26 Aug Slice of Life: Lessons Learned from Surfing
I turned to see my friend frantically pressing her fist to her forehead as she watched her boys head off into the waves with surfboards.
My kids took surf lessons this week with some of their friends. As I watched the lesson progress, I could not help but notice and reflect on the instructional model being used.
1) If You Want to Surf, You Need to Get Into the Water
This instructor wasted no time at all! He spent no more than ten minutes going over the basics before he brought the group into the water. Although he did a great job modeling and had the boys try the moves on the sand with him, he knew that in order to really learn they needed to get into the water. It is so important to remember the only way to learn a strategic behavior is in the context of doing it. So often our students are only observing and listening. They need more time to actually practice using the skills they learn strategically. Trying to stand on your board when you are on the sand is completely different than when you are on top of a cresting wave. It is the same for our readers… being able to tell someone the strategies you know is completely different than knowing how to effectively employ a strategy when you need it.
2) If You Need Help, Signal
Before going into the water, the instructor let the boys know that if they were in trouble they needed to signal him. There were four boys learning and only one instructor. He explained that if he was worried about them he would signal them and they should signal back. He assured them that if they were in trouble he would be there immediately. He then had them each practice the signal to use if they were in trouble – pressing your fist to your forehead. This instructor put a feedback loop in place right away. He knew he needed to be able to communicate with the surfers especially if they were in trouble. He wanted them to know he would be watching and listening. He set the expectation that he would be working with each surfer and that they should only signal if they were really in trouble. This is so important in the classroom as well. Our students need to understand that when we are working with another student they should only interrupt in an emergency. Do we take time to set up these expectations and signals with our students? Do we let our students know we are watching and listening? Do they know the importance of the feedback loop in learning?
3) If at First You Don’t Succeed…
The lesson was 75 minutes. The boys spent a good hour surfing…or trying to surf. I could not believe the number of times they were crushed by a wave, fell off their board or completely missed altogether, but still got up and ran back to the next wave. They had stamina and perseverance. It did not seem like quitting was even an option in their minds. They just practiced again and again and again. I could not help but think about the amount of time our students get to practice, truly practice in our classrooms. It takes many failures and approximations before we learn anything. Often our students don’t get this time. Watching these boys learn to surf reminded me of the importance of practice.
So often when we talk about assessment and learning, our colleagues worry about the self-esteem of students. As a profession we want to protect them from failing or feeling stress. I wonder if sometimes our protection is causing more harm them good. Do they sense our fear? Do they think they are not ready because we do not give them time to give it a go? My friend clearly was not ready to see her boys go off and hit the waves so quickly (hence her emergency signal to the instructor which he luckily did not see), but the boys felt ready. I think they sensed the instructor’s confidence in them, felt assured by the feedback loop and knew they had hard work ahead of them. They each caught several waves and wanted to go back for more. I want to keep this image in my mind as I work in classrooms this year – students ready to learn, persevere and head back for more!