This weekend our Girls on the Run team ran the final 5K of the year. I ran as a buddy with one of my current students. Buddy runners are along to encourage and push the girls during the race. Looking back and reflecting on the race I realized that my buddy did great when I set goals she could see and felt she could achieve. Telling her that we would stop and walk when we got to the halfway mark did not do much to motivate her, even if the halfway mark was only a short distance away. She couldn't see anything significant marking that point so she couldn't really tell how much farther it would be. However, if I said we could walk once we got to the bottom of the hill, she kept up a good, steady pace down the hill. At the very end, when we came around the corner and could see the finish line she full out sprinted. It was impressive.
This got me thinking about teaching (of course). Right now we are working on a huge, end of the year, social studies and technology project. I'm really excited about it and as a result, so are the students. I've worked hard in my thinking to be sure I can see the big picture and the final goal. It's important that I can see this. But I don't know that they need to at this point. I think that one of my jobs is to set smaller, achievable goals for them throughout the project. The project, as I see it, is massive. It involves a lot of research, plenty of synthesizing what they learn, some tough decision making about technology tools to use, and serious work with those tools. I've set it up for them in those four parts, and we're currently working on the first and second. However, I'm thinking it needed to be broken down even more, at least for some students. The massive amount of research they are doing intimidates some and they want to give up. They can't see an end in sight so it doesn't feel worth the effort.
Anytime something is new and difficult, one needs to see success fairly regularly. A project of this scale is not something these students have done before. I've got to help them set a pace they can continue, hopefully with a burst of energy at the end.