This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Psycho-Educational Teacher Blog http://thepsychoeducationalteacher.blogspot.com/ Facebook http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000487354629 Twitter http://twitter.com/psychoeducation Learned helplessness is a dysfunctional condition that keeps students’ self-confidence extremely low and perpetuates their perception that they are not able to cope successfully with academic demands and school challenges. Sutherland and Singh (2004) state that learned helplessness contributes to the school failure that many students with emotional and/or behavioral disorders experience. The authors add that, the kind of school failure experienced by children with a learning disability –over long periods and across a variety of tasks, settings, and teachers- puts LD students at risk of developing learned helplessness. According to Burhans and Dweck (1995), children prone to helpless behavior patterns in the classroom are more likely to avoid the possibility of academic failure than to increase their effort in achieving academic success. Without a healthy self-confidence, learned helpless students give up academically, because they do not expect to be successful in school and they anticipate failure in everything they try or do. Because students prone to a learned helpless response pattern do not think strategically and they avoid risk taking behaviors, rather than overcoming learned helplessness, this perception of academic failure gets worse in older students. Learned helpless students often put themselves down and ignore or minimize praise and compliment from others, in particular from teachers, so, school staff and parents must intervene skillfully to help these
Students with average ability and academic skills can evidence low self-confidence and/or learned helplessness. negative affect (negative beliefs and feelings). Ability and effort are internal attributions (inside the individual). but also reduces his or her ability to learn. which may require active involvement and coordinated effort from teachers. but first. For example. for the student. 1995). learned helpless children believe that their own behavior (i. and these perceptions can be accurate (the child lacks academic skills) or inaccurate (the child has adequate skills and average ability). we can classify attributions as internal-external and fixed-variable. which not only undermines the child’s motivation to learn. and in more extreme cases. For this reason. when we ask students to explain the reason for their success or failure on an academic task. Two other dimensions that we need to consider are global attribution (believing that the cause of a negative event is consistent across different contexts) versus specific attribution. and deteriorates school performance (Seligman. Attribution is the process of drawing inferences about the cause of a given outcome. parents. 1979) is a key concept. Ames (1990) describes learned helpless children as students that typically exhibit low expectations. and the academic or strategic level. the most common causes cited are ability. Key Concepts It is important that teachers and parents understand that low self-confidence and learned helplessness do not necessarily relate to a lack of ability. To understand better the learned helpless child. school counselors and/or school psychologists. or just plain luck.children overcome a learned helpless response pattern. In addition. task difficulty and luck are external attributions (outside the individual). perception is reality. attribution style (Weiner. However. learned helpless students firmly believe that their lack of ability causes their school difficulties. I introduce some important concepts. Self-confidence and learned helplessness are both perceptions. task difficulty. effort and luck are unstable or variable attributions (change). the feelings level.e. we need to deal with learned helplessness at the attributions or motivation level. In . Some guidelines follow. trying hard and making an effort) has no positive effect on consequent events. In summary. and ineffective learning strategies. or believing that the cause of the negative event is unique to a particular time or a particular setting. Ability and task difficulty are stable or fixed attributions (do not change). effort.
(b) due to low ability. and controllability. remains one of the most popular theories to understand the difference in motivation and effort between high-achieving and low-achieving students. is because of good luck or because the test was too easy.e. and underestimating their performance when they do well on a task. I present some guidelines in using attributions theory and attributions retraining to help children overcome a learned helpless response style. like luck. and that they lack the skills and/or ability they need to be able to reverse school failure. stability. both external attributions that are outside the child’s control. students feel less motivated to achieve in school when they believe both (a) that ability is permanent and cannot be changed. As we said earlier. Low achieving and/or learned helpless students do not see the connection between their own effort and achieving in school. first. learned helpless students believe that ability is fixed and all that they see is their own personal deficiencies and inadequacies. in particular. Finally. Ames (1990) defines learned helplessness as a dysfunctional attributions pattern characterized by both passivity and loss of motivation in responding to academic tasks. believing that school failure simply reflects their low ability (an internal and stable attribution). controllability contrasts the causes that one can control (i. or that require effort and persistence from the student. they have little or no control over their successes. if the child performs well on a test. those tasks that the learned helpless child perceives as challenging. Locus of control includes two poles: internal and external. For example.addition. Learned helpless students hold a selfperpetuating set of negative beliefs and attitudes that depresses their engagement and persistence in academic tasks. Attribution style explains both low motivation and learned helplessness based on the reasons to which children attribute their successes or failure in academic tasks. Attributions theory. and. they take all the blame when they fail). child’s skills or the child using learning strategies) from those causes that the child cannot control. . On the next section. which makes learned helplessness primarily a motivation problem. Stability refers to whether causes change over time or not. in particular the concept of attribution style. Weiner and others classified attributions along three causal dimensions: locus of control. we need to intervene at the perceptions (beliefs and attitudes) and motivation levels. According to this theory. These students exhibit a helpless motivation pattern. To help children overcome this helpless response pattern. taking little or no responsibility for their own successes (However.
attributions retraining focus in teaching students that effort rather than ability determines success in school. Most specifically. telling the child that he is improving his skills because he works hard. Most importantly. telling the student that effort is spending effective and strategic time on the learning task. Link effort with performance. helping the child understand that ability is incremental. Children who perceive this connection are more likely to respond to difficult tasks and/or failure with less frustration and with positive expectations about the outcome of the event (Ames. Avoid defining academic success as performing at a preestablished level (i. In schools. Challenge the student’s belief that spending high levels of effort in a task or a skill is the same as having low ability (Tollefson. Define success as improvement. and failure to inadequate effort. 2000). attributions retraining teach children to attribute success to effort. Sports analogies are excellent to help children understand that all high-level skills require a high amount of effort. that is. we tell the child that he was trying hard when he succeeded and he needed to try harder when he failed. For example. we can increase our skill or ability in doing a task. Motivation Strategies Challenge the student’s belief that ability is fixed. or developing knowledge and skills that the student did not have before. students that attribute failure to lack of effort see their future school performance as something that they can control. Help the child focus on the task rather than on her abilities. Make sure the child clearly sees the connection between her own effort and school success. Help the student shift from focusing on the performance aspects of the task (normative comparisons) to concentrating on the task itself. grades) or in comparison with other students (Tollefson. 1990). with focused practice and enough time. Just trying harder or spending time doing random activities that are not working is not effective effort.e. Make sure that you define effort correctly. Students trained in attributing success and failure to the amount of effort they spent. effective and . 2000). perseverate more on academic tasks than students that believe that success and failure are due to innate ability.
Teach the student to see academic errors and mistakes as her cue to change the learning strategy that she is using. for example. that is. Model to the student how to manage failure and setbacks in a constructive and strategic way. they may think that they are not doing well or that the task will be difficult.g. helping her understand that the problem lies in using an ineffective strategy or procedure. we tell her to use a different strategy or procedure.” When we tell children that they need to work harder. She simply needs to find a better strategy to solve that particular problem. “You’ve been working hard. tell him what he did well on the past. we can weaken the child’s perception that her lack of ability is the problem. “Try problem number seven again. not global (e. When the strategy or procedure that the child is using is not working. trying hard in a particular way is what leads to success. for example. you can say. praising a fifth grader because she completed ten one-digit addition facts. What is another way that I can do this?” Alternatively. for example. Teaching students to make strategic effort attributions help them see failure and academic difficulties as problem solving situations in which the search for a better strategy becomes their focus (Weiner. “What is another strategy that I can try?” When you praise the student. Avoid praising the student for doing easy tasks. “This is not working..” avoiding focusing on the future.g. praise the child for her willingness to engage in academic tasks and her persistence. for example. Remember to carry the one. 1980). Your praise should be specific. Behavior-specific feedback describes actions or behavior . Replace personal messages or comments addressed to the child’s character (e. you can say. explicitly telling the child the particular skill or behavior that you are praising. “What’s wrong with you? You never listen”) with comments and/or feedback that are behavior-specific. leading children to make fixed and negative attributions about their skills and abilities to handle academic tasks. Instead.. When we train learned helpless students in using strategic effort attributions. “You need to try harder. “Good job”).strategic effort focuses on learning strategies and procedures. like.” Comments addressed to the child’s character are permanent (do not change).
” Use feedback that is constructive and task oriented. 2003). Manipulating attributions alone will not improve self-confidence if the child keeps failing academically. from the attributions perspective. unstable. “Maybe you can think of another way of doing this.g. failure was not their fault. and procedures) to give the learned helpless student specific ways to remediate skill deficits. Teach the child to attribute failure to external. Teach the student to regulate his own motivation actively and purposively using motivation regulation strategies (Wolters. and global attribution). in other words. and to attribute success to internal. children learn to use external attributions to explain failure. “Your essay is sloppily written”). making sure that your feedback gives the child specific information about how to fix errors and mistakes (e. 1979). and global causes. stable. but success helps in building pride and self-confidence. we make sure that failure does not affect their self-confidence. For example.” or “Let’s try something different. With attributions retraining. in combination with attributions retraining. failure is the result of having bad luck with a tricky test or because the day of the test the room was too cold and they had difficulty concentrating. Focus on feedback that tells the student how to do the task (strategies). and specific causes. fixed.. you can do this. to help children overcome a learned helpless response style. we need to teach alternative learning strategies (compensatory strategies. plans. Focus your feedback on procedure and alternative strategies.” Avoid vague and/or negative feedback (e. For this reason.g. attributing failure to situational or environmental conditions.that the student can improve. avoiding commenting on the child’s character and/or ability to do the task. explain to the child that all students at one time or another experience motivation setbacks and obstacles. teaching children to address problems and academic challenges using positive and changeable attributions. “Your essay was missing…”).. When we manipulate children’s attributions. Use attributions retraining to build self-confidence. for example. the key lies in convincing students that their academic performance is due primarily to factors that they can control and they can improve. In summary. rather than blaming themselves (Weiner. for . “You get discouraged easily (internal. First. for example.
that is. changing seats. when tempted to quit. Environmental structuring. so. “After I finish my essay. and three tokens for answers below ten thousands. I finish another problem. the child can modify the way he is doing the task so that the process feels less repetitive and boring. Nice job. To enhance interest on the task. a snack or playing a video game after completing the task) for reaching a particular goal associated with completing the task. Each day I get better at doing this. for example. modifying the environment to reduce distractions. feeling smart. Simple modifications that can re-energize an apathetic or unfocused child are changing the location.” Using goal-oriented self-talking. or feeling more independent (mastery goals). For example. feeling competent.g. the child says. Students can control and manipulate their motivation to increase both intensity of effort and engagement with the task. making encouraging and positive verbal statements. I know of one child that. or she may think about wanting to satisfy her curiosity. This strategy involves the identification and administration of extrinsic rewards (e. that is. I will take a 15 minutes break to eat my snack.” In addition to using tangible rewards. the student may rely in denying himself the self-selected reward. to persist in completing long division problems rewards himself five tokens for accurate answers higher that ten thousands. that is.” Alternatively. the child can use self-talking or self-praising. Some motivation regulation strategies that Wolters recommend are: Self-consequating or using self-administered consequences for their own behavior. For example. For example. for example. I cannot play my video game for three days in a row. the child can switch from cursive writing to script. the child thinks of wanting to improve her grades (a performance goal). they feel bored with a particular task or they get distracted from the task. they are not going to face much difficulty in finding alternative and/or game-like ways to handle long and tedious tasks. to influence own motivation. Children are imaginative and creative. facing the desk towards the wall to avoid getting . “If I don’t finish my essay. “Good.example. or he can turn the task into a game. stating the reasons she has for persisting in completing the task.
I am going to remain seated and working on my addition problems. eating or drinking a food that will increase the level of energy. M. 63-83. Sutherland. Educational Psychology Review. S. and they focus on strategies rather than outcomes or performance. 3-25. The optimistic child. Tollefson. To shift the student’s locus of control from external (other people or circumstances are in control) to internal (being in control of actions that lead to academic improvement).distracted. C. K. “For the next fifteen minutes. C. For example. for example.. and that you provide frequent feedback and teach alternative learning strategies to ensure success. B. J. (1979). (1995). (1990). 409-421.” Once children learn to develop self-goals. Help the child develop a short-term goal (the child creates the goal or selects from a menu of goals) with a systematic (step-by-step) plan and learning strategies for making progress towards the goal. References Ames. 29(2). A theory of motivation for some classroom experiences. Motivation: What teachers need to know. S. pp. (1995). K. they are more likely to “own” the outcome (Ames. Classroom applications of cognitive theories of motivation. progress the child to goals that require more time. K.. & Gillham. Learned helplessness and students with emotional or behavioral disorders: Deprivation in the classroom. N. 1. Burhans.. Make sure that the goal that the child selects is realistic. 169-181. N.. & Dweck. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Reivich. 66.” Gradually. 12. pp.. (2000). the child can work on a goal like. I will complete accurately three addition problems with one renaming. pp. “By May 15. N. Behavioral Disorders. and/or listening to music to become more attentive.E. . follow the child’s interests and teach him how to set task-focused self-goals. taking short breaks in-between tasks. A. Seligman. pp. (2004). No. L.1719-1738. Child Development. taking a nap before studying. Weiner. Helplessness in early childhood: The role of contingent worth. 91. Teachers College Record. Vol. 1990). 71. Journal of Educational Psychology. pp. Jaycox. & Singh.
Carmen has a bachelor’s degree in psychology (University of Puerto Rico) and a master’s degree in special education with a specialization in emotional disorders (Long Island University. Reyes. C. has more than twenty years of experience as a self-contained special education teacher. (2003). Carmen is the author of 60+ books and articles in child guidance and in alternative teaching techniques for students with low academic skills. The Psycho-Educational Teacher. She also has extensive graduate training in psychology (30+ credits). Regulation of motivation: Evaluating an underemphasized aspect of selfregulated learning. Carmen has taught at all grade levels. 189-205. You can read the complete collection of articles on Scribd or her blog. About the Author Carmen Y. The Psycho-Educational Teacher.Wolters. A. Carmen is an expert in the application of behavior management strategies and in teaching students with learning or behavior problems. To preview her books and/or download free the eguide. and educational diagnostician. from kindergarten to post secondary. Educational Psychologist. visit Carmen’s blog. Persuasive Discipline: Using Power Messages and Suggestions to Influence Children Toward Positive Behavior. . Brooklyn: NY). resource room teacher. pp. 38(4).
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.