Most of us think working harder will produce better, different and desired outcomes. This may work when trying to learn to ride a bike or clean a room, but it may not. There is something to be said for hard work. It is the stuff the American dream is made of. However, it can also be said that some things that are easy for one person may be quite challenging for another. If you pay attention, you will notice this everywhere you look.
Most adults drive a car, typically learning it as a rite of passage of their teenage years. Some people are better at it than others. There is much more to driving than learning how to turn the car on, put it in gear and operate the various switches. For instance, figuring out where to look, how to make sharp turns, and how often to monitor the mirrors and cars around you matters… a lot. These skills may be intuitive or not. They may require lots of practice, which may or may not lead to substantive improvement. We all know those drivers who just aren’t as attentive, careful or skilled when we see them on the road.
The same can be said for what we learn in school. Some of the things we learn are more intuitive to us than others. Some of us prefer to draw, and others break into a sweat when asked to do a creative rendering of an idea/project. Some students intuitively understand numbers and have no idea why this is so. They “just know it.” Some people are great at map reading and navigation, while other folks don’t even know which way is up. None of this means we can’t learn what is difficult for us. It simply means that we each come with our own set of strengths and challenges.
As adults in the educational world, whether a parent, teacher or other supporting role, we need to remember to take a step back and recall our own experiences – not in the way that we feel now, having mastered such concepts, ideas or skills, but in the struggle to get there. No matter our strengths, we all prefer to rely on them. It is simplest and most comfortable. When presented with our challenges, it is typical to try to work around them, get others to help or avoid them if at all possible.
Sometimes, in schools, we don’t make the space for students to tackle challenges in their own ways. We may ask them to work harder, ignoring the fact that sometimes working differently is preferred to working harder. However, if we are truly working with children, we need to find a way that will allow them to experience success, to acquire a skill, and to feel as confident and competent as possible. We must recognize that success means something different for each child/student. Our job is to help them find the pathway to success and to support them along the way. Working harder is a great answer and most likely the one our parents applied to us. However, we know more and owe our children more. We need to support them with our belief that they can navigate difficulties and learn from them going forward, presenting options to assist them as they attempt to learn tasks that can be elusive. Assistance is allowed and it can come in various forms. We know this adults because we depend on it in all aspects of our lives. Don’t we owe our children the same courtesy?