Getting Students to Take On Seemingly Impossible Challenges

Getting Students to Take On Seemingly Impossible Challenges

(Originally titled “I Can Climb the Mountain”)

In this Educational Leadership article, former New York City educator Maddie Witter describes how a 17-year-old incarcerated youth exploded when his teacher asked him to read in class. He had dropped out of school after numerous expulsions and had spent most of the last two years on the streets. 

The teacher then asked students if they thought she could bench-press 200 pounds. Of course not, they laughed – she’d be lucky if she could lift five pounds. Okay, she said, but could she increase from five to ten pounds? They thought so, and saw the logic of incrementally increasing the weight over time. 

Holding up a 300-page book, the teacher asked, “Do you think you could read this book?” Of course not, they replied. “How about five pages?” Yeah, we could do that, they said. She explained that today they would read for five minutes, move up to six minutes tomorrow, and slowly build up to being able to read a fat book. “We will develop your academic fitness,” she said, “ and with your hard work, finishing a book like this will be doable. You can read books like this.” 

Three weeks after refusing to read, the 17-year-old had proudly finished the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. 

“I Can Climb the Mountain” by Maddie Witter in Educational Leadership, September 2013 (Vol. 71, #1, p. 61-64), www.ascd.org; Witter is at madeleine.tippens@gmail.com

 

From the Marshall Memo #502

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