Kids today…

Kids todayLately, I have been frustrated.   I wonder, have these types of kids always been in my classroom, or is this a troubling new trend?  Why can’t some students seem to solve problems on their own?

And I’m not talking about curricular problems like: how to write an essay, using longitude and latitude to find a location, or analyzing the causes of the Russian Revolution.  I’m talking about problems like the following.

“Miss, should I use red or green for the bubble letters on my poster?”

Really? You have been waiting, doing nothing, for the last 5 minutes with your hand raised to ask me that?

Or the boy who asked, “Miss, when is this paper due again?”  as he held a sheet of paper outlining due dates, step-by-step instructions, and a checklist.   All he had to do was look at the assignment sheet he was holding.

When my students are working on projects, there are days that I run like a mouse in a maze, bouncing between my eager students.  I don’t mind sitting down and working things through with them, but I get frustrated when a child completely stops working to ask a question that they already have an answer for.  I’m saddened by some’s inability to push through to complete a task when it gets just a teensy bit difficult.  I worry for that child who can’t seem to get started because they are so stressed about whether or not their ideas will be good enough.

Maybe these students just need a little extra attention.  Maybe they need a patient loving adult to talk to them, reassure them, and let them know they are doing exactly what they should be doing.  Maybe they just need me to be their advocate, another voice to combat the naysayers in their heads.

More and more I seem to encounter students too worried about perfection to even get started on a task. They shut down the minute they reach a problem. They don’t want to even take a risk in fear that their instinct might not be right.  They sit and wait for reassurance rather than using class time to work.

I seem to preach at them everyday. Take a risk! Try things out! Get messy! Get lost in your research! It is OK to make a mistake. It is OK to fail once in a while.  I frequently monologue on how they will learn much more through persistence than by getting it right the first time.

Yuko Munakata, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder recently published a study in Frontiers in Psychology on why this might be happening in my class.  Her research shows that the more a student’s life is scheduled (soccer practice, piano lessons, dance) the less they are able to use their executive function.  Executive function is defined as “a broad range of thinking skills that include planning, problem-solving, making decisions and regulating thoughts and actions.”  She believes that by giving children more free time, more play, their ability to be more self-directed increases.

Maybe times have changed.  We keep our kids so busy that they never get opportunities to make decisions for themselves.  And then when they reach my class, where I push them to be problem solvers and critical thinkers, where I push them to be self-directed, they are at a loss when I don’t tell them exactly how something should be done.

So I will keep on giving my students open-ended tasks.   I will continue to boost their confidence when they face difficulties. Keep telling them that the answers are within them. Keep saying to them that they are capable of great things. Keep encouraging them to take risks and reward them for it. Keep NOT solving their problems for them.

And I will keep annoying them by answering their questions with more questions.

“Miss, which color should I use as a background for my brochure?”

“Hmm. That is a tough one. What color do you think will better convey your message?”


How do you help your children to trust their instincts? Do you also see issues in your classrooms with your students not being able to persist through a task or problem?

12 replies

  1. I’m feeling you on this! Yesterday I volunteered with the FBI to teach a bunch of kids how to do fingerprinting. I couldn’t believe that out of a couple hundred kids almost none knew how to use a magnifying glass! Then I was more shocked when parents clearly didn’t know how to either.

    • But they are too scared to just try it out. See what works. Instead of using trial and error they raise their hands. It used to be that a student would try themselves first, then seek help if it wasn’t working for them.

      • Totally! I’m not sure what the root is. We have a lot of conversations about what being independent looks like, etc. And I employ a lot of “ask a neighbor” rules, but they flounder.

  2. I have been having the same situation occurring. Very interesting! A colleague suggested not allowing questions for the first five minutes of a reading or writing assignment. This had me thinking for a while.

    • This is a good idea. I do this thing called a History Mystery. It is patterned off of the SOLE model for inquiry learning. I give them a short time limit to find information and draw a conclusion. Because it is so limited in time, I see them panic a lot less. They know they have to use each other to find the answers and come to their own conclusions. It is more difficult when they have a long period of time to work on something.

    • Yes, it is a tough one. And the more I fixate on it, the more frustrating this trait is in the classroom. Maybe it is just an issue of training. They will learn eventually that we aren’t here to tell them what to do, we are the guide on the side. Another colleague brought up the idea of white out. Some many kids white out their mistakes. They don’t want you to see what they have done wrong. We try to make them see that there is learning through mistakes. And we can’t help them unless we see where they are going wrong.

  3. Thank you for writing this!!! For me Risk Taker is the most important IB Learner Profile and I see this every day in my foreign language class. I very rarely give the answer and almost always answer a question with a question. Keep it up!!!!

    • Sometimes not answering the question is hard though. It is time consuming. I could just answer the question and move on to the next student. But you know down the line that little extra time will pay off.

  4. Great post. One of my frustrations with the term ‘digital native’ is that there’s a generation of folks who grew up with the very first personal computers, who learned to code in basic when they were 12, used Word Perfect when it was just a blank blue screen, and who are more adept at using technology than most children today. I think this current generation are less digital natives and more accurately The App Generation (thanks Howard Gardner). They know how to use apps, but not menus in a program. They know how to select their background, but only from the colors provided (What’s RGB or hex?).

    I agree with you, Kathleen, it can be frustrating to teach kids when they think like this. It’s why we need to keep giving them open-ended projects that require interpretation, connecting disparate ideas, and that promote inductive reasoning skills.

    Thanks for the post.

    • You are (HG is) so right. That is it. Oh how I loved the Trash 80 and the Commador 64. They are used to clicking and having what they need. They look at a page and can’t figure out what to do next. They just want to Google and they actually think Google knows what is best.

      I know that I certainly could do a better job of giving more lessons in digital literacy, in fact, it would probably make things easier to sink more time into this at the beginning of the year.

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