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hikearound hikearound is offline
 
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Learned Helplessness? Laziness? (Long)
Old 11-15-2017, 04:24 PM
 
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Hi all,
I tend to lurk around the boards but have never contributed much to this board's discussion. Today, however, it feels as if this year has made me reach my boiling point.

Background: This is my 6th year of teaching. I have spent two years in 6th grade and four in 5th. I teach in a very low income area with most of my students being immigrants from Mexico or refugees from Burma. Despite their PHLOTE, all students have advanced and shown proficiency in academic and social language for our state and do not require ELL or ILLPs.

It seems as if every year, the students helplessness is getting worse and worse. It's to the point where I am seeing some of the behaviors in my 6th grade students that I used to see when I shadowed a first-grade teacher years ago.

I don't know quite how to explain the drastic level of helplessness so I will start by giving examples:


1. I passed out napkins last week for a student's birthday cupcakes. I accidentally forgot to pass "R" a napkin. Instead of walking to the sink where the napkins are - and have always been - he started shouting "Do I not get a cupcake?! Where is my napkin! You forgot me! Come back!" - this lead to him running out of his seat (not towards the napkins, mind you) towards me and hastily telling me for the fourth time he didn't have a napkin.

2. We were cutting out a circle graphic organizer. I showed them the paper. I showed a finished product. I had instructions on the board. I had instructions on the actual sheet. I stood up and modeled the cutting. I pinned the finished circle to the board for reference. I released them to cut and: "Miss! Do we cut it? Are we cutting it? What are we cutting?!"

3. We are required to use sentence starters for our kids. They cannot work without them. The most common one we use is "I think ____ because ___" If i do not explicitly write "I think___ because___" on the board, they can't do it. They simply look at their paper and say they don't know what to write. To add to this already frustrating situation, some of them will write the actual line itself and complain their words won't fit ON the line and should they shorten it?

4. A child spilled milk on herself during lunch detention. She screamed out "ah!" and looked over at me. I was sitting at my desk eating my own lunch and she looked at me, helpless. I said, "Go and get a napkin!" and only after I said this did she actually go...

5. The instructions on a sheet said to color it. I didn't specify which color because it didn't matter. I didn't specify which utensil to use because it didn't matter. It said "Shade the left one color and shade the right another." Questions were as follows:
Can I use marker? Can I use pen? What if one is a pen and one is a marker? What if I have colored pencils? Can one be blue and one be red? If his is red and mine is blue does that matter? Do I need to put my name on this? Can I color both sides the same color? Can I not color it?

I have tried the following:

1. Visual modeling
2. Verbal explanations
3. Written directions
4. Pair sharing of directions
5. Peer helpers
6. Them echoing the instructions
7. Saying NOTHING and seeing if they could figure it out (they can't.... they all panic and raise their hands to ask questions)
8. Saying "I am explaining once, so listen..."
9. Checklists
10. A combination of everything together


It's madness and leaves me completely drained at the end of the day. When I leave work, I don't want to hear my name. I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to be touched or acknowledged because lord knows I have had 90 bodies running around me calling me and asking me questions all day
(A child even tried running into the staff bathroom with me to ask a question about something that could have waited).


Maybe I am looking for advice? Maybe I am just looking to vent? I don't know what I am looking for. I am just feeling exhausted.


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Helplessness
Old 11-15-2017, 05:32 PM
 
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It's getting worse and worse. I used to wonder if they don't trust adults to say what they mean or if they don't trust themselves to get it exactly right.

Our school secretary always had this response when a child came to office 5 minutes after dismissal freaking out because no one had picked them up yet, or if they forgot something or some "catastrophic" problem: "so, what's your plan B?"

They don't have one. Problem solving on their own has gone by the wayside.

First, I would have an open class meeting about this.they're in 6th grade for Pete's sake. Then, tell them you only give directions once AND you ALWAYS give them all the information they need. Before they ask a question, they need to silently review the given information - twice. You will only answer real, true, clarifying questions. Stick to your guns. Basically, you will need to teach them self reliance and problem solving skills.
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Old 11-15-2017, 05:51 PM
 
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My standard reply has become, "How are you going to solve that problem?"

Doesn't matter the problem. 99.99999% of the time, they come up w/a solution.

Adults need to stop solving kids' problems. I agree it has gotten worse and worse over the years.
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Rude Awakening
Old 11-15-2017, 06:12 PM
 
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When they don’t know what to do, tell them to C3B4ME - see three other classmates before asking you.

Tell them to look at the model. The example is similar to what their’s should look like. If you have questions, study the model.

Set a timer - you must work on ___ for 10 minutes on your own before I will help you.

Post your top five sentence frames on a poster. Write it once, have it forever!

I teach second grade. I’ve set up a space in my room for the common questions. I love to use this for bigger or more complicated projects, or if they may have trouble. Then I refer them to the question board.
Red squares have the questions and blue squares have the answers.
What tools do I need?
Pencils, crayons, scissors, etc.
Where does this go when I’m done?
Basket, teacher, folder, etc.
Who can I work with?
Work alone, with a partner, with a group, etc.
Can I talk to my neighbors?
No, yes
When is this due?
Today, tomorrow, specific date
Etc.).

Tough love:
“Be a problem solver.”
“I was listening the first time, so i can’t help you!”
“Well you can do this now or during your (free period, recess, lunch detention).

Finally, let them fail. Sometimes that is the only thing that opens their eyes.
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Self-Motivation
Old 11-15-2017, 07:06 PM
 
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Your students definitely need a good dose of self-motivation. To a great extent, the top students in every class tend to be highly self-motivated. I agree that today's kids are rarely allowed to fail lest their self-esteem and self-confidence be forever damaged. Your students apparently have been pampered way too much in the past. A few structured fun activities that purposely involve both success and failure experiences will go a long way in addressing the problem of helplessness. Challenging construction-related tasks, in which students would work in pairs, would fit the bill.


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3 before me
Old 11-15-2017, 08:54 PM
 
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I knew a teacher who had that as a posted rule. The nonlisteners had to ask 3 people before they could ask her what to do.
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Agree
Old 11-16-2017, 03:02 AM
 
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I have 11, 12, and 13-year old students. I see this every day. We are not making them grow up at all. They come to me in the beginning of the year as if they have never had to keep track of a paper or pencil. It is maddening.

I do say that I am not their problem-solver. I tell them that I hope they find a solution. I tell them that they can fix their own problems now or we can figure it out at break/lunch. I have systems in place to support them, and they have been taught how to use those systems. They just won't.

I am also required to give sentence starters. I hate them. This does not promote independent thinking or growth in writing. We also have to give paragraph frames that are tailored to the topics. It's no wonder our writing scores have bottomed out on state tests. The state does not provide writing frames or sentence starters. Teachers have told admin. that these things are holding our kids back. Admin does not want to hear it. Ok, here are the sucky scores for next year. Enjoy.

Sure hope colleges are ready for the next batch of students. These kids seem to think they are working really hard, but they are actually doing very little. Many parents question why we hold students accountable. Parents won't hold their kids accountable at home.

I have just a few more years. I could not handle being at the beginning of a long career in education right now. We see the disaster happening in public education. I hate being part of this system that does not create educated, independent, thinking individuals.
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Frustrating
Old 11-16-2017, 04:39 AM
 
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A couple of things pop into mind. You mentioned the majority of your students are immigrants so I’m going to assume English is not their first language.
Social language is very different from academic language. Kids pick up social language much quicker and will often seem like they’re proficient in English, but instructions are more difficult and contain academic language not yet obtained. For instance, shade one half in. If that’s new vocabulary the instructions would be difficult to understand. You have named off a lot of great teaching techniques and it looks like you’re giving them lots of support but maybe just evaluate the level of academic language in your instructions. Could you start your lesson with a vocabulary component? Build visuals of vocabulary they will need for each lesson and keep adding to it. I’m looking at creating a picture dictionary due to language difficulties for some of my kids too.
Another thing that popped into mind was the possibility that culture is playing a role here. Are these kids worried about making no a mistake? Would risk taking and failing lead to repercussions at home? Something to consider.

Learned helplessness is the worst!

One last thing. I used to use this and it worked quite well. I would teach the lesson and when finished I would ask who understood. If they gave me the “green light” they could go. I would then ask who my yellow lights were. Yellow lights had a few more questions and once answered could become green lights and leave. Red lights really didn’t understand so I might have to reteach or model for them. Once I started this system the kids saw who the green lights were and referred to them/followed their lead and I was left to support only my weakest learners. Hopefully you wouldn’t be stuck with the whole class as red lights
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Old 11-16-2017, 05:41 AM
 
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I have this 3 Before Me poster on my front board and I refer to it often. Unfortunately, with this group, they'll claim to not find the directions on the sheet/board and after asking their neighbors, they'll still raise their hands to clarify. *Sigh*
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Old 11-16-2017, 05:47 AM
 
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A parent helper in my class the other day mentioned to me how many of the kids don't want to try to think for themselves. They say they don't understand, but all they want is the answer.

I throw questions back at them when I get those types of comments (that drive me crazy...) What do you think you should do? Where can you find the answer to that question? What exactly don't you understand?

I think some of it stems from families just being too busy to give kids opportunities to problem solve. They are trying to get out the door to be to someone's game/practice and they don't have time to wail while Johnny finds his coat (puts on socks, ties shoes). It is much easier to grab the shoes and shove them on the feet!

Not going to change soon. In my class, we practice a lot of controlled frustration. I try hard not to answer questions that I have answered. Last week, I got on a parent helper who was writing problems on kid's answer sheets right in front of the class! This was AFTER I told her that I didn't even want her giving hints. Ask them guiding questions... (This week before coming in she said she was NOT going to be writing on kids books...)


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Well, as a SpEd teacher,
Old 11-16-2017, 06:31 AM
 
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this is maddening and a relief at the same time. I teach a MS/HS SpEd nearly self-contained room. I see if often and am often frustrated as well. So, on one hand, I am relieved to know that it happens in Gen Ed classes as well.

I think that it is a number of factors as well. Partly, societal. Partly, environmental. Partly, true helplessness and, partly, us/parents.

We often tell students that we will take care of stuff, follow the rules, stay in your seats, don't talk during instruction, don't do this or that.

In your first example, my students would have probably said "You told us not to be in the sink area without permission..." That is true. So part of it is that we coddle the kids too much. We don't allow for messes or mistakes or processing time or whatever. In today's world of rush-rush-rush and we-have-so-much-to cover and on and on, we have quashed a lot of independent thinking.

For better or worse, by the time I was in 5th and 6th grade I was caring for my brothers and sister almost full time when Mom was at work. I knew how to take care of myself and them.

Nowadays 5th and 6th graders don't usually get more than a few minutes alone. The parents and teachers both do full supervision in case of perverts or a house fire or the boogeyman or fear of a lawsuit or whatever.

I have a student (15 yo Freshman) who still wears what Mom picks out for him and only brushes his teeth when Mom reminds him. I talk to Mom about more independence and she huffs that she "doesn't have time for that." If she picks and lays it out, all he is responsible for is getting up and dressing. This is not part of his disability. He is capable of going to the closet and choosing clothes but he "takes too long" for Mom. And God Forbid that he may choose something that doesn't match...yes, she said that.
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Old 11-18-2017, 11:22 PM
 
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Student:
"My pencil broke.
My milk spilled.
I forgot my fork.
She called me a stupid head.
I forgot my homework."

Me: "Bummer." OR "What are you gonna do now?"

(Of course a response like this is only fair if you actually give the students the freedom to go back and get the fork or trade their pencil or otherwise solve their problem independently.)

Student: "What page are we on?"
Me: "Hmmm... What page ARE we on?" (Assuming I've already given this information.)

Student: "Where do I put my paper?"
Me: "Hmmm... Where DO you put your paper?"

Student: "What time is lunch?"
Me: "Hmmm... What time IS lunch?

You get the idea. They will be frustrated at first, but hey, better them than me.
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Old 11-19-2017, 02:53 AM
 
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Quote:
Maybe I am looking for advice? Maybe I am just looking to vent? I don't know what I am looking for. I am just feeling exhausted.
My guess is company (yes, we're there with you!) and some understanding of why it's happening (it's not your fault!)

Quote:
5. The instructions on a sheet said to color it. I didn't specify which color because it didn't matter. I didn't specify which utensil to use because it didn't matter. It said "Shade the left one color and shade the right another." Questions were as follows:
Can I use marker? Can I use pen? What if one is a pen and one is a marker? What if I have colored pencils? Can one be blue and one be red? If his is red and mine is blue does that matter? Do I need to put my name on this? Can I color both sides the same color? Can I not color it?
This one specifically struck me as being a result of lack of free play. Kids are shuttled from one extracurricular to another, or playing electronic games where they follow a certain sequence. They don't come to us having experienced as much open play (where they naturally make little decisions like this) as they used to.

I agree with kahluablast, too:
Quote:
I think some of it stems from families just being too busy to give kids opportunities to problem solve. They are trying to get out the door to be to someone's game/practice and they don't have time to wail while Johnny finds his coat (puts on socks, ties shoes). It is much easier to grab the shoes and shove them on the feet!
Everyone is so busy, and (though we see it more dramatically in the kids) adults are growing less patient as well. We've adjusted to most things happening more quickly than they used to, and we forget to let kids practice doing things on their own.

I love MissESL's idea:
Quote:
Post your top five sentence frames on a poster. Write it once, have it forever!
as well as TeachNFriend's green-yellow-red light system, and the "What's your plan B?" quote that Keltikmom shared!
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Questions, questions, QUESTIONS!
Old 11-20-2017, 10:15 AM
 
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I teach 5th graders. They don't use critical thinking skills. They also have learned helplessness. I give oral directions; I write them on the board; I model for them... and as I give the instructions, hands start going up. They KNOW not to ask questions while I'm giving instructions, and wave their questions away. I always repeat myself, saying, "I may end up answering your questions as I give my instructions. Put your hands down." After I'm done giving explicit directions, and repeat myself, I finally ask if anyone has questions. Inevitably, I get 7-8 students raising their hands. Then more and more raise their hands. It takes us forever to start an assignment because of this. Sigh.
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