Teacher negativity may be one of children's major barriers to learning.

Negative attitudes by teachers can be a major barrier to learning

The biggest barrier that children often face in classrooms  is the teachers' belief that the children are lazy and don't want to learn. This is especially the case where the majority of learners underperform. Of course, there are children who fall into this category, but when all the children are labelled like this, there is a much deeper issue at play.

We know that children won't naturally gravitate towards things that do not interest them, that they have difficulty understanding or that seemingly have no immediate benefits for them. It is also true that children are wired to be curious about their world and new experiences. In other words, they want to learn.

It is no different in a classroom. There will be those learners who are already self-motivated and will learn eagerly, but the masses may not have reached that level of self-motivation yet.And guess who is responsible for unlocking that learning spirit? Yes, you are right. It is the very teacher who is complaining about the hordes of children who are underperforming in his or her subject.

The teacher creates the magic

The teacher is the one who creates the magic in the classroom.  Children need to get as much background information about the subject they are learning and how that content fits into the bigger picture. They also need the tools to know how to engage the information. And, they need to be showed how to use the tools until they are conversant with them. They need practice and repetition to master skills that adults take for granted. Remember, adults have far more lived experiences than children. What is common knowledge for adults is often fledging stuff for the growing children.

The drip-feed approach is counter-productive

How often don't teachers just give their students assessments without showing them how all those assessments will cumulatively determine the final mark for the subject? Can we honestly blame the children only when we adopt this drip-feed approach as the norm?

 If children are not coached in the skills to know how to study and how to make sense of what they are supposed to master when they have completed their studies in a particular subject, they will get lost. They lose hope and stop learning. Teachers need to provide their children with coping tools. One such tool is to help children understand the context of the work they are learning.

Helping children to become better acquainted with their subject frameworks

The important step is to keep children focused on the 'big picture', instead of drip-feeding them. A good start could be the Western Cape Education Department (WCED)'s Tips for Success series  for Grade 9 and 12  for learners. Although the booklets cover these two grades, schools can adapt the information for the other grades. Copies of these books can be downloaded from the WCED's website   here.

  • These booklets provide an overview of the subjects and their requirements, study tips, space for the students to record their goals and a personal pledge page. 
  • Teachers should mediate these books with the students. Use these books as a springboard to get the students to interact with your subject meaningfully.
  • Make this book part of the weekly review. A once-off session will defeat the purpose.

What do you think we can do to unlock the children's natural gift to learn?


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