Guest Post via @dr_riina: What real learning looks like…

can sometimes surprise me.

I have a student, Stan, who is a self-admitted lazy person.  This kid is SMART.  Like what-are-you-doing-in-my-class-instead-of-advanced-English smart.  He writes well, reads well, thinks abstractly, and does most of the work.

But he is lazy.  He often turns in work that minimally meets the requirements, represents superficial thinking, or is illegible.  When pressed, he can do so much better.  When required, he has redone assignments of extremely poor caliber and demonstrated superior understanding.  His usual explanation is that he was too lazy to bother to do the work correctly.board-765310_1280Then a crazy thing happened.  We were writing narrative essays and Stan got into it.  I mean, he was enthralled.  He worked harder than he ever had before.  He was focused.  He was productive.

And he got a B.  It blew his mind.  He was beyond pissed.  He stomped up to my desk and demanded an explanation:

“Why’d I get a B?  I worked hard on this.  What’s wrong with it?”

Let’s set aside the idea that hard work automatically equates to good grades–that debacle is the stuff of another blog.  Instead, let’s focus on what happened next.

I said “Let’s look at the rubric together and see.”  So we did.

We talked about how dialogue was formatted and why it needed to be spread out by speaker.  Then we compared a random page in a novel to his story.

His story was chunked into a few long paragraphs even though it included entire conversations of dialogue.

I pointed out that he had blocks of text that might need to be broken up.  I also let him know that he could revise and resubmit to raise his grade.

Off he went.

He came back the next day absolutely beaming.  He said “I know you didn’t read it yet, but my story is SO MUCH BETTER!  Thank you.  I can’t wait to see what you think!”

His enthusiasm was catching and I read and re-graded his narrative at my first opportunity.  He was right: it was so much better.

It was a revelation for Stan.  He enjoyed learning and improving his writing.  He liked the struggle.  It was a new experience for Stan.  He knew he was smart, but he hadn’t quite realized what he was missing.  Up until then he had hidden behind the excuse of laziness to avoid trying.

A few weeks ago, we went through our scheduling process for next year.  Stan asked me if he could take advanced English next year.  I almost cried while I signed his course request sheet.

He still has lazy days…and I have had to ask him to redo more assignments than I care to recall.  But he doesn’t fight the learning anymore, and once in awhile, he starts chasing that moment of joy.

This particular lesson in writing well wasn’t the real learning for Stan.  The real learning came when he forced himself to try and found out he liked it.

That is a darn good thing!

Originally published at Dr. Riina’s One Good Thing

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