|Image by Blacren CC BY 2.0|
Do, or do not.
There is no try.
I love that line. It sounds so truthy, and it's so quotable. It speaks of resolve, and determination, and not settling for less than your best. I think it's likely that teachers might be tempted to follow Master Yoda's lead and challenge their own students this way.
But I'm afraid that might be a mistake.
Have your students ever said something like, "I can't do long division!" or "I'm just not good at reading!" or "I don't understand algebra!" or "I don't know anything about chemical reactions!" (Have you ever made a statement like that?)
I think that it often is the case that we won't try things because we convince ourselves that we can't do them, we can't understand them. Maybe we don't even want to try?
This can be a very real problem for teachers working with students who seem unmotivated. How can we get kids beyond "I can't..." or "I'm not good at..." or "I don't know..." to a place where they will try? Much as I love Yoda, I think his admonishment "There is no try." is actually terrible advice for us! When you really reflect on what Yoda is teaching here, it's a pretty disheartening claim: "You only get one shot at this, and if you get it wrong, you're done." Now, that might be true if you're preparing to do battle with Darth Vader and save the galaxy, but most of the time the stakes aren't that high. If we put this kind of philosophy into practice in our classroom, it's no wonder that students would sink into an "I can't" mindset.
Carol Dweck is a professor of Psychology at Stanford University (check out her bio), and she is a big name in research on motivation, which has direct implications for teachers and students. I just came across this video of Carol talking about the power of adding the word "yet" to an "I can't" or "I don't know" statement.
So instead of There is No Try, maybe we need to change our perspective to Try, Try Again, and Again, and Keep Trying! If we can get our students to shift to "I don't know this...yet," what kind of difference would this make for their learning? I'm not so naive to think that every student would magically be transformed into a highly-motivated learning machine, but I think this would make a difference for many students!
What do you think?