Building Resilience in our Learners by @cillachinchilla

As teachers, one of the biggest challenges that we face in the classroom is students who give up. ‘I can’t do it’, ‘It’s too hard’, ‘I dunno’. We spend hours planning a lesson that could stretch and challenge our students, only to find that they don’t want to be stretched and challenged because it’s too much like hard work. Where do we go from here? How do we make sure that we are molding our learners to be Hobnobs rather than Rich Teas?


This is a re-blog post originally posted by Gemma Turner-Lindley and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Motivational Language

In our lessons, in our marking and feedback or in our report writing, we can make a difference to how motivated a student feels about their learning.

When a student hasn’t done particularly well:

‘Aqib, see me for help’ (student response: I can’t do it without help) vs. ‘Aqib, I know this was a difficult task for you but you handled it well – keep going and ask me for help.’ (I am getting there with help)

When a student has clearly not prepared for an assessment:

‘Sarah, you should be doing better than this.’ (I’m a failure)  vs. ‘Sarah, you are capable of doing even better than this – show me what you can really achieve next time!’ (I messed up but I can try again)

When a student has achieved full marks on a test:

‘Jas, well done for getting top marks!’ (I don’t need to try anymore) vs. ‘Jas, you did really well here! Let’s see if you can transfer your skills to another question to do even better.’ (I am doing well but could still challenge myself more)

Learning is hard and you have to try

Displays such as The Learning Pit or the Iceberg could be displayed in a  department to show that learning is tough and sometimes we have to put in a lot of effort.

Getting students to sign off particular pieces of work as ‘The very best work that I can do’ so that you can showcase this to parents at parents’ evenings, or to their form tutor or head of year is a good way to get students trying their best. They may not get everything right but they can always try their best.

3B4ME is a great tool for building resilience and getting students to try harder. Students are encouraged to work things out for themselves by following three steps before speaking to the teacher.

BRAIN: Think about it a bit more

BOOK: Look at your exercise book/textbook/dictionary to see if you can find the answer.

BUDDY: Ask the people on your table for help.

BOSS: If you are still stuck, ask the teacher.

An alternative acronym you could use is SNOT: Self, Notes, Other, Teacher. You can find out more about these strategies from the blog Mr Campbell Writes…

Don’t accept giving up

If a student shrugs or says ‘I dunno’, think about why they are saying that. Either they genuinely don’t know, they are worried about failing or they just can’t be bothered answering.

If you think they don’t know you can ask them questions to try and get them thinking about it, or give them the opportunity to ask someone in the class to help them out. Don’t give them the answer without giving them the chance to think  it through.

If you think they are worried about failing, break things down so that they seem more manageable and so they are less likely to fail. ‘Ok, Tom, just give me on reason to start off with and then we can see what people can add to that.’

If you think they just can’t be bothered answering, say that to them. ‘Yousef, I know that you are capable of answering this question so I won’t accept that. Have 30 seconds of thinking time while I ask someone else a question and then I will come back for your answer.’

Make mistakes acceptable

Many students don’t try because they are worried about getting things wrong. If we respond to an incorrect answer with ‘no’ or ‘that’s wrong’. that blunt response can shut the thinking process down. If we can change the culture of our classrooms so that it is ok to get things wrong because it is part of the learning process, then those students will be more likely to give things a go.

‘That’s not the answer I was thinking of but tell me how you came up with that and we can see why we were different.’

‘You’re not quite there but I can see why you said that. Can anyone else see what connection they were making?’

‘Have a look at that answer again – you are almost right but there is a bit that needs looking at here and when you’ve sorted that it will be right.’

Asking for help is not a weakness

This should go hand in hand with the previous point. Asking for help is not a weakness as long as you really do need help and have tried everything else. There are different strategies that students could use:

Have an Action Station. This could be something as simple as having a table at the front that has some extra resources that may help students with their work (simpler and more challenging resources to cover all abilities) or a set of questions that students could consider.

Have a Help Desk. A couple of students carry out their own work at a specific desk in the classroom but are available for consultation. They could be Lead Learners who may help the students work out the answer for themselves or ‘Experts’ who could give extra information about a topic.

Have a Question Board. If students have specific questions about a topic, they write their question and their name on a post-it and place it on the board. If other students are finished with their own work they can take the opportunity to challenge themselves by taking a question from the board and answering it for that student, either in a written or verbal response.

Use Directive Feedback

Show students what they are succeeding at and what they could do to improve. Use DIRT time and give them something specific to attempt in order to challenge themselves.  Getting students into the habit of responding to feedback drives home the message that there are always improvements to make, regardless of ability – even students who are getting A grades can still challenge themselves in other ways.

‘You managed to give two reasons for your own opinion. Give a reason for a different point of view to get more marks.’

‘Well done for explaining qualities of the character in the play. Find a quote from the text to justify what you have said.’

‘You have achieved full marks on that 15 mark question by following the success criteria. Have a go at this 15 mark question to see if you can do it again.’

If we can build resilience in our learners they will boost their own achievement without us having to try so hard on their behalf.


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