How do we get our students to continue to take risks that really matter?
We are born curious. We ask questions. We explore possibilities. We are undeniably interested in all that surrounds us. As we dive deeper into our school year, it is our responsibility to continue creating opportunities for students so that they are able to access that thrill of wonder. We want to build a space where students take thoughtful risks that propel them to new learning discoveries.
Threading risk-taking into our classroom requires intentional thought so that students are willingly pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. By acknowledging moments of nervousness and adventurous worry, we can then begin to celebrate the outcome of risk-taking, experiencing a true “learners high.” We might not always be certain as to which direction our choices will lead us, however, if we honor and acknowledge the power of taking the “road less traveled” students can ignite memorable and meaningful learning.
Model Risk Throughout the Day:
Read a text and find ways to support the most unlikely of perspectives
When reading The Paper Bag Princess don't just consider the princess's perspective but also the Dragon's and Ronald's. Talk about how each character (and person) has their own experience and points of view.
When reading Extra Yarn consider whether the little girl is selfless or selfish. Search for evidence to support both viewpoints and debate as a class.
When reading Crenshaw, think about whether or not Jackson was right or wrong when he stole food at the supermarket and a dog treat at the pet food store.
Seek out alternative suggestions/solutions to problems (academic & otherwise)
When the class is being particularly chatty, hold a class meeting to discuss the “why” and collectively brainstorm different possible solutions by problem solving together.
When the class notices that an upsetting amount of uneaten and unopened food is being thrown away at lunch each day, start a committee to create action plans for how to get that food to those who might need it.
When the class is feeling uninspired about writing celebrations, seek out alternative ideas for how to celebrate the process of working as a writer.
In The Unstoppable Writing Teacher (2015), Colleen Cruz suggests choosing edgy or atypical mentor texts that encourage us to carefully consider different viewpoints and character decisions. Some of our suggestions are:
Celebrate the Unexpected. . . in the Moment
Take the time for authentic celebration of outside the box practices and approaches to learning throughout the day and across the content areas.
“Let’s give a quick cheer for Emma. She found a different way to build her structure so it supports more weight. Check it out.”
“Let’s all freeze for a minute. Aidan wants to show you how he found another way to solve this word problem.”
“Molly would you mind sharing that original idea with the class...I am not sure any of us thought of that.”
Share Weekly: Risk Taking Share Sessions
Share risk taking adventures that have happened both in & out of the classroom
Reflect: How Has Risk Seeking Improved My Learning Life?
Students take a moment to think deeply about what they learned about themselves through their experiences
Risk-seeking leads us on an addictive path of adventure. When we move past what has always worked or what we are sure will work, we incorporate a sense of spice into our days. . . and this feels much less like work and more like play. There is immense joy in embarking in a new direction when we are not quite sure of the outcome. When we trust in ourselves and the people around us, jumping towards challenge, we are likely to revel in the adventure of each day. We hope you and your students find thrill and wonder as you investigate life beyond predictable.
Our classrooms are the small corners of our world, we can always start there.
This is the third and final blog in our series on risk-taking in the classroom. Our first blog can be found here and the second blog can be found here.
Cruz, Maria Colleen. The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2015. Print.