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Promoting Academic Risk-Taking and Problem-Solving

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Introduction:
For various reasons students may sometimes avoid such risks as attempting a solution to a problem, especially if he or she has sometimes failed at a task in the past, and is therefore concerned about negative evaluations again (Hope & Oliver, 2005).
What can a teacher say or do to counteract such hesitation? There are several strategies, all of which involve focusing attention on the process of doing an activity rather than on its outcome or evaluation.
Intrinsic Interest
Where possible, call attention to the intrinsic interest or satisfaction of an activity. For example, consider an elementary-level activity of writing a Japanese haiku—a poem with exactly seventeen syllables. This activity can be satisfying in itself, regardless of how it is evaluated. Casually reminding individuals of this fact can contribute to students’ sense of ease about writing the haiku and encourage them indirectly to do better work.
Minimize the Importance of Grades
Minimize the importance of grades where possible. This strategy supports the one above; by giving students less to worry about, they become freer to experience the intrinsic satisfactions of an activity. In writing that haiku mentioned above, for example, you can try saying something like: “Don’t worry too much about your grade; just do the best you can and you will come out well enough in the end.”
Give Students Time
Make sure students know that they have ample time to complete an activity. If students need to rush - or merely just think they do - then they are more likely to choose the safest, most familiar responses possible.
For example, in writing an amusing story from their early childhood, middle years students may need time to consider and choose among story possibilities. Then they may need additional time to experiment with ways of expressing the story in writing.
In this case, to make sure students know that they have such time, try saying something like: “Writing a good story will take time, and you may have to return to it repeatedly.
So we will start working on it today, but do not expect to finish today. We’ll be coming back to it several times in the next couple of weeks.”
Show Enthusiasm
Show that you value unusual ideas and elegant solutions to problems. When a student does something out of the ordinary, show your enthusiasm for it.
A visually appealing drawing, a well-crafted essay, or a different solution to a math problem than the one you expected – all of these deserve an explicit compliment.
Encouragement
Expressing your interest and respect does more than support the specific achievement. It also expresses a more general, underlying message that in your classroom, it is safe and rewarding to find and share the unusual and elegant.
Note that these communication strategies support problem-solving and related skills of creativity. When describing creativity, attention should be called to the difference and importance of divergent (open-ended) thinking. As with problem-solving, though, divergent thinking may seem risky to some students unless they are encouraged to do so explicitly.
The strategies for boosting academic risk-taking can help to communicate this encouragement - that process matters more than product, that there will be time enough to work, and that you, as teacher, indeed value their efforts.