"Please don't call on me, please don't call on me, please don't call on me." I would whisper these words in my head as a 7th grade Algebra student. Up until that time I enjoyed math, shoot I liked school. Then in 7th grade it all changed. Algebra. I was a mess. What happened over the course of that school year I'm not proud of. I continually remember wandering the hallways, complaining of stomach aches and continually trying to escape class.
What's sad is that this became a bad habit. Eighth grade was not much better, I got out of class every chance I could. Even as a freshman I still avoided math class. Then as a sophomore I started to bounce back. I was put into a remedial math course and my teacher was Mr. Brockie. I knew Mr. Brockie and I had mixed feelings about him being my teacher. I was scared he would realize I wasn't smart in math. But on the flip side, I liked him, he was a golfer, he liked sports and he kept things real.
Starting day one with Mr. Brockie I was locked in. I participated in class, I raised my hand and I was really trying. Unfortunately for me the damage had been done long before. Since 7th grade I had checked out. You can't lose 2+ years and not expect a sharp learning curve and some harsh learning pains. I was working hard, but math was really tough. I remember vividly asking underclassman for support. The good news is they did help me. The better news is they helped me by teaching me...not doing it for me. I look back and a few things made a difference in me refocusing on learning and stop avoiding my struggles. The first was Mr. Brockie. The two of us had a relationship and I simply didn't want to disappoint him. I worked harder for him than I did for myself. The second was Mr. Brockie's sense of humor. In this class he used humor to get his students to relax. Once we were relaxed the participation improved. The third and very critical point is, my classmates didn't enable me. They pushed me, they taught me and they didn't let me cheat. That year I busted my tail for a C+, but this was the beginning of the turnaround.
I start with that story because I have come to notice something. As I peruse the hallways and travel from room to room I always notice the same faces at the drinking fountain. The same faces trudging towards the restroom. The same faces coming to the office with a headache or upset stomach. This repeated behavior is tell tale Avoidance Behavior. We all know it, but how do we stop it? How do we turn the ship around? How do we break the bad habit?
As a 5th grade teacher I had a young man named Tyler. Tyler was a little guy and to be candid, he was pretty immature with his behaviors. Within a few weeks I felt as though I knew Tyler. I knew that each morning he would come in and share a story. His stories would be about playing with his puppy or fighting with his brother. Tyler's energy level was sky high, the enthusiasm he came in with usually diminished by midday. Around 11am Tyler would begin to show major avoidance behaviors. What was Tyler avoiding? Roughly 11:15 each day as a class we began writing. Tyler despised writing. I quickly learned if I didn't let Tyler use the restroom his avoidance behaviors would escalate. Tyler would cry and after the tears came anger.
It took weeks to slow down Tyler's avoidance behaviors. I met with Tyler's parents, I had conferences with Tyler and I tried strategy after strategy. The good news is I never gave up. The bad news is Tyler never completely stopped avoiding writing. As I reflect, I believe most of us have a student that is using avoidance strategies. How can we stop this bad habit, this negative behavior, this fixed mindset?
Let's begin to right the ship by looking at the research. Dr. Julianne Turner says, "The classroom that places greater emphasis on getting an answer correct, with little explanation and understanding, will see more avoidance behaviors." Turner added, "Teachers that seek correct answers and move from student to student until the answer is correct often see students disengaging from the learning." Because the teacher typically did not respond to mistakes and misunderstandings with explanations, the students may have felt vulnerable to public displays of incompetence and adopted more avoidance strategies.
How can it be remedied?
Turner gives great insight into assisting the student that is avoiding. "In classrooms where students use fewer avoidance strategies, the teachers tend to model, hint and elicit support from other students to help their students learn." Those classrooms have students as active participants and stress understanding and explanation. The research also points to these traits:
One - Teachers that use humor as a part of the lesson often see a more relaxed learning environment. The humor needs to be appropriate and not sarcastic. We've all heard the saying, "Laughter is the best medicine!"
Two - Teachers that see less avoidance strategies were often viewed as master motivators. The teachers understood the importance of inspiring and motivating students to actively learn.
Three - Classrooms that have a culture of learning. Learning is different than simply giving and receiving correct answers. It's not about getting all answers correct, it's about continuous growth. This is where we focus on F.A.I.L - First Attempt In Learning, as an everyday way to develop a growth mindset.
Four - Connecting. Teachers that connect with students, build relationships and care for their kids on a deeper level often see less avoidance behaviors. It goes without saying, kids don't want to disappoint teachers that care about them...and that they care about.
I believe we all have a student or know a student that uses an avoidance strategy. We've seen that student wander the hallway, revolt in the classroom and just flat out check out from the learning. It's never too late to save a student. I'm grateful for Mr. Brockie. His classroom helped turn me around. Without him I'm not sure where I'd be. Teachers make a difference in lives, I hope you will begin to reach out to your student that is often avoiding learning.
This week's big question: How will you help a student that is showing avoidance behaviors?