Sunday, May 22, 2016

No thinking, no learning?

I have come to the conclusion that the many students that struggle in my class, and other classes, have never understood how to do school.  It might seem that through the years, they have been getting through school by quietly going through the motions and doing the task...without the thinking and learning behind it.

Evidence:  These students do not like questions.  They do not like to be tested or asked to think.  They hide.  They feel pressure to "be smart" and realize that they are not as ready as they should be.  The result...behavior that detracts from learning.

I have to admit that I have witnessed this for my entire career.  For the longest time, because I wasn't looking, I was insure what was going on.  Since intentionally trying to dissect the cause and effects of this common behavior, I have been able to see all of the commonalities that lead to these behaviors.

For many, I have looked back to their performance and investment in school beginning in third grade.  What I have found...many of them start out as quiet and compliant students that seem to be doing what they were supposed to be doing.  They are on task and completing the task.  This is especially true if the task in simple as in a worksheet or fill-in-the-blank type work.  They were not the top students, nor were they really struggling to start.  The problem- They were not squeaky wheels and little attention was paid to them.  They got by.  They did the minimum and were rarely asked to think.

Fast forward to Middle School.  The same students are asked to move beyond their learned comfort zone.  They are being challenged.  These students never really grew and were fine with just getting by.  Now, they are behind.  They are behind in skills and the ability to generalize information and abilities that they should have developed while in elementary school.  They now suffer from low academic self-esteem.  They do not believe in themselves because on some level, they realize how much they have missed in academic growth and readiness to do what is expected in Middle School.

The result...Detracting behaviors that call attention away from the truth.  A diversion from realizing the realities of the situation.  They are behind and on some level they recognize it.

Who's role is it to "fix' this?  I say that I most certainly is not the role of the student.  In fact, I would guess it would be impossible for a Middle School student to be reflective enough to come up with some type of plan to remediation.  They are lost in themselves.

Coming next...

Some ideas to help these students to become comfortable where they are really at in thinking and making academic connections.


  1. I find this is so true! The behaviors often mask the lack of confidence, so they give up before they begin. One of the biggest tells of this "feeling behind" is that they struggle most with abstract thinking skills. Anything that requires them to move beyond their comfort zone of "right there" answers and espouse a reasonable opinion or inference and back it up with text or background knowledge makes them really uncomfortable...especially if they've tried it and come across as wildly wrong. There is little urge to try again or develop the skills or do the research or close reading (and thinking!) that would make their opinion well-informed.

  2. The admission that you didn't notice for so long because you weren't looking struck a chord with me. It reminds me of when Judge Milian on the People's Court says: There is none so blind as he who will not see. I find that is often the case with my struggles in the classroom. Until I am really willing to open my eyes, I cannot begin to move forward.

  3. I am sure there is much truth here. I don't want it to be true, but my heart knows better. I've seen these same students- the "just gettin byers". I know their struggle is real and that they feel very stuck. Worse yet, they don't know how to begin to ask for a ladder or a rope because don't know they are in a hole. As a teacher who sees kids in these whole I often feel helpless too. What exactly is the right way to point out to a kid that they are more behind then they realize and that it could impact their future. This is a worthy conversation for sure. I can't wait to read your thoughts on fixes and strategies to help these struggling students.