It’s Possible to Think This Much

I just read this ESPN interview with Aaron Rodgers.  I am an extremely casual NFL fan, and my fascination with this piece is really less about the sport than about the insight gained from someone who is operating at such high level in anything.  I’ve long admired the practice and planning that go into completing just one pass in the NFL; Rodgers does a nice job describing the levels of thought that go into the task.

It’s backbreaking, mindwracking work getting students to reach new levels on the pyramid of understanding how much it’s possible to think about something.  So many of my kids think that mathematical competence or the ability to express a clear, concise, novel thought is something that you either have or you don’t.  To them, it’s a tired banality to say that hard work pays off.  A world-class musician, athlete, writer or mathematician considers details that the rest of us cannot imagine.  This is a really difficult idea to explain to students who have rarely experienced success in school.  I am finding that framing the question to students, “Do you have any idea how much it’s possible to think about this?” is becoming a guide to my life’s work in educating “high needs” students.  It’s only possible to teach it by example, through the slow, onion-peel process of pushing the ZPD to its limit, debriefing about what happened, and repeating.  I am excited about this work.

As teachers, it is our job to think as much about our work as any virtuoso in their field.  Aaron Rodgers says that you can’t complete a pass in the NFL without looking the defender off, and that practicing a play a thousand times allows him to run a play such that the cornerback only gets the tip of his pinky on the ball, rather than the whole knuckle it would take to deflect a pass.  How does a subtle word choice affect how well my students get it?  How can I engineer my classroom so that students feel successful enough to keep going, rather than wanting to quit?  The third and ten metaphor is apt: complete the pass by an inch, keep possession, and keep going, or knuckle-deflection incompletion and turn it over?

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