Education and Learning

Monday, January 22, 2007

Risk Taking

To Be Little Candles for Others

Risk taking is the willingness to make mistakes, advocate unconventional or unpopular positions, or tackle extremely challenging problems without obvious solutions, such that one's personal growth, integrity, or accomplishments are enhanced.

The very nature of learning requires risk taking. Asmall child would never learn to walk, talk, or socially interact without taking risks, experiencing successes and failures, and then monitoring and adjusting accordingly.

Quantum leaps in learning, solving problems, inventing new products, and discovering new phenomena require risk taking. Risk taking within the learning environment requires a willingness to think deeply about a subject or problem, share that thinking with others to hear their perspectives, listen to their critiques, and then build on those experiences toward a solution or solutions (Dweck, 2000; Weiner, 1994). Too often, students are engaged in learning activities that focus on the "right answers." Instead, students should be encouraged to engage in discussions about numerous approaches—and potential solutions—to a problem (Brophy, 1998; Vispoel & Austin, 1995).

In order to take risks that lead to intellectual growth, students must be in environments that they perceive to be safe—places in which to share ideas, reflect on and discuss perspectives, and learn new things. Research shows that students learn more when they are engaged in intellectually stimulating assignments where they engage in meaningful, intellectually stimulating work in which they construct knowledge (Newmann, 1996; Newmann et al., 2001). This research applies to all students regardless of socioeconomic status or prior academic achievement.

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