The new Learned Helplessness: “You can’t do this, so I will do it for you!”

A teacher’s take on why kids need to learn to do things for themselves…

My 5-6 year old students have their swimming program this fortnight. In my class of 24, there are 2 students that are unable to dress themselves, dry themselves off, and ensure their belongings make it into their swimming bags. The other 22 can do all of those things – granted a bit of help might be needed with things like putting on swimming caps, or the occasional lost sock – but all in all they’re doing very well. Those 2 that I mentioned are also the same 2 that at school, are constantly losing things, leaving things lying around, struggling with such things as the dreaded glue stick etc. It just so happens, that it is the parents of those 2 that are coming to ‘help out’ at swimming every day… You can see where I’m going with this…

The chicken or the egg?
Those 2 parents will tell you, “I’m coming to help at swimming because my child has trouble getting themselves dressed, and is disorganised and always losing things.”
My thought is that the opposite is the case: Isn’t your child disorganised and always losing things BECAUSE you’re doing everything for them? By drying them off, getting them dressed and packing their bags, aren’t you teaching them that these are things which they are unable to do for themselves. Is it that you do not trust them to do it for themselves, or do you think they will be physically, intellectually or emotionally unable to do it for themselves? Either way, you child is receiving a message loud and clear…

“You can’t do this, so I will do it for you!”

 The ‘new’ Learned Helplessness:
“Learned Helplessness” is a person’s sense of powerless, following a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is a term used in clinical psychology. I am not by any stretch a clinical psychologist and am not intending on appropriating the term myself. However… a Social & Emotional Learning PD I was at recently discussed the presence of many of the ‘symptoms’ of Learned Helplessness being present in school-age children. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not intending to minimise the impact that true Learned Helplessness has on people’s lives, particularly following traumatic, horrific events. I do think it’s important to relay some of the comparisons that can be drawn to young children.

What is it?
The majority of people, when in a ‘bad situation’, will do whatever they can to escape it. The truth for people with Learned Helplessness is that when in a bad situation, they feel as though they have no control and will give up and accept the situation they’re in. You can see why Learned Helplessness and depression are so closely linked. When a person is subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape, repeatedly and over an extended period, the person may well become accepting of that stimulus, feeling as though they’re unable to have any control. Do a quick Google search of Martin Seligman to find out more.

What’s the connection to school-aged children?
We’ve all heard of “helicopter parenting”, students being “wrapped in cotton wool”, and so on. Well-meaning parents will do anything – and everything! – for their kids. I’m by no means saying that parents are inflicting trauma on their children by being, let’s say “overbearing”. But… by showing & telling kids (directly or indirectly) that they cannot do anything for themselves, are we engraining the same Learned Helplessness idea which will see that child accept their inabilities?

“You can’t do this, so I will do it for you!”

What are the lastly effects of children receiving that message? A new kind of Learned Helplessness?

Teachling <WordPress>

 More from Teachling:

A teacher’s take on letting kids play, Pt.2…

Re-blog: The Rise of the Helicopter Teacher

A teacher’s take on helping children learn at home, pt2…
A teacher’s take on helping children learn at home, pt1…

A teacher’s take on getting your kids to school on time… And why it’s the least you can do…

A teacher’s take on letting kids play…

A teacher’s take on parent-teacher relationships…

 

 

 

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How to get kids playing again: Make play appealing

A teacher’s take on letting kids play, Pt.2

Your child doesn’t play outside much, because he ‘doesn’t want to’? Well that’s just too bad. Let’s come up with some ideas to get that kid off his butt and out to get some Vitamin-D…

In A teacher’s take on letting kids play… I wrote about the decline in self-guided, outdoors play for children. A recent comment from a parent of one of my students has me feeling quite frustrated. The mother commented in passing that, “[My son] doesn’t just go outside and play much – he’d rather play Minecraft.” Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that I bit my tongue and opted not to ask, “Um, so who was it that bought him the iPad, downloaded the game and allows him to spend so much time engaging in such a sedentary activity?” Don’t get me wrong, technology is great and I have nothing against iPads, Minecraft, or even letting kids have some downtime, but…
Her comments made me realise that in that above-mentioend blog post, I had forgotten one key thing that we as adults can do to get kids playing again. Here’s the simple advice I gave her.

1) Make play appealing.

Imagine sitting a kid down in a chair, at a table with nothing on it, and asking that child to go wild, have fun. You wouldn’t, would you? Perhaps we slightly over-estimate the ability of children to just make things up as they go along. Sure, they are endlessly creative, innovative and imaginative, but at the end of the day, if the prospects are to go outside alone and try to figure out a game to play that will keep themselves entertained enough, with resources that are either missing or that they don’t know how to use, versus plonking down for some screen-time to play a game that they know is guaranteed fun (such as Minecraft – my students don’t shut up about it!) or to watch their favourite show; it’s no real surprise that many kids will choose the latter.

Kids are becoming such un-skilled ‘players’, that I’ve been taking my own grade outside during class time, to help them learn new games, teaching them games to play alone, in small groups or big groups. Helping them learn what you can do with various materials ranging from the traditional (balls, skipping ropes, etc.) to those which require a little more imagination (eg. what can we do with 2 old tyres, some paper and pencils, a length of rope and some sticks?). As a teacher, I wouldn’t just say to my young students, “Go ahead, do math!” So why should I expect them to just go outside at recess and instinctively know what to do? Let alone, figuring out how to have fun by themselves when they’re sent out to play in their own backyard.

Make play appealing by giving a few ideas, perhaps teaching them some games and actually playing outside with them if they’re not one to do so independently. Model yourself, how exciting play can be. Show kids that you love and value play.

Further to that, my original list comprised four other factors…
2) Provide children with the time to play.
That is, don’t over-schedule kids. Even allow them to get bored as that will force them to truly direct their own play.
3) Provide children with the space and freedom to play.
Obviously this is dependent on where you live and safety must be a priority, but maybe we could loosen the harness.
4) Provide children with the resources to play.
For example, construction materials, balls, scooters, sketch pads, rather than iPhones or DVDs. Don’t spend a fortune – You can find most things for free in council throw-outs, or get things on-the-cheap at charity stores.
5) Leave the rest to them! Don’t assume we know what’s best.
Let children make friends with the kids that they want and play the games that they want.

There’s been a bunch of great articles written on the importance of play. It’s a no-brainer, really, but if you’d like to read about why our young people should be out in the sunshine, getting grubby and active, here are some good places to start:
• ‘Why Our Children Need to Get Outside and Engage With Nature‘ (The Guardian)
• ‘Over-protected, Over-organised… Why Kids Needs More Time to Run and Play‘ (The Sydney Morning Herald)
• ‘The Play Deficit‘ (Aeon Magazine)
• ‘All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed‘ (The Atlantic)

Teachling <Twitter>

A teacher’s take on students using their teacher’s Christian name…

Do teachers earn respect through their name?

In this Topical Teaching post, it’s suggested that teachers earn respect through their surname. In Australia, I’d say that most teachers go by their surname – Mrs X, Mr Y, Ms Z. In many cultures, honorifics are widely used; think ‘Sensei’ in Japan. The thought of my students calling me ‘Sir’, for instance, is totally bizarre to me. My belief is that nowadays, the kind of ‘respect’ earned through your title is completely artificial. It pains me that at my school the teachers are instructed to go by our surnames. My students do know my Christian name, so why can’t they call me it? After all, I call them by their Christian names.

In the abovementioned post, it states,I don’t want my students to call me Michael because I believe it is important to remind them that I am their teacher and not their friend. This is important, because if you want your advise to be respected, I think it helps to have a more formal title.

Personally, I believe you earn respect through your actions, not your title. I’ve posted previously that teachers need to be warm, be caring, laugh and above all, be human. I find the ‘don’t smile for the first three months’ rule to be incredibly damaging to classroom culture, student-teacher relationships and learning. A combination of great relationships + high expectations = Respect.

Some feel very passionately that respect is earned through a name or title and will take extreme measures to uphold that ‘respect’. In this case in the UK, a student was suspended from school for 5 days simply because, outside of school mind you, he called his teacher ‘Barry’ (whose name is, surprise surprise, Barry!).

Some wonderings I have, for those that claim that allowing students to call you by your Christian name somehow puts their respect for you in jeopardy…
* Is respect only bottom up?
* Do you only respect those that are ‘above’ you and not those ‘below’?
* Do you only hold respect for those with a special title?
* When you call someone by their Christian name (your students, your own children, your wife, your neighbour…), does it mean you don’t respect them?

I know a few Primary schools are catching up to the many Secondary schools that have already made the switch to allowing students to call their teachers by their Christian names. What do you think?

Teachling<WordPress> < Twitter>

More on the topic from Teachling:
A teacher’s take on positive teacher-student relationships…
A teacher’s take on earning respect from students…

 

Teach Teachers How To Create Magic – Christopher Emdin

How important is the ‘act’ of teaching? No, not those theories of ‘pedagogical practices’ – sometimes ridiculously called ‘best practice’, as though such a thing exists. I’m talking about the ‘performance’; The ‘preacher -in-a-“black-church”’ type performance that truly engages.

This TED Talk by Christopher Emdin struck a chord with me. Like Emdin says, I set out to “be an educator, change lives, and spark magic” and every day I come home exhausted. I feel like an actor that’s been performing a 6 ½ hour show. If there’s every a day when the bell goes at 3:30 and I still have a whiff of energy left in me, I feel as though I didn’t try hard enough – that I didn’t push myself to create that ‘magic’.

Yes, of course, learning tasks should be engaging, content should be relevant to the students, learning should be student-centred, yes, yes, yes, blah, blah, blah. But all of that – the best theory, the best content, the best practice (scoff!) – in the hands of an educator whom lacks that X-factor, will never spark magic.

“So why does teacher education only give you theory and theory, and tell you about standards and tell you about all these things that have nothing to do with the basic skills, that magic that you need to engage and audience, to engage a student?” (Emdin, 2013). Spare a thought for the “aspiring teacher in a graduate school of education, who’s watching a professor babble on and on about engagement in the most disengaging way possible” (Emdin, 2013).

So what makes a great teacher so great?

Teachling<WordPress> < Twitter>

The highs and lows of teaching: From making a difference, building great relationships and shaping the future, to homework, reports and helicopter parents.

A teacher’s reflection on 6 months of blogging…

13,000 words later and I feel like I’ll never get sick of posting. Over the past 6 months I’ve had the joy of having some good chats with fellow educators like the experienced, very enthusiastic and full-of-ideas Norah Colvin, to new teachers such as the very switched-on and similarly enthusiastic Cultivating Questioners, as well as blogs such as ijstock and Cognition Education. Let’s admit it, every blogger loves to get comments! When a comment comes through from people of the same wavelength as you, it’s always exciting, isn’t it!

More than a chance to network, hear from other people that are passionate about education (teachers and parents alike) and learn new things, blogging is a great chance to just hammer your thoughts out on a keyboard, send them into cyberspace and get things off your chest. Particularly when you work in a profession which is constantly evolving, and which there seems as though there’ll never be a manual on ‘how to teach’. Therefore, all schools do things differently and of course, you’re never going to agree with everything that goes on within your school and system. It’s always nice to hear you’re not the only one!

I started this blog to share My 2 Cents on a range of education-related topics. Long story short, one of my rabbits was sick, and after consulting ‘Dr Google’, I discovered that hardly any professionals post useful advice relating to their profession online. I felt, as a teacher, that I could easily write about what I do, and that it might help a parent, a teacher, anyone. Thus began, “A teacher’s take…”

A summary of my posts:
A teacher’s take on getting your kids to school on time… And why it’s the least you can do…
A teacher’s take on why schools should scrap ‘grades’, and give kids real ‘feedback’…
A teacher’s take on rethinking education…
Ken Robinson’s take on how we should be viewing education…
Ken Robinson’s take on schools, and how they kill creativity…
A teacher’s take on letting kids play…
A teacher’s take on positive teacher-student relationships…
A teacher’s take on student reports… And why they’re a waste of my time!
A teacher’s take on homework…
An Australian teacher’s take on America’s Common Core…
A teacher’s take on parent-teacher relationships…
A teacher’s take on respecting teachers, pt2…
A teacher’s take on respecting teachers, pt1…
A teacher’s take on earning respect from students…
A teacher’s take on positive thoughts and how kids let negative thoughts consume them…
A teacher’s take on independence and helicopter parents…
A teacher’s take on the jargon of explicit teaching…
A teacher’s take on “How Children Learn”…
A teacher’s take on self-help and parenting advice…
A teacher’s take on blogs…

Teachling <WordPress> < Twitter>

Ding, Ding, Ding – Why are half my students still not here?

A teacher’s take on getting your kids to school on time… And why it’s the least you could do.

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A couple of weeks into the new school year here in Australia and one thing is frustrating me more than assessments, meetings and a new bunch of rascals combined. PARENTS! Specifically, why is it so darn hard to get your kid to school on time? Seriously?! 9am can’t be that hard, considering we teachers are there before 8am every day (That may come as a surprise to those that think we work 9-3:30, hehe).

Before I rant, let me chuck in some quotes, to prove it’s not just me… Michael Grose’s Parenting Ideas website is fantastic if you haven’t explored it already. He says here that “School absenteeism is a huge problem in Australia – and much of it is parent-condoned”. Shockingly, the average student misses 12-15 days of school each year (doesn’t sound like that much really, however…), which equates to a full school year lost over the span of their education. Yikes!

Grose continues that “Australian kids spend only 15% of their total time at school. They spend more time asleep than they do at school. So we need to maximise every day to get full value. That means turning up to school every day, on time”. There are always a few stragglers, coming into class late, whose parents bring them to the door after the bell has gone, give them their cuddles, say their goodbyes, holding up the start of the school day for the whole class. One day last week, we didn’t actually start the school day until 9:07 (Even then, one boy didn’t arrive until 9:45!). When the bell rang at 9am (following a ‘warning bell’ at 8:57) only half of my class were present! Let’s say though, very conservatively, that the beginning of my class’s school day is held up for just 2 minutes each day. That’s almost 7 hours missed across the year; more than a full school day.

Last year I had a perpetually late mother get stroppy with me for, and I quote, “You don’t acknowledge me in the mornings when I bring _ into the class!” For real? You bring your son into class late every day and you want me to engage you in conversation, despite that fact that you’re contributing to the whole class losing more than a full day of school this year?

Punctuality isn’t just about teachers griping about a lost couple of minutes. It affects all students in a class and is a problem all around the world, with some UK schools beginning to issue fines to parents of tardy students!

Parents, get your kids to school on time. Better yet, get them to school 5 or 10 minutes early. That will give them a chance to have a chat to their buddies, maybe have a quick run-around outside, unpack their bags and come into class to get settled. They’re ready to start the school day when the bell rings.

The alternative is to rush around in the morning, get them to school late, give them no time to socialise and get settled, and come into class late, embarrassed and ashamed that the whole class is waiting on them and that they haven’t had time to organise their belongings.

Why it’s the least [many parents] could do:
No doubt ‘Parent’ is becoming fewer and fewer peoples’ full-time job.  Most parents now are so-called ‘working parents’. Of course this means you’re going to be busy, busy, busy. Not only are you thinking about your child constantly and caring for them; organising play-dates, planning dinner, getting the kids to their sport games, music lessons, trying to get on top of the house-work. You’re also holding down your own job, rushing around to meetings and so on. As a result, more and more parents are taking a hands-off approach to their child’s formal education. With less time in your day, you might not be able to get to school during the day to help in the classroom or attend excursions. With nights a blur, parents are often telling me there’s no time for homework (if you’ve read my post about homework you’ll know that I’m not too fussed about that, anyway!), and are often too busy or tired to get to school for parent-teacher meetings and information nights. If you’re one of these parents – and rest assured I am by no means ‘having a dig’ at you – then, at the very least, the extend of your involvement with your child’s schooling is making sure they’re at school every day, and that they’re there on time.

Teachers are there to support you and help you give your child the best possible start to their life. Sometimes, you need to help us to help them. Get your kids to school on time.

–          Teachling <WordPress> <Tumblr> < Twitter>

More from Teachling:
A teacher’s take on why schools should scrap ‘grades’, and give kids real ‘feedback’…
A teacher’s take on letting kids play…
A teacher’s take on parent-teacher relationships…

Further reading:
Heidi Scrimgeour’s “Late for school again: But does it really matter?
Livia McCoy’s “Student absences: They hurt more than you might think
DEECD’s “Every day counts: The importance of full-time attendance
Michael Grose’s “It’s not ok to be away… Or to be late to school

Image credit:
http://www.parentdish.co.uk/back-to-school/late-for-school-again-but-does-it-matter/

Why ‘Grades’ Are A Useless Form Of Feedback (And Do More Harm Than Good)

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So, ‘smart’ kids are no happier than others. Besides, why does society value academia so highly anyway? School systems think standardised testing will somehow improve learning and that assigning grades and report cards will somehow improve learning, but a large body of research suggests quite the opposite. Kids need feedback that will help them improve. But what do we actually want students to get out of their education? What are we trying to achieve?

A teacher’s take on why schools should scrap ‘grades’, and instead give students real ‘feedback’…

Grades are a useless form of feedback, and do more harm than good
Alfie Kohn outlines here some of his arguments against ‘grades’:
Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself
Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks
Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking
Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective
Grades distort the curriculum
Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning
Grades encourage cheating
Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students
Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other

In this article, educator Chris Crouch gives his three key reasons for his anti-grades stance and why they’re not only potentially harmful to learning, but plain useless and unreliable:
• Grades are inflated
• Grades remove intrinsic motivation
• Grades are poor communicators of student learning

What are we trying to measure, and how do we measure it?
I read yesterday that the world’s ‘smartest’ kids are also the ‘saddest’. Yikes. That goes against the age-old, ‘go to school, get a good education, become smart, get a great job, have a great life’ model that is drilled into us from when we’re young. Surely we don’t prioritise good grades and academic results above the chance for a happy childhood? Although that would be in line with the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality that is rife in today’s society. It got me thinking about our push for “results, results, results” in schools, which then got me thinking about how we define and measure “results”.

Of course we want our students to get “results”, but how do we measure the success of education? And besides, what are we actually trying to achieve? I’ve blogged previously about Ken Robinson’s ideas about education and suggestions that we focus too heavily on the ‘academic’. I quoted him as saying “The whole point of education is to get people to learn. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on.” He says that the role of teachers is “to facilitate learning”, to “mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage”. I’ve searched Victoria’s education department website as well as Victoria’s curriculum website and Australia’s National Curriculum website and Australian government’s education department website. Surely, as the four key organisations that determine what my students learn, I will have been able to figure out what I’m expected to be doing when I teach. I couldn’t actually find anything of any use, other than “High quality school education supports productivity and improves the educational outcomes of children, increasing the likelihood that they will attain skills and be in employment” (http://education.gov.au/school-education). My reaction – what the heck does that mean? Let me get this straight… If my students get a job when they finish school, then their education has been a success? Can other people see how ridiculous that sounds? Well, I’m no closer to learning what kind of ‘results’ I’m looking for, other than the specifics listed in curriculum documents. Perhaps that is actually what we’re hoping for? Children that develop a long list of skills and understandings that will lead to them getting a job? In America, don’t the Common Core Standards aim to develop “college and career readiness”? I’m starting to see a pattern.
Kindergarten prepares kids for Primary School,
which prepares kids for High School,
which prepares teenagers for Tertiary Education and work.

>Is this honestly what our education system is/does?< 

Above I listed lots of reasons given by Crouch and Kohn as to why grades are not only useless, but damaging to learning. Even if we ignored that for a moment, how can teachers grade a student’s learning if we don’t actually know what we or they are hoping to achieve, let alone how to measure it?

So what feedback will improve student learning?
I’m not arguing for a kumbaya, sit-around-the-campfire and sing all kids praises regardless of effort. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t measure success or attempt to measure a learning program’s effectiveness. Some argue that these days, we’re overly politically correct, praise kids too often and are setting our future generations up for failure but taking away things such as competition and opportunities to build resilience. I’m not suggesting we scrap ‘grades’ and reports and replace them with gold stars for all. I do believe, however, that teachers need to actively give their students real feedback – Feedback that report grades or exam scores do not provide.

Many ‘pro-graders’ argue that grades do give ‘feedback’ to teachers, students, parents, schools and systems are about how kids are going with their learning. I suppose they do somewhat, however as Ken Robinson has mentioned, we assess learner success “across a very narrow spectrum of achievement”. Curriculum documents essentially provide teachers with a whole repertoire of skills and understandings that their students are expected to master. That’s what we assess against. That’s what we use to assign grades. That’s the feedback we give.

I’ve mentioned John Hattie in a previous blog post, in regards to his work on “effect sizes” in relation to “feedback”. Long story short, I don’t see reports/grades anywhere on his list of factors which improve student learning outcomes. A few factors are sort of related, such as “Student Self-Reported Grades” which states that a student’s expectations of their own learning and the push for them to exceed those expectations, “Formative Evaluation” which basically refers to the assessment used to inform teaching and learning, and “Feedback” information for teacher and more importantly, the student, on where they’re going, how they’re going and where to next. Note that this last factor does not mean feedback given to a parent about what their kid has done at school for the last six months! Here, Hattie says that feedback (not grades!) “leads to increased effort, motivation or engagement to reduce the discrepancy between current status and the goal, it can lead to alternative strategies to understand the material, it confirm to the student that they are correct or incorrect, it can indicate that more information is available or needed, it can point to directions that the students could pursue, and it can lead to restructuring understandings” (*pp2-3).

This research has shown that descriptive feedback, which conveys information on how one performs the task and details ways to overcome difficulties, was far more effective than evaluative feedback, which simply informed students about how well they did and, consequently, carried a connotation of social comparison without giving any guidelines on how to improve” (^p32). Further, “receiving a grade was also generally associated with lower self-efficacy and more negative affect” (^p33).

Although they’ve been around since the 1700s, it might be time to give grades the flick. In fact, the fact that they’ve been around for so long is probably even more of a reason to get rid of them. If anyone is able to give me some arguments for grades that out-way the downsides I’ve discussed, I’m more than happy to hear your side!

This has been my longest post to date, so thankyou for sticking with it – If you stayed until the end! 🙂

Teachling <WordPress> <Tumblr> < Twitter>

Some good links relating to this topic:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-crouch/grades-do-more-harm-than-_b_4190907.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003&ir=Education
http://danhaesler.com/2014/01/20/are-the-smartest-kids-also-the-saddest/
http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm
http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/tcag.htm
http://education.qld.gov.au/staff/development/performance/resources/readings/power-feedback.pdf
•(*)hhttp://www.education.auckland.ac.nz/webdav/site/education/shared/hattie/docs/formative-and-summative-assessment-(2003).pdf
•(^)http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/RR-08-30.pdf

Image source: http://hardik.practutor.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/BadGradeClipArt.jpg