Hit, Stay, or Bust- What does it really mean to take risks in the classroom?

Should I hit or stay? These are questions that come to mind when playing Blackjack, a game that revolves around risk-taking. With that question comes the hopes of a big win, but at the cost of a potential big loss.

Recently, a colleague and I co-presented on risk-taking and decided to hook the audience from the get go with a quick, simple game of Blackjack. Like any good planner, we intentionally stacked the deck with cards that call for someone to hit, split, and stay. After one round, we paused and asked the players why they made the decision they did. Their responses could not have been better! First response, “I hit because of past experiences.” Bingo! That comment led us into asking her, “So you hit because you have played Blackjack before and you knew that the game called for you to hit on that particular hand? You knew that your chances were good?” “Yes!” “Would you say that students in our classrooms choose to take risks, or not to take risks for that matter, based on past experiences?” “Absolutely!” “So would you say they are more likely to take a risk again if the first time goes well?” “Yes.”

Player 2 had a perfect hand that called for them to split their cards, but they did not in fact split so we asked, “Why did you not split?! You had the perfect hand to split!” She responds with, “Well unlike player 1, I don’t have experience in Blackjack so I have no clue what I am doing,” insert a small giggle here. “Aha! So would you say that our students are less willing to take risks in the classroom if risks are not encouraged?” “Yes, I would agree with that!”

Naturally these conversations quickly led us into a debrief of why students are apprehensive to take risks inside of our classrooms and what must exist within a classroom for students to want to take risks.

Why are students afraid to take risks?

  • fear of failure
  • fear of not looking “perfect” on their resume for colleges
  • society (You get a trophy! You get a trophy!

Let’s talk about society. How many of you see this image and your blood boils a touch?

Lawnmower

Over the past decade, society has begun to think that creating a life filled with bliss and no obstacles, is just what their child needs in order to succeed. Lawnmower parents, as they have been coined, mow down any obstacle, or struggle that stands in their child’s way thinking that they are providing a better life for their child. They take away any chance to teach grit, growth and learning from failure.

Failure. Let’s talk about that word. When a student fails a math test, fails at turning in an assignment on time, fails in the science lab, what is the outcome? Many times the outcome is that it was the teacher’s fault. “You gave my child an F!” When in fact, the outcome should be the opportunity for the student to rework the problem, to catch his/her mistake, to find the solution to the science lab and truly understand the concept behind it. Failure, I would argue, is truly when learning happens. When our brain absorbs the process and imprints it into our memory.

Safety, comfort, and space – 3 things that must exist in our classrooms in order for our students to not only feel encouraged and supported to take risks, but to then take the actual risk. Our students must know that when they fail we will respond with, “What do you think you could do differently next time?” Or, “Wow! I am so proud of your efforts and I can see your thinking. What can we change next time to have a better outcome?” Instead of, “You’re wrong! That is not how I showed you to solve this.” We, as their support system, must create an environment built around safety, comfort and provide space for them to fail forward.

What examples of risk-taking happen within your classroom?

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