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I have been surprised at how easily many of my students (not all), get frustrated with attempting something new, even if it is a something similar to what they have used in the past.
It was almost as if they can’t just start “playing” or “doing” with what they are working on and use it easily/quickly – they just get frustrated and start saying “this is stupid”, “this is boring”, “why do we have to learn this”, (then the farting noises start, the loud voices – outdoor vs indoor), the rude behaviors, “I’m going to the bathroom” and other avoidance tactics that students use to delay or avoid learning.
I also have noted when many students got stuck on how to do something, instead of trying to figure it out themselves and working persistently to get through the problem or by trying different things themselves, they just start yelling “Mr. Shaw I need help”. If I don’t drop everything and immediately go to help them theyeither use other techniques to get my attention or just sit there until my teaching assistant or I help them.
It is almost as if they have learned to not try something that appears new, unless someone is right with them to walk them through the process step-by-step and make all the decisions for them. This is what I believe is known as “learned helplessness” that we see in students.
What is learned helplessness? A tendency to be a passive learner who depends on others for decisions and guidance. www.siena.edu/level3col.aspx
Hold on tightly sometimes if you attempt to “rock the boat” by actually attempting to teach or expect certain students (especially those deep in the learned helplessness cycle) how to do something independently. If you do, “the student” the student might shut-down or worse explode and the waves will impact everything in their way AND all the other students in the room.
I have watched this happen way too often in Special Education classrooms and listen to parents discuss this same thing happening at home (ADMISSION: I used to as a parent – to avoid a bad night at home – do the work for my daughter – so homework many times became my homework not hers). I know why adults do this, they are trying to just get through the evening or class without a complete blowout ruining things for everyone.
However, are we doing our students any favors by allowing and continuing to enable students to use “learned helplessness” and other learned negative responses as a way for them to control what they have to do and lessen their learning in our classrooms? I think not!
I know that I don’t enjoy it when a student blows-up in my room, especially if it is an learned response that they have used successfully in the past, because they don’t want to do the work or participate in the lesson/activity the class is doing. At the same time am I doing that student, their family or their peers any favors if I continue to contribute to their “learned helplessness”. I believe that if I go down that road, I am simply not doing my job as a teacher.
What am I going to do?
Keep working at pushing my students kicking and screaming towards working as independently as they are capable. Scaffold as much information as I can, so that they can use previously learned knowledge to connect to what we will be learning in the classroom. Reteach, Reteach, Reteach – Using different methods to teach the same concepts – just because I taught it yesterday means that they remember it today .
Differentiate between attitude and aptitude in the classroom and use the student’s strengths while learning/understanding their weaknesses whenever possible. While at the same time not giving in to the temper tantrum or “I won’t” or “don’t have to” attitudes.
But I do believe that I will add three vocabulary words to this week:
- Learned helplessness
I guess the first two apply to me as well as the students :).
I feel better now and need to go re-plan how I will finish this Unit and figure out ways to also teach/reach as many as I can. 🙂
Remember – it isn’t about you or I – it is about the kids.
Coast Guard Photograph:
THIS IS REPOSTED From 12/17/09 even though this is a re-post, I believe it is important enough to put into my stream for this year with modification and updating.