April (2014)
February (2014)
January (2014)
December (2013)
November (2013)
Valuing Work
October (2013)
September (2013)
May (2013)
April (2013)
March (2013)
February (2013)
January (2013)
November (2012)
Learning Styles
October (2012)
Perspectives on Struggle
Current parent Tom Meegan (P '14) forwarded me this article earlier in the week and as exams have just finished, it seemed the opportune time to discuss various perspectives on struggle. The study, highlighted in the podcast from NPR, highlight the work of educational psychologist Jim Stigler's work studying the difference between how East and West view the notion of intellectual struggle.

Stigler's experiences around the world speak to a common theme in Eastern classrooms that struggle is an assumed part of the learning process, that we all struggle at some point, so don't shy away from it, but rather embrace the opportunity to learn. This perspective is in direct contrast with his experiences in American classrooms where students who struggle in their classes are assumed to have low ability.

Stigler notes, "All of this matters because the way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior…If struggle indicates weakness, it makes you feel bad, and so you're less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength - an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something - you're more willing to accept it."

Having just sat through exams and presentations with my classes, I witnessed considerable struggle as students stood and presented for twenty minutes in front of their peers and others completed a challenging AP Economics exam. Both classes left their exam block exhausted, but proud of what they had accomplished. It was clear that while their initial reaction to the challenge before them was to shut down, they persevered and, in the end, felt far better about what they had accomplished.

Opportunities for healthy struggle abound within Proctor's academic curriculum. Whether a student is on Ocean Classroom, embracing the challenge of 3:00 am watch shifts, working through set-back after set-back on her project in wood shop, or figuring out how he can best use the resources around him to overcome his learning difference, students are forced to overcome significant challenges during their day to day life at Proctor.

Not only do students at Proctor encounter struggle, but the community encourages and celebrates the moments where students embrace those struggles. Abby's speech (pictured above), given during assembly as part of the Senior Speaker Series, highlighted her journey this past summer as she biked across America. While she most certainly endured significant struggles during her 3,000 mile ride, it was through the relationship with her advisor that she was built the confidence to speak in front of the entire community, something she should be very proud of.

As we enter Thanksgiving vacation and students reflect on their first term of the 2012-2013 school year, we hope that they feel a sense of accomplishment, not because the 'got it' on the first try in all of their classes, but rather, as Stigler notes, because they were challenged and forced to struggle in a way that allowed them to be truly proud of their successes. It is through these types of classes and other opportunities on and off-campus, where students are pushed just beyond their abilities to a place of struggle, that our students are able to become more confident, self-aware learners.

We are thankful that so many of our students willingly embrace those opportunities and must, as a community, continue to surround students with opportunities for struggle. This blog will take the next week off from posting, but will be back for the start of the Winter Term!
Our view of academic struggle at Proctor may not necessarily fall in line with the dominant view in American schools.
In a community of diverse learners, we recognize the fact that many of our students will encounter struggle at some time during their academic careers.
These moments of struggle could come on a program like Ocean Classroom, or in a class like Forensics, but in each situation, students must understand that struggling to find success is 'ok'.
If students get accustomed to immediate success, or instant gratification, they lose an appreciation for the efforts that go into truly mastering a skill.
It is our goal at Proctor to provide students with challenging academic courses, both on and off-campus, while surrounding students with a supportive community that celebrates successes born from struggle.