Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Frustration of Learning

Recently I needed to replace the shingles on my roof. I decided to go with a steel roof instead of shingles, figuring I could do the work and save on the labour costs. I had been told by many people that putting up steel was easy and it didn't take long. This confirmed my original thought and I ordered the materials.

Now I should mention that I'm much more comfortable, and competent at, pounding a keyboard to move bits than pounding in nails with a hammer. I began by stripping the old shingles, fixing the bad spots in the roof and strapping it. This process alone had taken a lot longer than what most people said it should take to do the entire roof. I was feeling a little discouraged but I was determined to do the work properly and later discovered that most of the people I had spoken with had much simpler roofs than mine.

As I worked I learned a lot about roofing and a lot about myself. I think my best learning came from making mistakes. Doesn't all learning happen from making mistakes? I would make a mistake and then get really frustrated about it. This didn't help much since as I became frustrated I was more likely to make more mistakes. I recognized that many of my students likely get stuck in this cycle. Most of my frustration came from the fact that I was being slowed down. I just wanted to get the job done. I'm guessing that students are often in the same boat. They don't really care about the learning they just want to get the job, work, assignment, etc. done. After a while I realized that my frustration was counter productive. I decided that it would be much more productive to view my mistakes as learning opportunities. This small shift in mindset changed my entire outlook. No longer was this a project that had to be completed in a hurry. It was a project that I was going to do right and one that I could take pride in.

I think that frustration is an important part of learning. I need to let my students know that, and I need to work to ensure that they know it's a natural part of learning. I need to encourage them to work past the frustration to get to the reward side. I have a feeling that if they can get to the reward side once, getting there again will be easier.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head here Dave - pun intended!! We all need to work on that shift in mindset and this post is a good reminder.

    Reflecting about the process, where the frustrations occurred and what could have been done differently are part of the learning too and that's another shift we need to model - thanks for that too!

  2. I've always tried to live by the thought that frustration should be welcomed with open arms. When I'm frustrated, it's just a sign that my brain is searching for an answer, so I'm one step closer to a solution. Whenever possible, I try to counterbalance my frustration with a level of excitement that comes from knowing that I'm closer to an answer. Not only does frustration lead to more mistakes if unchecked, but I find that I'm unwilling to try other possibilities (including the one that represents the solution to the problem). You've identified the key - helping your students find a technique to interrupt their frustration pattern and seek the solution from a different perspective.

  3. Roy, I like the idea of countering frustration with excitement. Thanks for the suggestion.