The Two - Minute Teaching Tip - Fighting Fear!
Feb 11, 2009 Teaching Methodology 3823 Views
Your students are deathly afraid of making mistakes and looking stupid in front of their peers. Failure hurts...especially at school...especially in front of their friends. Were you ever humiliated in front of your classmates? I was. It still hurts!
To avoid the potential for making a mistake and looking stupid, students, especially failure-prone students, refuse to risk... They refuse to try... They refuse to participate. Without participation, learning is limited. "The person who does the work does the learning."
Sounds crazy! But, in an effort to protect themselves and avoid looking stupid, students choose to appear lazy by not participating. They would much rather appear lazy than stupid. They can control lazy, but they can't control looking stupid. It's about control.
When students see themselves as failures... As dummies... As stupids... Discipline problems erupt. It's only natural. Our greatest desire as human beings is to be accepted! Our greatest fear is rejection! When students fail, they feel the greatest of all pains... The pain of rejection. Then, they strike back out of frustration and pain. Eventually, discipline becomes a problem.
What's the point? As a teacher, fighting fear by reducing the fear factor is one of your primary goals. Sound difficult? Not really.
For twenty-five years, I worked in the world's largest failure warehouse... The Texas Department of Corrections. During my years as an educator in the prison system, one lesson became increasingly apparent. That lesson was the negative impact fear... Fear of failure... Has on students' willingness to risk and learn.
To overcome the tendency for students to withdraw from the class both mentally and physically, I developed a simple, but highly effective way to encourage student involvement. Give your students the risk level! That's right. Tell them the potential for failure involved in a task before asking them to volunteer... To participate.
Here's how it works. On the first day of school, tell them you realize fear of failure and embarrassment could limit their willingness to participate and learn. Want to really, really win them over? Tell them about a time when the fear of failure affected your life. Even better, make the example about school, and you'll be an instant hero. You'll seem human. They'll love you for it!
Risk level is measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with one having a prerequisite of being able to breath. Most of us can do that! Right? No way to feel the fear of failure when an activity is a risk level of one. Your students will rush to tackle any task with a risk level of one.
You'll see hands start to go up in midair with blinding speed. You'll see students volunteer who had never ever considered volunteering before. Feeling in control and succeeding, even in a minor way, has positive effects.
What's the point? Before you have your students participate in an activity, always give them the risk level. Tell them up front about the potential for failure! The more difficult the task... The higher the risk level. It's simple. It's powerful. It's doable. Let's do it!
Start with risk levels where everyone... Yes, everyone feels confident enough to risk. Then, work up the scale.
Admittedly, a risk level of 10 is a little on the scary side. But after a few weeks of applying this simple failure and fear reducing process, your students learn to trust you. When they learn, actually learn... You aren't out to get them or embarrass them, even your failure-prone students will start to risk. That's exciting!
Please remember this is a gradual process. It takes time to build the trust necessary to risk failure. Give the process time.
One thing to remember... Intermingle risk levels up and down the scale. Start with ones. Then, graduate to twos and threes. This gives the failure-prone students the opportunity to risk and win. Once the students have a few successes under their belts... The sky is the limit!
As a teaching tool, this is an awesome one. Like any other tool, it is only useful when you use it. Make it a habit. Give your students the opportunity to control their own destiny by giving them the risk level.
It's simple. It's powerful. It works!
Ready to risk? Try it! It's a risk level 5...
10 ways to reduce fear in the classroom...
1. Fear-less... Make your classroom a fear-less place by developing a simple fear strategy. This strategy minimizes the fear of making mistakes. It's simple. Discuss fear and how it affects behaviors in the classroom. Start with a simple question. How many of you feel you will make a mistake or miss a question on a test this year? The key is openness. When students see that learning involves making a few mistakes, they will risk. As the teacher, your hand should go up first to say you'll make mistakes this year, too!
2. Share... Tell'em about your own experiences when you suffered feelings of failure. Tell them how it felt when you made mistakes in school. Be specific! Tell a story about you! This one exercise in bravery will reap tons of good will. Hey, you'll actually seem human.
3. Tell them... Tell them about the risk level... You know, the article above. Remember 1 to 10...
4. Bad day... Tell them it's okay to tell you when they are having a bummer day. You'll avoid calling on them. Watch for abuse of this one! The abuser may need a double-dose of insight about risking and failing. Again, personal stories work wonders here.
5. Ask the question... What can I do to help reduce your fear of making a mistake and being embarrassed? This one takes patience. Give them time...Tons of time. Let them open up. Students know their fears. Let them have the opportunity, in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere, to discuss them. This one activity can set the stage for a dizzying school year of success for you and your students. But, you've gotta do it!!! It won't happen unless you make it happen.
6. Change their perception... Instill in each student it takes courage to risk making mistakes and failing. The student who risks is a hero. Teach the class to celebrate mistakes. Yes, you can! You can change how students feel about making mistakes by having them see those who risk as heroes. If it worked in prison, it can work for you. Work it! Change their perception!
7. What to do? Discuss with your class the options they have to respond to mistakes. Have the class make a list of possible responses they might employ after making a mistake. For example: when students feel the pain of failure because they answered a question incorrectly, what do they do? Here's an option... Have them say, wow, that took courage! I'm glad I tried. This is good! Why? Because everyone will have access to these options to counteract their negative failure feelings.
No, they aren't... These options are not excuses. They are rewards... Verbal rewards for having the courage to risk failure even when the risk results in a mistake. The class needs a minimum of 20 mistake rebuttal options.
8. Might fail? Worried? When students anticipate a situation where failure is a possible outcome, what can they do? Not all teachers embrace a fear strategy... Because keeping students off balance and fearful is their goal. You know it's true! Then, what is a student to do? Here's where you come in again. Discuss it! That's right, have the class discuss situations where they might feel out of control because of the potential for failure. For example: test anxiety is a major concern of students. What can be done to deal with stress? Deep breathing? Dropping the jaw and shoulders?
What's the point? Look for situations and provide students tools to deal with these situations. Make a list of what to do's! The list should include other areas of the students' life. Work... Home... Dating...
9. They can handle it! Several years ago, I read a super-fantastic book... Feel the fear and do it anyway by susan jeffers. The book was based on one overriding principle. No matter what... You can handle it! Twenty years ago my father came for a short visit.
He was healthy. His color was good. He had never been in a hospital. Just before returning home, he had a heart attack and died in my arms. It was devastating!
What's the point? You have suffered many failures, heartaches and setbacks in your life. Guess what? You've handled all of them. You are still here! Your students need to learn this lesson of life as early as possible. They can handle mistakes, failure and embarrassment. Show them by teaching them this one powerful statement: no matter what... I can handle it! Have them say it over and over with tons of emotion. I can handle it! I can handle it! I can handle it!
10. Instill in each student the joy of learning and growing. How? By being an example of a lifelong learner. By demonstrating your love and enthusiasm for your subject area. By making what you teach meet the needs and wants of your students. It can be done. To this day, my oldest son loves history because of one wonderful teacher. That's right, just one teacher who loved his subject so much he became contagious. This contagious enthusiasm for history touched each student's life in a special way.
What's the point? When your students develop the love of learning, risking is worth the risk.
Think about this statement, in fact, read it several times... Knowledge without action is as worthless as a parachute after the first bounce.
What's the point? You now have some awesome tools to fight fear in your classroom. These tools are absolutely worthless unless you use them. Use them daily... Until they become a habit. Force yourself to act differently than you feel. Why? Implementing this fear fighting process will feel uncomfortable at first! Why? Because it's new, unfamiliar and you could fail. You could make a mistake. You might even feel a tinge of fear. But, go ahead... Do it! You can handle it!
The best to you, Karl.