Students resistance to learning: Fear


Brookfield (2015) Chapter 16 introduces some concepts around student resistance to learning.  He details that,  as  teachers,  we tend to love what we do.  Students signed up for your course, they showed up for class.  Ok,  so maybe they aren’t as passionate as you are but certainly they must have at least some genuine interest in hearing what you have to say ?… in learning? right?

Learning isn’t as simple as inputs and outputs; it’s more complex than that, more personal.  Learning necessitates change and with any change there is often associated fear.  Not understanding this dynamic,  and not being self aware enough to address it, can impede learning.

Included in Brookfield’s understanding of resistance are a few common sources of fear that students may have:

Fear of the unknown – this includes the course itself which is an implied unknown. Other factors such as finding your way around campus or learning on-line for the first time (in my case it was an eBook for a textbook) are other examples.

Fear of failure – in addition to an individuals own expectations of themselves there may be external influencers.  This includes  cultural implications and expectations,  both for and against learning   The  changes it may bring about in the individual and what Brookfield terms “cultural suicide”

Fear of looking foolish – it happens to all of us.  Stretching your thinking and being able to exercise the creativity that contributes to learning sometimes feels awkward.  Combine this with being asked to share with people you may or may not know can be scary.

As teachers how can we address resistance related to fear?:

Address the unknown:  Be transparent and, if possible,  involve students in planning, You should also strive to develop constant awareness of how your students are experiencing their learning and what gaps exist and persist.

Acknowledge failure:  Asses learning incrementally and create opportunities for student success.  Let the students know that failure is a welcome learning opportunity as well.

Be diverse:   Using a variety of techniques and approaches to address the diversity in the class provides more students to contribute in ways that they are likely to feel more comfortable with.

Get to know your students:  Research students back grounds to understand and appreciate what perspective they might have and what challenges they may face.

Model behaviours: its helpful for students to know that you appreciate and face /have faced some of the same challenges they are experiencing.  If possible, involve prior students to address concerns and suggest ways to overcome any obstacles.







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