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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Dilemma with Instant Gratification

There was a time when the purpose of taking a photo was to capture a moment you wanted to treasure, and then place that moment into a book for you or your family to see later… Dozens of photos, captured on film, waiting to be developed, sometimes over months.

There was a time when getting lost meant finding a map or a pay phone. There was a time when questions asked in a group like, “Who starred in that president’s movie with Redford?” or “Is it supposed to rain tomorrow?” would have required a trip to the movie store to find out it was Dustin Hoffman or waiting for the 10 o’lock news to find out there was a 70 percent chance it was going to rain.

There was a time when wanting to talk to someone far away required a person to write a letter, or pay extra for a long distance phone call…

Of course, times have changed, and changed rapidly. While I don’t think change is bad, and the power of knowledge has never been more accessible, there is a challenge that has continued to grow in the world of education each and every year...a dilemma really...instant gratification.

As weird as this is to say aloud...we have students who have never known a life that required them to think through taking a photo because they were precious and limited, have never had to wait for an answer to a question, or not had the ability to talk to someone face to face in China real time. Think about that for a moment…

The power of Google is a wonderful thing, getting instant feedback is quite amazing, yet…there is something lost in the art of not knowing.

We live in a world, we live in a society, that is focused on self...focused on self-image, self-worth built on the number of likes received from a photo or statement. Our students are growing up in this world, in this society where faces are constantly looking at phone screens, cameras take more selfies than any other photo, and answers to questions are searched for instantly. You see, our students are growing up in a world where they wait for very little. It’s truly amazing, television is on demand, answers are online, friends can be reached via text as soon as a thought arrives, photos are shared instantly, and seeing what others are doing is just an app away.

There was a time when waiting in line meant line...with only your thoughts for entertainment. Office waiting rooms offered magazines for entertainment, and the newspaper was the best way to read about the game you missed or the one that wasn’t shown on TV.

We have students who have never known a life when waiting in line didn’t include playing a game or talking to a friend on their phones... Have never needed a magazine to catch up on fashion, sports, or entertainment. We have students who don’t know a world without being able to record every game, pause live TV, or even watch the game live on their phones…

In essence, we live in a world of instant gratification. From the way we communicate, learn, and even observe the world around us...everything is at a rapid pace. People want things as quickly as they can type, heck, even free-two day shipping wasn’t fast, buy a qualifying item on Amazon and you get it tomorrow…

So what is the dilemma with instant gratification? Besides of course the creation of millennials? Kidding.

While I am not the expert, and don’t pretend to be...there seems to be two major areas of concern that seem to grow each year...Attention and Grit.

Attention, stamina, amount of time focused on one concept...however you want to look at it, many students today are coming into classrooms lacking the ability to remain focused for longer than several minutes. It makes sense time you watch a movie, television show, even play a how often the picture changes. We text using abbreviations because writing “you” takes too long, so just use “u” … Again, we live in a fast paced world, so you can probably imagine just how hard it can be to take an assessment in a quiet environment for an hour plus.

I am not saying ADHD is on the rise, I am not saying our kids don’t have the ability, what I am saying is our students are growing up in a world built on instant gratification, and when school demands a focus on the process...when school demands undivided attention...when a school demands a need for instructional stamina, many of our students do not enter the room prepared because the world does not function in the same fashion.

Grit, work ethic, willingness to fail, willingness to struggle...however you want to look at it, many students today are coming into classrooms lacking a willingness to struggle with their learning. How many times have you heard a teacher or colleague say something like, “These kids are just not willing to put in the work!” Or, how many colleagues have said of new teachers today, “They just don’t have the work ethic like new teachers used to have.”

I am not saying that today’s world is worse today than it once was... We just need to understand our reality as educators. Our kids are growing up in a world where answers come quickly. Have a question? Ask Siri. Not sure how to fix something? YouTube it. It’s amazing how quickly we can get what we want, when we want it. The wealthier the family, the less waiting time is needed. Yet even for our students coming from poverty, instant gratification is still alive and well.

So how do we tackle this dilemma? Or an even larger question, is this a dilemma? For many educators it is, and tackling it starts with embracing the challenge, and meeting our students where they are. Before frustration comes we need to understand our students, we need to understand where they are coming from, and we need to understand that the world they live in may not look at all similar to the one inside the school building. Attention, stamina, grit, a focus on the process...these things are taught, these things are nurtured, these things are often introduced in the classroom.

I truly believe we need to focus on the process of learning. We need to focus on creating a challenging curriculum that invites investigation, rather than asking questions Siri could answer in a matter of seconds. Creativity invites intrigue. Collaboration solves the need for human interaction. A positive environment invites the ability to fail forward safely.

The reality is that our students’ needs are changing. The reality is our students live in a world of instant gratification. So should we change instruction to focus on giving our students a curriculum built on instant gratification each and every day? Absolutely not. There is a time and place for all things, yet if we don’t focus on building stamina, creating engaging activities that require grit, and ask questions that go beyond a Googleable question...we are not giving our students the skills they need. There is something powerful that happens when we struggle, when we collaborate, and when we fail forward...our students need to experience this as much as possible, even though that might be quite the difficult challenge.


  1. Completely agree!!! Grit and Attention. The two big sacrifices because of instant gratification.

    I love teaching concepts that can't be googled. Kids relate and are smart. I think they like having the opportunity to stretch those muscles of learning, understanding, and creativity.

  2. Love the post. I whole hardly agree! One of my biggest goals is to instill Grit and hold thier attention to complete the task! I never pondered instant gratification as one of the forces we need to combat. Getting kids to really take the time to think, and knowing in art there is more than one right choice stretches my kids! Asking them "what do you think, do you like it better this way or that way? "challenges them!

  3. Great post. There's that necessary tension between a task that pulls them into attention and the task that requires the grit. I think that's the sweet spot.

  4. Novel idea, to ask questions that cannot be simply looked up. I know, a preposition is not to end a sentence with. Maybe it's not who's the fastest but who has more staying power, the old hare and turtle fable Regardless, I believe that process is as important, maybe more so, as product. It's the journey where we gain understanding, not having arrived at the destination.

  5. Your blog reminded me of my students in faith formation class today. They were trying to figure out Jesus age. One student suggested looking it up on Google. It was great opportunity to talk about how it's not as simple as typing a question. They really need to explore and discuss their wonderings with others to really focus and narrow down their specific question. It's in the process they learn so much more through others and about themselves.