Climb that mountain! Students showing up and owning their learning.

In Biology 12, I asked my students to do a presentation on a digestive disorder of their choice. They got a day to research their chosen topic and present the next day. They are required to have an image to display and they should be able to connect their disease to the digestive system. But it’s not about the content; it’s about showing up and facing their shared fears of speaking in front of an audience. This assignment facilitates this process.

Today, before we could even start, a student asked if she could please present to me at lunch because she’s afraid to speak. Inside my eyes were rolling but outside I said “No.” I explained that for her this was a mountain she needed to try and climb and that I was looking for her to try. I explained that she was there to teach us all something, that we wanted to learn from her. I also said that if she tried and failed that was ok. She could try again another day.

I went over the self-assessment rubric where students are asked to reflect on what they are proud of and what they struggle with, as well as the peer feedback prompts, two “I noticed” and one “I wonder”. I connected what I was asking them to do to the core competencies and the importance of being able to communicate. I shared with my class how vulnerable I still feel when having to speak in front of an audience, then I asked for volunteers.

And my student who had asked to do it at lunch put up her hand. I couldn’t believe it.

In a preamble to her topic, she spoke to the class about who she is, where she is from and the challenges she has faced since coming to our school (she is an international student). In her country she is a top student who gets high marks on tests. Here she sometimes receives “minimally meeting” or “not yet meeting”. She reflected on how this new way of teaching and learning is helping her grow, how she still continues to try her best and not give up.  She spoke of the kindness of several of the other kids in class, about how they knew her name and gave her a sense of belonging.

She presented what she had learned. She was confident and eloquent and when she was done I told her how proud I was of her and how proud her dad would be. And then I told the class how proud I was of their kindness. If there is one thing in the world I wish for my kids is that they be kind to one another.

We struggle to hold kids accountable yet we still clear the path for them to make things easier and less onerous. We don’t allow them to feel that fear, to work through it and conquer it. When we provide challenge and situations that are uncomfortable we provide opportunities that allow students to climb the mountain and see the other side, to see the possibilities instead of the limitations that fear creates. They are victorious. They are triumphant. They carry themselvesa bit taller and know what it is to face fear and overcome it.


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