Thinking about What if we allowed more immediate second chances? 60-60-60 #27 and reflecting…

If there’s one thing I learned in graduate school, it’s that the poet Philip Larkin was right. (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad, / They may not mean to, but they do.”)

That’s how Lori Gottlieb of The Atlantic opens her thought-provoking essay entitled How to Land Your Kid in Therapy. Parent or not, it’s worth the read. And, it certainly connects to Bo’s 27th 60-60-60 post about immediate second chances.

Take this excerpt from Gottlieb’s article:

Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock, Bohn says. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, Bohn explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection. (emphasis added)

Some argue that second chance assignments or assessments are a way of eliminating feelings of failure from our student’s experiences. And that these chances are detrimental. I see it differently. It’s not about protecting our students from discomfort…instead, it’s actually about letting them live in the discomfort. Like the fallen toddler who will one day learn how to walk and not toddle, if our students are ever going to learn how to learn without us, it’s  important that they experience failure, feel that momentary confusion and then have the opportunity to figure out what happened and grapple with the frustration. I believe that immediate second chances can provide a pathway to this kind of learning. Sometimes the second chances will be comforting. Sometimes not.

After all, the reality is that discomfort is a part of life. And so are second (or third or fourth) chances. It’s very rare that I have only one chance to get something right or that I get assigned (or earn) a zero for not doing something the “correct way.” It’s also rare that I don’t experience some sort of discomfort or struggle during my workday.

So, if there’s one thing I learned in graduate school, it’s that Carol Dweck was right. Growth mindsets matter. A lot. And, if schools are going to shift toward a culture of second chance assignments (and away from assessments and grading that promote fixed mindsets), there’s a lot of work to be done to shift the mindsets of both children and adults.


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