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5/11/2012 12:11:46 PM
Home School Legal Defense Association
Learned Helplessness--Not on My Transcript!

HSLDA Homeschooling a Struggling Learner

May 10, 2012

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Parent-Teacher Resources

Success for Struggling Learners: Techniques that Target Your Students’ Needs by Peggy Campbell-Rush

Teach the Way They Learn: 62 Easy, Engaging, and Effective Language Arts Activities by Joanne Hines and Pamela Vincent

Teach the Way They Learn—Math: Activities to Boost Mastery Through Discovery by Joanne Hines and Pamela Vincent

Teaching Mathematics to Students with Learning Disabilities by Nancy Bley and Carol Thornton

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Where can you learn about the interventions that you can begin at home? We have many listed on our website. On the first page, just scroll down to ”The Four Learning Gates.“ You will find checklists that will help you determine your child’s learning issues. Also, click on the Struggling Learner Newsletter Archives. The newsletter, ”Understanding Reading Difficulties” will give you an easy checklist to help you determine the level of your child’s difficulties, and the interventions that parents have found to be most helpful and cost effective.

Remember that HSLDA graciously provides three special needs learning consultants to talk with you in person, to help you determine what would be the best course for you to take for your struggling learner. You are not alone! We come along side and help you with these decisions. Just contact us at 540-338-5600.

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Learned Helplessness:
Not on My Transcript!

by Betty T. Statnick, M. Ed.
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

Annie Glenn stood on the platform beside her astronaut-husband John Glenn. She was introduced to the crowd and invited to speak. She responded with, ”I s-stutter, y-you know. H-here’s Rene (the wife of astronaut Scott Carpenter).“ Annie was honest with the audience, so she was released from the fear that her stuttering would be further exposed. (By the way, years later she earned a degree in Speech and Language Pathology.)

By contrast, students (pre-homeschooled or currently homeschooled) may not feel free to venture the actual reason for a non-passing or lowered grade they had received in a class. They may offer explanations like these: ”The teacher doesn’t like me.“ ”There were things on that test we hadn’t even covered in class.“ Or the student may credit her passing grade on an assignment to, ”The teacher was in a good mood that day.”

In cases like those I have just mentioned, the student is attributing the grade he was given to something or someone outside of himself. He is not assuming responsibility for the grade he got. The student is claiming to be helpless in those situations. In fact, ”learned helplessness” is recognized as a psychological reaction to repeated frustration and failure. Research shows that repeated or continual exposure to academic failure contributes to withdrawal, unwillingness to approach new tasks, and a lack of persistence.

In the homeschool setting, a mom can seek to correct this negative cycle by saying to her child, ”When you say something is too easy or boring or babyish, you and I both know it’s really hard. But I can help you.“ Similarly, when a child claims to be too tired to work on an assignment, a discerning mom may respond with, ”I believe you are afraid you can’t do it well. Let’s try it together.“ At this point mom may want to explain some of the difficulties, fears, and frustrations she had encountered when she was in school.

I well remember my own uptightness when I was taking the required university class, ”Art in the Elementary School.“ (To this day I cannot draw stick figures in action.) Thankfully, my flair for color and creativity rescued me in that art class. Similarly, I was thrilled when lots of snow meant my university Physical Education classes were canceled. My research reports on Contemporary Health Issues were what got me through that PE course with a good grade.

Helpful Insights

The book, Different Learners—Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Your Child’s Learning Problems by Jane Healy, Ph.D. (page 172) addresses ”Learned Helplessness”:

”A very damaging kind of stress comes in situations where we feel powerless … where there seems to be no escape, it is only natural to give up and start avoiding the cause of the pain (learned helplessness … Imagine a child with a subtle problem in language expression who goes to class every day worried that she will say something that sounds ‘stupid’ or, when she’s called on, not be able to find the right words to answer the question quickly enough—even when she knows the answer. A natural reaction is to stop taking responsibility: ‘It’s not my fault, the test was too hard.’ ‘I never get it right, so why try?’ ”

The book, Teaching Students With Learning Problems (Eighth Edition, 2011) by Mercer, Mercer, and Pullen contains a section (page 33) titled ”Plan and Maintain a Motivational Environment.“ I have extracted these important statements from it:

  1. ”Many students with learning problems lose their motivation for learning as a result of frustration and school failure.“ (I can hear some of you saying, ”I know; that’s why I’m now homeschooling him.”)
  2. ”Setting realistic instructional goals and determining specific mastery criteria are important to student motivation.“ (This is a frequent topic of conversations I discuss with our members who call HSLDA. I introduce these callers to scoring charts called rubrics.)
  3. Clifford (1990) notes that students often attribute success with easy tasks to task ease, and they attribute success with extremely difficult tasks to luck.

Betty’s Comments: Never Give Up

We want students to come to the point where they take ownership of their work, understand the relationship between their hard, diligent work (their efforts) and the grade they earned, and afterward enjoy the satisfaction from knowing they have done their best. On the other hand, a student may learn to give up if nothing but perfection is ever acceptable.

A student who repeatedly fails may learn to give up. Homeschool teachers try to prevent any would-be ”I give up“attitude by carefully explaining an assignment, and working some items for him (modeling) and with him (guided practice) before ”turning him loose“to work on his own (independent practice).

We want students to learn from their failures—that failure is not final, but merely the opportunity to start over again wiser than before. In fact, we would be without many products if their inventors had given up after first or successive failures. (Does that sound like a possible research project for your student?)

The Mercer, Mercer, Pullen book states (page 496):

”In an effort to understand what factors contribute to postschool adjustments of individuals with learning disabilities, many researchers study both individuals who have made successful adjustments and those who have not. These studies yield data on conditions or factors that appear common to most adults with learning disabilities who have been successful, and individuals with learning disabilities who have been unsuccessful.”

Since homeschooling parents are thinking long-range and considering not just their child’s present but also his future, I have extracted some of the many statements from the chart (page 497) of the above referenced book for us to ponder:

All adults with learning disabilities tend to:

  • Have learning disabilities throughout adulthood
  • Need help in understanding their disabilities

Unsuccessful adults with learning disabilities tend to:

  • Not understand or accept their learning disabilities
  • Maintain a sense of learned helplessness and fail to assume responsibility

Successful adults with learning disabilities tend to:

  • Understand and accept their learning disabilities
  • Maintain a determination to ”make it“(motivation)

It is necessary to replace learned helplessness with learn-to-help-yourself (advocate for yourself). Let’s suppose your homeschooled son has a part-time job, and he has difficulty remembering the verbally delivered directions his employer gives to him. You can teach your son to advocate for himself. He can say to his employer, ”I do much better with written directions than I do with spoken ones. I want to do a good job for you, so could you please write your directions for me? In the meantime, I am learning some tips to help me remember requests which are spoken to me. For example, if you were to say to me, ‘Please bring me the manual, the pad, and the orders—I think m-o-p (mop) manuals, orders, and pad.’ “ An employer is apt to trust a truthful, respectful, and resourceful employee like that.

Higher Help

Most homeschool families who call me are never give up parents. Despite any previous disheartening or negative-type feedback, they continue looking for ”help from above“when they are homeschooling their children. These are some of the applicable Scripture references I find especially meaningful and am glad to share with them:

Colossians 3:23”And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the LORD, and not unto men.”

Philippians 4:13”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.“ (I am strong for all things through Him who infuses a dynamo in me.)

Here are some Scriptures which illustrate a ”never give up“attitude:

Luke 19: 610 (Statnick version)

Zaccheus was not tall enough to see Jesus in that crowd of people who were lining the parade route. So Zaccheus climbed up into a sycamore tree to get a good view of Him. When Jesus got to that spot, He looked up and said to him, ”Zaccheus, come down! For today, I must stay at your house.“ So Zaccheus hurried and joyfully received Him.

Luke 18: 3543 (Statnick version)

In this passage a blind man sat by the road near Jericho begging. He heard lots of people passing by. So he asked, ”What’s going on?“ He was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. So he cried out, ”Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.“ The people told this blind beggar to ”Hush up!“ But the people couldn’t silence him. He kept on crying out to Jesus, ”Son of David, have mercy on me.“ Then Jesus said, ”What do you want me to do for you?“ The beggar said, ”I want to be able to see.“ And Jesus told him, ”Right now, I give you your sight ….”

Please know that the HSLDA Special Needs Consultants continue to be available to assist you in homeschooling your children.