Raiding or Grinding?

As we hurtle toward the end of my first semester as a middle school teacher, I’ve been reflecting on how my new setup has gone.

Honestly?  Not great.

Finding myself in unfamiliar territory after the shift from high school to middle school, I got scared.  I flailed. I failed.

I failed, not because my students weren’t learning.  They were, but I let my fear dictate how my classroom operated, and I white-knuckled it through the day, planning for control rather than focusing on the things I know are good for kids.  All my big talk about how learners should be resilient in the face of failure because that’s where the good stuff happens?  Yup, went right out the window.

I recently sat down with my husband, who – having known me since I was thirteen – is pretty good at calling me on my nonsense and talking me down off the figurative ledge.  Our very long discussion ultimately led me to a single question about the way I’ve been planning for my classes:

Are they grinding or raiding?

Here are some quick definitions of these gaming terms to clarify what I mean:

Grind (v): to engage in repetitive tasks in order to make incremental character progress. Generally, these tasks are minimally challenging and can be completed solo.

Raid (v): to take on a challenging boss or series of bosses too powerful to defeat solo.  This task typically requires thoughtful strategy from a group of players that bring to the table a variety of skills and abilities.

Option #1  is in some ways the safe, traditional path: accept task, complete task, grow by millimeters, rinse, repeat.  Neat and tidy, maybe, and there’s value in exploring on one’s own from time to time, but is a steady diet of this good for kids’ learning?  Option #2 at its best is collaborative; it’s more project-based; and it lends itself to all manner of failure, reflection, and growth cycles.  Messy, yes, but a little more like what I want my classroom to be.

So I’m heading into this holiday break with a plan.  A little fear can be good, but I’m tired of letting my fear of failure run me.   I’m gearing up to raid.