1. It could be (insert gasp here) because I have never taught them to do it the right way. (That never happens really!)
2. They have the skill, maturity, and ability to complete the task, but they are applying it to a new situation.
3. Or, they have learned helplessness. They have been spoon fed for so long now they can’t do hardly anything on their own. Ahhhhh!
If it is either of the second two scenarios, I ask them the same three questions to establish a thinking pattern.
1. What is your challenge?
2. What is stopping you from completing this task?
3. What tools do you have that will help you?
What Is Your Challenge?
Sometimes when you ask children to do something, they authentically do not understand the task. If they can’t tell you what they need to do, you have a place to start. If they understand the task, you can move to the next question.
What is stopping you from completing this task?
This is the part where you hone in on what has gone wrong. They have to break the problem apart. The student must identify what it is they don’t know how to do. For example, you have asked the child to add decimals to different place values. They might say, "I don’t know where the numbers go because this one has an extra number." Ah ha! We need to talk about place value! Think of this question as your data collection stage. It helps you know which part the kids understand. It also helps them realize that they can complete at least part of it on their own which is empowering... eventually. This step isn’t easy, and it will take time, but after asking these questions like a broken record even your most helpless learner will start coming to you saying, “I know how to do this, but I don’t-“ Oh Yeah! Progress!
What tools do you have that can help you?
We spend time talking in my family and classroom about tools. We have real tools like stools, pencils, rulers, wet paper towels, big brothers, etc. Sometimes our tools are skills like adding friendly numbers, or our memories about things that have worked before. Sometimes, the tools work and sometimes they don’t. But either way, we recognize that we have options and we can look for resources to help us.
At first, I ask the questions, listen, and then offer suggestions as a last resort. After I repeat these questions like a broken record, I don't need to offer suggestions any more. It is difficult to let them do it when I could just do it for them. But, empowering them is worth it! Once they have the thinking pattern down, they start to implement it on their own without you saying a word. Oh the beauty!
So stop being the dragon and start being their Yoda. In other words, goodbye learned helplessness, no more spoon feeding for you!!!!