I’m completely fascinated by middle school kids. They are somewhere between wanting to be led and hating it. This was quite obvious in our coding class this week. The class includes members from 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, both boys and girls, all wanting to learn how to code. Let me say now that I have very little experience actually coding anything, and to this day have never been able to use a TV remote as it was designed. But my class dynamics are always non traditional, and as a learning facilitator I have all the skill I need.
Our class is anything but traditional. Students use Chromebooks or laptops and learn about the systematic thinking process needed to understand a problem and build a solution. They can’t cheat, there are no tests, and it doesn’t matter how much they get done each day. It’s wonderful for me. I have one responsibility – don’t let them give up – ever.
If you happen to know me personally, you already know perseverance is written into my DNA. Too bad for my students who might think I’ll eventually give in and tell them the secret to success. Of course I have no idea what to do but they don’t believe me.
Why do kids come back each day and immediately try again, even after failing over and over?
The answer is obvious – they’re having fun failing! As much as they still want to be led, they want to lead themselves just as much, making middle school students the best age to teach. Yes, they get frustrated, and some lack the true grit needed to learn the abstract nature of coding, but we have a process for dealing with that.
When kids get stuck (after being stuck for a few days) I first ask them what they understand about the level. Next I ask them to revisit the video or written instruction for that level and reconsider what they understand. It is at this point they can request a coach. A coach is another student who has already passed that level. The work of a coach is even harder than that of a learner yet everyone seems to want to be a coach. I call this raising the bar.
Coaches look at the coding of the struggling learner and evaluate the decisions the learner will need to make to move forward. The coach can ask the learner three question. That’s all. They cannot tell the learner what to do. When a coach recognizes a learner does not comprehend a concept in the code, the coach may explain. That’s it. That’s all coaches do. Being a coach is an amazing experience for kids who are less outgoing. Often, the greatest coaches are the shyest students. As a teacher, the entire experience is a win-win because everyone is developing real-world skills and they don’t even know it.
I believe learning should always be fun. Maybe it’s fun because of one’s interest or because of the company they keep while learning. Maybe it’s because great coaches help us find success from our failures no matter their age. The next time your find yourself struggling, search for your inner middle school self and embrace the joy of learning.