Do your students want to be spoon-fed? Are they constantly demanding your help, calling out your name over and over again? If so, is it possible that you’ve unwittingly contributed to their sense of helplessness? Can learned helplessness be unlearned?
Those are among the questions I asked of Starr Sackstein and David Ginsburg on an episode of Studentcentricity. They had a lot of wonderful advice and followed it up with the takeaways below.
Ultimately we need to empower students so they know how to advocate for themselves. We do this by offering them opportunities to be in charge of their learning while giving them room to ask for help where needed. Explicitly teaching reflection and modeling the behavior, is a positive way to ensure that all students do learn to ask for help when they need it, but to try on their own first. After working alone, they should reach out to peers and then beyond that the teacher is available for help and always will be. Usually if students experience success on their own, they feel more confident. We need to make sure they have these successful moments.
For more of Starr’s thoughts on the topic, check out her article, “We MUST Help Students Learn to Self-Advocate.”
David contributed some thoughts gleaned from two of his pieces. From When Helping Students Hurts Students:
We as educators must direct our genuine desire to help children toward providing them resources and skills that enable them to help themselves. We must also then only help students when they've used those resources and skills, and have proven--to themselves as much as to us--that they really need our help. To do otherwise is to hurt students rather than help them.
And from Ginsburg's Hierarchy of Help:
Many students ask teachers for help without even attempting a task on their own. But the real problem isn't students' knee-jerk requests for help, but rather teachers obliging them. Hence the term, learned helplessness. A key, then, to students unlearning helplessness is teachers relearning helpfulness.
This starts with a shift from teacher as fountain of information to teacher as facilitator of learning. Provide students access to the resources they need to be successful, and empower them with the skills they need to use those resources. In short, support self-directed learning.
Today’s kids may be more helpless than at any time in history. They’re being sheltered from hurt, shielded from risk, and are expected to do less on their own, lest they face the horror of failure. And it’s not serving them well, as evidenced by reports of how badly they fare once in college and/or employed.
You may not be able to do much to change their situation at home, but you’re in a great position to make a difference in the one place where they spend the majority of their waking hours: in school. And if you implement Starr’s and David’s strategies, you’ll soon see their benefit to you as well!