Learned helplessness

Someone else blogged on this recently, but I can’t remember who, please contact me and I’ll add a link if it was you.

The pupils that I teach are very special. They wouldn’t be at a school for sld pupils if they weren’t! They will go through life with a responsible adult always within shouting distance, and as a result learn to depend on those adults for everything, even things that they can do for themselves. This leads to a learned helplessness, where pupils won’t even try.

I try to run an independent classroom. Pupils are expected to do all of their self-help (dressing for swimming, ordering drinks in a cafe for instance) alone, or with verbal prompts if needed. I expect them to ask for help, they are all able to do this. When we are writing, I would like them to ‘write’ independently first, with staff then annotating or transcribing underneath as necessary. Pupils can then copy this so that they can practice further.

For some reason, it’s taking my class a lot longer to get to grips with this this year. I have pupils who won’t even mark make until an adult writes something they can either copy or overwrite. This does not reflect the p level that they are currently working at. I have pupils who suddenly cannot do up their coats, put things away, or get changed for swimming.

I think, in a way, this is happening because we too are being driven by targets. There’s so much to do in English lessons, we don’t have time. Also, (mostly?) because support staff have not been provided with the skills to help pupils appropriately. They want ‘perfect’ work, I want the pupil’s work. They want to rush the pupils on to the next stage, I’d rather they showered properly and got dressed independently. However, in a school where it seems that it has always been the done thing to produce work for the pupils, how do you set about changing that ethos?

In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of the pupils have had someone write and do for them since primary school, and will do again once they leave school, so some may ask why bother? That’s exactly the kind of defeatist attitude I’m trying to overcome.


Filed under School, Staff

7 responses to “Learned helplessness

  1. And it worked very, ver well with the students making easily recordable progress over the term, and as for the lunch breaks, our breaks were timetabled for the second half of the students lunch break, so we didn’t miss out. Infact towards the end of term in didn’t actually affect break times as the students we able to produce lunch ‘on time’ so to speak.


    • That’s brilliant! Unfortunately, classroom staff are also lunchtime staff at my place, so staff are picky over breaks.

      Flexibility is the key πŸ™‚ as well as bravery to let the pupils do it themselves


  2. Great post and picks up on a really important point for SLD teaching. This is something that I have had discussions with my TA’s about. For example in a cooking lesson, there is some pressure to get their food prepared ready for lunch. However, I would much prefer the students to prepare and cook the meal themselves and cut into their lunchtime than TA’s to help the students prepare it on time and it not being their work. What is the point in teaching the students the skills to become more independent if staff are doing it for them. Also who’s cares what the work looks like as long as it is the students work – far more important for me!!


    • Ah, but the TA’s have to go to lunch on time (I know I’m generalising a little) so work must be done in the time allocated!
      Like you, pupils work should look like they’ve done it, not us.

      Oh for a school without the constraints of timetabled break and lunch…


      • But if the TA’s are timetabled to be with those students for lunch then it does not matter if you over run, this is how we were set up last year. Meant you could focus on what the students needed to learn without time constraints.


      • Excellent πŸ™‚ I’ll have to suggest it…


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