In life, I would wager that the majority of us prefer the path of least resistance. After all, this is human nature. While we avoid challenges for many reasons, our mindset often keeps us from pushing ourselves if we are comfortable where we are at or we see a more straightforward path forward. Through an inherent fear of failure, mental blocks materialize to keep us in a safe place – free from dealing with potential adversity. Now, this isn’t always the case, but we have all been here at some point. The way we think is often the byproduct resulting from years of conditioning, not being pushed, or a lack of good feedback.
As you process my thoughts above, think about your experience as a student. Were you consistently empowered to think critically and apply what you had learned in authentic ways to solve real-world problems? For me, it was relatively hit or miss. While I can rely on YouTube now to help me solve problems around the house, I still lack the confidence to tackle more significant issues and often rely on friends and family for help. Now think about the conditions where students today learn and live. The world is becoming increasingly disruptive, making it hard to predict with any sense of accuracy what the future holds. Hence the need to create the conditions in all classrooms to prepare our learners with the competencies required for success in a bold new world.
Some people might say this is easier said than done. However, if we take a critical lens to standard practices such as questions, tasks, and assessments, we increase our ability to make some shifts that could have a profound impact. In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I included the image below of the learning pit to develop disruptive thinking, which I define as:
The ability to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems.
Take a look at the embedded responses that illustrate the journey a learner takes when empowered to think disruptively. If a student can jump over the pit, then we can deduce that there is little challenge and relevant application. What this ultimately equates to are questions, tasks, and assessments that don’t challenge kids to think and apply what they are learning across multiple disciplines or to solve either real-world predictable to unpredictable problems. When all of these elements are part of a lesson or educational experience, the result is the development of cognitive flexibility in students.
Life is hard. Living and thriving in a disruptive world can be even more challenging without the ability to think disruptively. There is no better way to teach this life-long lesson than getting kids into the learning pit for productive struggle. Preparing students for this struggle and being explicit about learning expectations in that questions, tasks, and assessments are designed to result in struggle is intentional. Being upfront with kids is vital. Otherwise, they will think the teacher is being hard on them. In the end, it is for their benefit.