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Teaching Students with LD and ADHD

Preventing Learned helplessness

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Joined: Oct 06, 2009
Posts: 1
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Posted Oct 15, 2009 at 12:09:06 AM
Subject: Preventing Learned helplessness

Hello everyone!
My name is Andrew, and I am currently enrolled in a teaching certification program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. This semester I am taking a class about inclusion in the classroom. I was wonder if people would be able to share their encounters with students experiencing learned helplessness, the techniques they used to help the student get over it, as well as ways to identify and prevent learned helplessness from even forming.

As my forum name states, I plan to teach mathematics. I personally feel that this is an area where a majority of people feel helpless. It is my goal to help students overcome the helplessness they feel when confronting math problems.

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Joined Jun 12, 2009
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Posted:Oct 15, 2009 5:49:47 AM

Hi Andrew, and welcome here,
I'm glad to read of your goal to help students confronting maths problems. Which generally isn't addressed in schools.
Though I had to consider your term;'learned helplessness'?
Where initially, it suggested to me some intent from the student? But, it could be read in different ways, where it could also be termed as: 'taught helplessness'?
Which is very much the situation, where most often students confronting maths difficulties. Are provided with little if any support to understand and address their problems with maths.
So that they all that they know, is that maths is something that they can't do? With no explanation, other than coming to the all too common conclusion that; 'they must be stupid'. To quote them, unfortunately.
Andrew, I run a forum for the maths disorder Dyscalculia, which I would invite you to join and enter into discussions there. Where you'll find me there as eoffg.

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Joined Jun 13, 2003
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Posted:Nov 24, 2009 3:26:53 PM

FWIW, IMNSHO, the single largest reason children develope learned helplessness in the school setting has been the practice of social promotion, which teaches a child very early on that they do not even have to try and will still advance to the next grade. After 8 years of SP it can be very hard to get them reoriented to a "work for success" mindset.

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Joined Nov 07, 2009
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Posted:Nov 25, 2009 1:36:03 AM

It is so true that learned helplessness in the school setting has been the practice of social promotion. For our society to move forwards this is a practice that can no longer be endorsed. Students will need to be provided with the tools to equip them to be successful knowing that they have a role to play in order for them to be successful. Getting student reoriented is certainly very hard thus there are strategies which we should seek to employ starting early to steer students from this kind of dependency.

Teachers for example need to teach students procedures and techniques to monitor their own gains in academic areas. Also we have become a society that relies heavily on external reinforcement, while this may be good or has is place students should not be made to feel that without this form of reinforcement they have failed. It is important that we seek to reinforce students' performance. Very often as teachers and parents whenever a child/student accomplishes a tasks one of the first things which we find ourselves doing is saying "good job." Rather than saying that what we could do instead is focus on the behavior, praise or highlight the behavior. A teacher could instead say to his or her student 'you really focused and finished you problems in Math today. You needed to ask for help but you got it done. How do you feel about having done so?" Teachers also need to encourage students to take responsibility for their success. Let students talk about some of the ways they prepared in order to have been successful, discourage students from attributing there success to luck or believing that the task which they had to complete was easy. Last but not least provide encouragement for students. We need to bear in mind that very often students experience continued failure at what they do as a result they become discouraged and shy away from attempting tasks they could be capable of performing.

Overall, as teachers and parents it is for us to allow students to demonstrate their control of their learning tasks.
[Modified by: paulina on November 25, 2009 01:49 AM]

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roncie silcox
Joined Feb 25, 2010
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Posted:Mar 12, 2010 6:47:21 PM

Andrew, I taught for 32 years and most of those years were math. Make sure that the students learn their basic math skills. Repetition and games help them get these basic skills and likewise reenforce self confidence. The main thing to remember is that it is quality and not quantity you want from the student. Often the students will try to achieve quantity and therefore make more mistakes which only make them feel more inadequate.

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Joined Mar 13, 2010
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Posted:Mar 13, 2010 10:08:08 PM

Great advice. Self-confidence is the key. Allow me to mention that many hands-on activities in math are largely overlooked. A teacher can express themselves in this area in so many ways, and have fun doing so. It tends to rub off on the student(s).

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Allison Ash
Joined Apr 07, 2013
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Posted:Apr 08, 2013 6:46:09 PM

In my opinion I feel that “helplessness” of students is something that begins in the primary grades. I don’t mean to point the finger at primary school teachers, but as a high school teacher I often feel that by the time students reach my courses they already have a sense of inadequacies in their abilities and depend upon “hand holding” to complete any task. Of course it is necessary to provide accommodations, modifications and interventions to students with disabilities but there is a line. We (as the teachers) need to assure that the assistance we offered is not hindering students in their ability to be independent in nature.
I agree this is something that is actually taught and thus we (the teachers) need to end the cycle. By instilling self-confidence in our students and focusing on their learning strengths and successes I feel we can engage our students and begin to break the vicious cycle of “learned helplessness.” All students have unique strengths and learning styles, we need to individualize instruction toward those means and provide positive experiences for success utilizing those areas for each student. It is not going to be an easy task, but it will definitely be worthwhile in the end.

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Joined Apr 09, 2013
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Posted:Apr 10, 2013 12:09:33 AM

As a teacher of students with autism we typically attack this issue by using prompt fading. This ensures that the student can correctly perform the desired skills. First some heavy supports like full gestural prompting or hand over hand to teach the student what needs to be done. As more trials are done the prompts used are less intrusive until the student can perform the task on their own.

Here is a site that describes DTT. Many of the autism classrooms in my county are using this method in their classes.


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Joined Oct 08, 2013
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Posted:Oct 08, 2013 9:49:52 PM

Good evening. I have been teaching preschoolers age 3-5 with special needs for 7 years. I reviewed the previous blog posts and I do agree, learned helplessness begins at a young age, but I do not feel schools are the only place this happens. Lots of children come from homes where it is easier for parents to "just do" the task for the child instead of giving choices, or redirection of the task. For example, many parents zipper their child's coat because it gets them out the door faster. The less a child is exposed to zipping his own coat, the longer he will not know how and will not have to perform a simple task on his own. I use the term simple loosely because for some children, they do not have the proper fine motor skills, but for most children, this is a task that can be practiced and skill that can be strengthened. In regards to how students follow learned helplessness by being "carried" through early school grades without applying their full ability, I think so much pressure comes from state and federal laws that it is almost impossible to teach everything effectively to every student and have all students pass equally. We know that every student is different and every student with LD, ADHD, and general education students need to be given interventions and modifications to perform well. In younger grades, teachers should communicate with parents as to what the child is doing at home. Teachers can provide a few ideas for the parents to work on together with the child. Every grade level should communicate with the one before it to find out what the students are learning, as well as communicate with the next grade level teachers to find out what the students need to know to be successful the following year. I hope this post provides some insight on how learned helplessness in any child stems from the home environment and can be changed, altered, or minimized by working together with parents and teachers from congruent grade levels.

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Joined Nov 13, 2013
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Posted:Nov 13, 2013 11:47:04 PM


Good evening. I actually have been teaching preschoolers age 3-5 with special desires for seven years. I reviewed the previous diary posts and that i do agree, learned helplessness begins at a young age, however I don\'t feel colleges square measure the sole place this happens. scores of kids come back from homes wherever it\'s easier for folks to \"just do\" the task for the kid rather than giving decisions, or redirection of the task.

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[Modified by: dhfl143 on November 19, 2013 09:48 PM]

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