Learning The Hard Way

Our first day of Summer Break and we had to make an urgent run to the doctor’s office. This is my life! The child involved will be fine but it brought up some interesting conversations and thoughts about learning the hard way. We are still trying to determine when the learning influences future decisions, but we are grateful the child remains intact!

Today’s visit to the doctor on-call was the result of a cut from gardening shears last weekend. My lovely, amazing, strong-willed son decided not to heed his father’s advice and used the clippers. The cut was not deep and was immediately washed with H2O2. Unfortunately, while playing in a lake the next day, the cut became infected. Being the diligent mother that I am and having known said child well enough to know he is ALWAYS developing some sort of cut, bruise, scrape, etc. I paid little attention to the developing infection. That is until this morning when I looked at his disgusting little thumb covered in pustules, red as an apple, swollen, and hot to the touch. I instantly googled “thumb infection” to see what I might be up against. This was a mixed bag. On the one hand, all of the pictures were nasty and far worse than what my son had. On the other hand, my son was terrified his thumb would turn out like the pictures. This strategy got him on-board for a doctor visit. πŸ™‚

On the car ride home, I asked child what he learned from this experience. He confessed his dad had told him not to use the clippers and that he had not listened. This reminded him of last fall when he did not heed our warnings about using a bark pile as a bike ramp and nearly broke his leg in the subsequent fall (also an Urgent Care visit). I asked him if maybe there were reasons we cautioned him against some of these activities, other than to be restrictive. He acknowledged it was possible.

Will my child learn from this experience? Of course. Will he learn to listen to mom and dad when we caution him on his choices? Well . . . we shall see.

As I was pondering this whole situation (and lamenting my wasted Saturday morning), I began to see a connection to the classroom. Children learn the hard way. What does that mean? It does not mean they have to get hurt. It does mean they need to work. To learn the material of the classroom, they need to work to make sense of the concepts. The hard way in this case involves thinking and applying.

Students also learn through failure. This is one of the hardest lessons I sometimes have to work through with my students. Failure is a reality when you do not do the work assigned. For many students, this truly becomes a learning experience. I am hesitant to put this out here as I know some educational philosophy would not support what I am about to say. Here goes – if students do not do the work, they will not receive points for the assignment. I do not accept late work for points. There are numerous reasons for this and it is ok if you disagree. For me, not accepting late work for points generally catches students once and then they learn. I think this is an example of learning the hard way.

In a different way, I am excited to watch students learn the hard way by working. My plans for next year are already in process (yes, it’s the first day of summer break!) and I am looking for new ways to engage the students. I tried table groups with lots of discussions and group work and I LOVED it. Turning the desk into groupings, and encouraging students to converse about topics was so powerful. I am designing new ways to construct these opportunities for next year. As I plan, I want to keep this idea in my head and really think about how to make students work so the learning happens – it is not a passive activity – students will learn the hard way πŸ˜‰

*Picture is not me, though I took it πŸ™‚

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