Forget it. If they don't want to pay attention and learn, so be it.
Perhaps you’ve heard others say this, or felt it yourself. It can be extremely frustrating trying to teach a child something who just doesn’t get it, doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t seem to care or who doesn’t seem to want to learn.
There is an alternative.
However, if we consider the bigger picture, we see another possibility. Much of a student’s behavior can be a protective front to keep them from feeling like a failure – after all, who likes that?
Perhaps they act this way because the material is unfamiliar and therefore they don’t know if they can understand it. The uncertainty is a bit scary.
“Well they don’t have to be scared,” we say.
But they are. So… if they pretend they don’t care, and if they don’t try or if they hold back on really applying themselves, they can’t fail. Problem solved.
What does this have to do with me?
Those students who experience these negative feelings can exhibit behavior that can make it seem as if they don’t care. And then we take it personally. “They're just really ungrateful of everything I do.”
It's our job to meet them where they're - in their distraction, interest, frustration, intimidated state, excitement, fear, wonderment, avoidance, etc. But if we are burned-out, frustrated, or feel unappreciated, it’s hard to do that.
So how do I get there?
Adjusting just a few assumptions can put us in a more relaxed, sustainable place to offer reassurance and hope to kids who feel this uncertainty. Doing this is just as much for our self-care as it is for their education.
Use these statements to reset your assumptions.
These guidelines are designed to help us “reset” our assumptions in the service of positively impacting our approach to students.
1. It’s about them, not us.
When kids avoid or check-out, most of the time they aren’t doing it to “get back” at us. They do it to avoid the concern they feel about whether they'll be able to meet a challenge. Or because they're worried about looking incompetent in front of their peers.
They may even act out to divert attention away from their academic ability. This is another protective feature - again, not about us.
Adjusting this assumption can free up the compulsion to defend ourselves. It can also allow for more time and energy for them.
2. Kids have different levels of abilities. Period.
If we assume this, all of a sudden we aren’t expecting Joe to perform as well as Roger, or vice versa. This allows us to determine, without judgment, where Joe and Roger are with their abilities and to ask independent, non-comparative questions.
“What does Joe need to further his learning and education.”
And completely separately…
“What does Roger need to further his learning and education.”
3. They ARE trying.
There's an assumption that all students CAN understand “if they just try" hard enough.
When we take this into the classroom, it's easy to become frustrated (All they have to do is…), become resentful (I am so tired of busting my tail and they're not caring) or even retaliate (If they don't want to work in class, I'm just gonna load them up with a ton of homework. That'll teach 'em!).
Assume that they ARE trying and ARE understanding as much as they possibly can. Doing this rids us of the temptation of doing things such as shaming and scolding - which has been shown to be counterproductive to learning.
It also puts us in a “glass half full” position of recognizing what they DO learn, rather than focusing on what they don’t. (Half cup of motivational praise, anyone?)
Keep these statements handy.
Write the above sentences down and keep them nearby. Read them at the beginning of every day, or every lesson or class even. It helps to have brief, yet constant reminders.
After a couple of weeks, see if you can tell a difference in how you feel, your stress level, and the reaction of your students.
Try them out and share know how it goes in the comments. Did you come up with some of your own assumption adjustments?
You might also like:
- How to be Part of the Education Conversation
- Everyday Math Exposure: Just Saying It Helps
- Do Parents See the Math Monster? Or Just Think It’s There?
- Anxiety Safe Learning Environments
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