persevere? Well you know what would happen then... (Eeesh.)

Our job? We must also letting them struggle. We must allow them to bask in moments of disequilibrium. For it's in those moments, those oh-how-I-want-to-save-my-child-moments that real learning happens.


Update p.s.
The first week of school this child came home and related an assessment he'd just taken in math. "I used that strategy, Mom! It worked!"
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