Last week I did a gamemaking workshop for first year high school pupils who were visiting the university. They were on a "bright sparks" programme, which meant that their teachers had selected them as people who would benefit from learning about university and trying out some activities in different departments. It's part of a widening access scheme - the pupils come from an area of deprivation where there are concerns about social exclusion. The university is trying to encourage people from non traditional backgrounds to study here, and I am pleased to help where I can.
The reason I thought it was worth mentioning here is that the workshop wasn't particularly successful. Because we normally do these workshops for volunteers (i.e. people who sign themselves up for holiday classes in game making), everyone normally has a whale of a time. Concentration is normally high and the kids show great wiliness in solving their own problems.
But last week, many of the kids got bored about 30 minutes, started complaining and stopped trying. There were only 3 boys in the group, but they all had a great time. It was the girls who lost focus. All of the kids reported that they enjoyed playing games, but perhaps these girls weren't so much into role-play games.
The most striking thing I noticed was the lack of determination to succeed and low persistence. Determination and persistence are qualities which Cathrin and I identified in primary school children (male and female) in a study last year, and I suppose I am used to seeing them in pupils who are highly motivated. But the children last week gave up very easily. They expected things to be easy, and were put off if things turned out to be more complicated than they initially assumed. They expected the staff to fix their problems for them, and removed themselves from the situation entirely (literally going and sitting somewhere else in the room in a huff) if things didn't go their way. I also noticed that they were not good at collaborating and sometimes directly obstructed it (e.g. by laughing or jeering at a partner): skills in learning together and alone were lacking too.
The workshop lasted for an hour and half, so there isn't a lot you can do in such a short time to such fundamental skills or attitudes. It did open my eyes to why such skills are necessary, and to the fact that I normally take them for granted. Even the most apathetic of my university students cares about passing exams and finishing coursework. It was rather sad to see these attitudes missing in the school pupils because most achievements in life, academic or otherwise, require resilience and determination. The Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland includes these are key skills for young learners. The question is how best to teach them.