The Seemingly Impossible Challenge

Sometimes small tasks feel insurmountable.  Finish this essay, read 20 pages, prepare for this test.  As an adult, I know this feeling.  (Do I have to fold the laundry?)  Although these small tasks are incredibly doable, we can lack the motivation to tackle them.

Enter the Seemingly Impossible Challenge, something that seems so big, so daunting, so seemingly impossible that students think, Wait, what?  How can I ever do that?

This year, my Creative Writing class is participating in National Novel Writing Month.  The goal of NaNoWriMo is to complete an entire novel in the month of November.  Adults aim to write 50,000 words, but students can set their wordcount wherever they’d like.

When I first mentioned this challenge, there was collective silence.  Students were scared and nervous–but excited too.  A buzz developed.

And on October 31, we registered our accounts.  Each student wrote a brief synopsis of their novel-to-be.  The energy in the room was unmistakable.

I can’t believe we’re going to do this!

I can’t wait to get started!

Eeeeeeeeeee!

One student, as he pressed “return,” zipped himself completely into his hoodie.

Students tossed out title names, possible characters, plot sketches. The voices got louder and louder.  We’re going to do this.  And perhaps this is hyperbole, but it felt like I was taking them skydiving and we were about to jump.

We’re a week in, and their energy level has continued, even for students who don’t consider themselves writers.  The Seemingly Impossible Challenge allows no room for hesitation.  It’s time to jump.

I think about how I’ve used the Seemingly Impossible Challenge in my regular English classes:

  • After reading Persepolis, write your own graphic memoir.
  • Perform a scene from Macbeth for the entire 9th grade.  Memorize your scene, create your own costumes, and make it polished and professional.
  • At the start of 11th grade:  You will write one essay a week for the entire year. Go!

I’m brainstorming other ways I can up the ante.  Write a 15-page thesis, perform slam poetry, write your own TED talk–then deliver it in a TEDx Youth event.

Can the Seemingly Impossible Challenge backfire?  Probably.  But with the right teacher energy, it might not.  And it just might push students to achieve something they thought they could never do.

Sometimes it’s the big things that shift us into high gear.  Think marathons, cross-country road trips, hiking the Appalachian Trail.

And if we can achieve the Seemingly Impossible, what else can we do?

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