Looking for the “Hard Part”

Occasionally, a student (or teacher, for that matter) may get stumped on a seemingly easy lesson. He (or “she”; education is not sexist) just cannot seem to understand the obvious. This is often a very bright student, which only adds to the frustration. What went wrong? Quite possibly, nothing.

What is usually the case is that this bright student is looking for the “hard part” of the lesson and can’t find it. The student has a preconceived idea that this particular subject matter will be difficult to understand. When a lesson is presented clearly and simply, many times the student can grasp the concept readily and move on. In this particular case, however, the lesson has seemed easy to the student, contrary to the reputation that preceded it. The student has understood the entire lesson as presented, but feels insecure in that knowledge simply because it seemed too easy. The student gets confused, claims to understand the various parts of the lesson when questioned, but is reluctant to do the assigned work. The student may even attempt to do the work, but do it incorrectly, further proving his own belief that the lesson is too complicated. What was presented simply in the lesson has become confused in the student’s mind when combined with the preconceived notion of difficulty.

Most often in our homeschool, this happened with math, but do not be surprised if it occurs with some students in other subjects as well. Most of us give math a bad reputation, often without realizing it. How many grandparents have been heard to say, “Oh, I never could figure out algebra.” Moms may casually state, “I think I can teach anything else at home, but when it comes to high school math, I’ll get someone else to do it!” Even peers and siblings may influence your student with, “I hate math. It’s too hard.” Therefore, it is not surprising to have some students think there should be a harder element to a lesson: they have been conditioned to expect difficulty, and they get confused when they do not find it.

If you find your student is stuck looking for the hard part, review the lesson’s parts with him and encourage him on his ability to understand the lesson well, and then help him to see that he can move forward. Use this as a confidence-building exercise: congratulate your student that he learned something faster and easier than he had expected to learn it! After a few similar incidents, your student may be able to catch himself “looking for the hard part,” be able to recognize his problem, and move on without the former frustration setting in. When he reaches that point, offer him your praise and congratulations. Your student has just made a gigantic leap forward in teaching himself, and that is its own reward!

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