The question of how much to allow students to struggle and figure things out for themselves can be difficult. I only have experience with this question on a kindergarten level. I loved to give my students a “problem” (usually a task that involved constructing something) and ask for their help in solving it. Because I had my students for five hours (half day kindergarten) each day, I really knew them and their abilities. I knew their personalities and could easily read when they were at their breaking point (it varied each day depending on whether they were hungry, tired, or if their mom packed them grapes instead of a banana for snack). The breaking point typically meant tears, but sometimes took on the form of a full-blown screaming fit. I knew which students would be the first to ask for help or give up completely. I knew which students would be “done” first, even before they announced it loudly to the entire classroom. I started asking those students what they could add and when (not if) they told me that they didn’t know, I told them to ask five friends, because kindergarteners are always very honest. I also found out that my students were more likely to take the suggestions of their classmates over my suggestions. The best thing about teaching kindergarten is that their feelings are transparent. They don’t try to hide their emotions; it is sometimes also the worst thing about kindergarten.
The problem is the time it takes to really know your students. It isn’t a fast process when you have a class of twenty-six and I can only imagine if I had multiple classes of that many students, like middle and high school teachers have on a daily basis. I agree with the text, “the first step is to mindfully watch and listen to children as they work. What kinds of strategies are they employing to solve problems? What do they do when frustrated? What do you they say to you, to themselves, and to their peers when they are in learning situations? A teacher who is paying close attention to a child should strive to answer these and similar questions” (Martinez & Stager, 2013).
Even after I felt like I knew my students and their abilities, I still struggled with getting some of them to get out of their own comfort zone and enjoy the challenge of the project. I need them to get into the “flow” part of creating. “Flow is that feeling when you and your students are in a “zone.” The goal for a teacher is to design instruction that presents a challenge that matches our student’s skill level. The learning is happening at just the right pace” (Strauss, 2015). It is not something that is easy to pinpoint or achieve on a classroom scale because all children learn, process, and solve problems differently. Again, in kindergarten, I feel it was easier because building and playing were a part of my curriculum. I made sure that my students had time for learning centers, because I was allowed (and expected) to include that time in my lesson plans.
I read the article, “All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten” by Mitchel Resnick. In the article, Resnick states that kindergarteners learn through “a spiraling process in which children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas, play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, reflect on their experiences – all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projects (Resnick, 2007).
Martinez, S., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.
Resnick, M. (2007, May 14). All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten. Retrieved from MIT Media Lab: http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/kindergarten-learning-approach.pdf
Strauss, V. (2015, April 21). What is the value of letting students struggle in class? Teachers answer. Retrieved June 1, 2015, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/what-is-the-value-of-letting-students-struggle-in-class-teachers-answer/