Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Start the New Year with a new way to look at students who don't seem to care

There is more than one way to look at someone.
"My students don't know how to learn.  They don't know how to succeed.  And, it doesn't seem like they care to change any of that. " -Crystal Kirch, My biggest struggle this year High school math teacher Crystal Kirch’s biggest struggle of 2012 was met with both cheers from those who could commiserate as well as jeers from those who were concerned that students were not the culprit, but rather the victims of a system that set them up for failure.  Earlier this year, Kirch found it so difficult to consider feedback from those who saw things differently that she censored comments calling them "intense attacks" and blocked those who made them on Twitter. Kirch isn't the only one who refuses to learn from those outside the echo chamber. Ira Socol recently had a similar experience when offering an alternate perspective to a teacher about a student and parent that opposed forced classroom testing.

But here's what these closed-minded educators are missing.

Gary Stager explains what those offering an alternate perspective to these student-blaming teachers were doing: 
"Those of us who know better, need to do better and stand between the defenseless children we serve and the madness around us. If a destructive idea needs to be challenged or a right defended, I’ll speak up." (Au Contraire, Nov 2012)
When I initially wrote the post explaining that a personal learning network was not an echo chamber, readers questioned my assessment of the comments that Kirch censored. Some thought, maybe Kirch was being honest and they were attacks. Maybe the comments on Kirch's blog from others who blamed students weren't that troublesome. 

As requested in the comments, I'll let readers decide for themselves. If you were one of those teachers that think students don't know how to learn and don't care, perhaps you'll think again about how you look at these students after reading some alternate perspectives.

To follow are reactions from teachers who shared frustration over the struggle of kids who they felt don't want to learn followed by insights Kirch called "intense attacks" from those who defended children and challenged this point of view.

Reactions from those frustrated by children who don't want to learn:
  • Students are awful in regards to using my teacher site, my videos, pdf's, etc. But, they are all over the apps & games!! The students do not know how to learn... true!! How do we get them to start taking more ownership of their learning?
  • This is our exact same situation and I really think this is the instant gratification generation. Some are great and know how to learn and want to learn, if for nothing more than earning good grades. Most however do not understand how to learn or why it is important to know how to learn.
  • This seems to be almost a universal struggle with unmotivated students. Convincing them to stop settling and to expect more from themselves is not a battle you'll win now. You simply have to keep showing them they can do it; to stop expecting someone else to determine their self-worth; to keep working at it.
  • They are great kids; if we were at the lake roasting marshmallows they would be awesome. It's their academics that baffle me. They are very intelligent; the problem is they are not interested in school.
There is another way to look at this.  

Reactions from those who provided the alternate perspective (that Kirch referred to as "an intense attack") in defense of children:
  • Learning is innate but the current culture of test prep in the schools has created a generation of children and young adults who do not know how to think. They are so afraid of getting the wrong answer that they stifle themselves. the challenge is to allow children to develop their innate talents and let them learn in the way that suits them best and not in the way that a test maker intended. -Constance DiCandia 
  • When somebody says something like, "And they don't seem to care to change any of that," I want to ask them, "And why should they? Why should they care to change something that only you think is wrong? Why should they care to learn something just because you tell them to?" -Christa Brelin Gainor 
  • I come at learning with children through the lens of the right-brained learner. Students who are viewed as not caring or willing to learn are probably those who've had a poor fit with their learning styles in school all their lives with a history of failure. This facade they are showing is a form of self-preservation. When conferring with students ask them what they love to do and what they think of school. In this way, teachers can know what students are feeling and who they are and can take the opportunity to validate their experience that what they love to do and how they like to express it doesn't match up with how schools work. It stinks that students have not had a well-matched learning environment in school. The poor fit for right-brained children starts in the early grades of education which is an important place to focus for education reform. By the time students are in high school, many young people are in survival and self-preservation mode. If teachers reach out to know who students really are and see their value, right-brained children in particular will respond positively to those they feel really like them. Because they are highly sensitive, they also know if you're faking it or meaning it. -Cindy Gaddis 
  • Young people were born knowing how to learn. Children are passionate about the things THEY want to learn about. School has the power to kill that love. 
    There are multiple ways a person learns. Which one is the "right" way? Which ways are you teaching?

    Define "success". So, that is your definition; what is the individual student's definition? How are you helping your students achieve that?
    -Priscilla Sanstead
  • I am fascinated by the fact that so many teachers seem to believe that a large number of children don't know how to learn & don't care to learn. Learning is an innate part of all children - all human beings. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that the children don't know how to learn the way you want them to learn. Perhaps a more effective approach, rather than 'learning and success strategies' which, even from my very removed point of view, sounds condescending' would be to ask the kids what they love. What are they interested in? What ARE they learning? It doesn't matter that it isn't related to the subject you are teaching. It might give some insight and persuade you to amend your statement that some children "don't know how to learn.
While it is not easy, when we blame students for being resistant to learning, it can be helpful to listen to those who share insights from another perspective. When we do though, we reveal another issue and have to ask ourselves...

“Now what?”  

When we uncover the fact that we are working for a system that is pushing all students down a rabbit hole that may not be best, it can be scary to think about the difficulty in pursuing what can be done to help them escape. This year let's resolve to think about and learn from that which may not be so comfortable and look at our students who don't seem to care in a new way.


  1. I'm influenced by Stephen Covey's circles of influence and concern model:


    If I get frustrated by the children who don't engage with learning then I look at how I can change, not how they can change. My concern is with them, but my influence is with me.

    I ask myself, what can I do to make my lessons more interesting? What can I do to make learning more meaningful, significant and purposeful?

    In my experience children are very forgiving, but they want to be treated with respect and dignity. I avoid sarcasm, shouting (unless someone is in danger), and using insincere praise.

    However, the most important aspect of the teacher/student relationship is collaboration, creating an environment where the children can make decisions, contribute ideas and as a consequence feel they belong. For me this Lakota Medicine Wheel called the Circle of Courage represents this idea perfectly: http://api.ning.com/files/aDrUuEuBSklvKfccGz0EJfOG858UUXQmnqxtgxyog4qs7-0cYITW47jyfaZZ3DB60jgR0FZlEdvIR7XZfwYVJEsIVmYSmwG1/CircleOfCourageWheel.gif

  2. My company 5starr Enterprise has an initiative called BE MORE STEM. We have unique ways to combine STEM to the dj industry and more.

  3. As a college teacher I agree there is a problem with the current work for grades system and culture of testing to determine ability and aptitude and retention. I teach drawing in a graphic design program and firmly believe in practical hands in learning.
    If students don't know how to learn it is because we either haven't fostered that innate ability of the human brain or we have killed it all together. Perhaps it is we the teachers who have stopped learning or refuse to change or adapt to the new culture of free access to information and misinformation. I know from experience that when put together in classroom situations a group of teachers is the worst group of students.
    To be effective in the classroom I believe one must be open to the two way learning that is necessary, not the preach and absorb system we grew up with. Also, one must be prepared to offer the same information in multiple ways.
    Blaming students for not knowing how to learn in a system that hasn't taught them is ridiculous.

  4. I am struggling with my students this year.... My issue is the students flat out "don't care". I have tried various instructional methods (projects, lecture, self paced, etc) and I just am not reaching them. I gave a take home test over Thanksgving break this year. Before break, I gave them a practice/review test and we went over the answers. I posted the review WITH the answers to my website. When I handed the test out, many students realized that it was EXACTLY the same as the practice test! All I did was removed the word "Review" in front of the word "Test". The students had the test for 5 days. When Monday rolled around and it was time to turn the tests in, many students said "I lost my test" and did not even ask for another one. Other students said "I did not do it" and turned in blank tests. Of those that did turn it in, many questions were left unanswered. Out of 61 students, only 38 turned in a test and of those 38 only 5 achieved a grade of 90% or better and NO ONE got a 100%. THE ANSWERS WERE ON THE WEBSITE!!! They only needed to spend 1 hour of their time over the break to basically "copy" answers! They did not even want to do that! So, I am frustrated to no end! I lie awake at night trying to figure out how I can reach my students!! Anyone with any suggestions PLEASE let me know!!

    1. @Mr. O,
      How have you convinced them that doing this test matters and is relevant to their lives?

      Personally, I have no interest in doing tests and have never chosen to do another one after the last one I was required to do in the 90s.

      Why not give students real and relevant assessments that matter to them instead of contrived tests that they don't care about?