Avoidance tactics! Ugh! We’ve all used them at some point in time and we’ve all seen them in our classroom. What do we do with the students who try everything and anything to get out of doing their classroom assignments, doing their homework, or putting in the hard work necessary to complete a concept that is challenging? For the most part, our students push through, persevere, and are successful but there are always those few students who seem to slip through the cracks and try to “fool” the teacher into thinking that they understand what is being asked of them when it comes to independently mastering a new concept. I’m here to break down 3 major avoidance tactics that I have seen my students use in my classroom – and give you some ideas on how to break the avoidance habit and build up your students’ confidence when faced with a new challenge.
Avoidance Tactic #1. STALLING
Have you ever taught a new concept, assigned seat work or centre work to practice that new concept, and then immediately have a student ask to sharpen his or her pencil? What about the student who instantly has a bathroom emergency immediately after giving out an assignment? What about a nose that needs a tissue and the following trip around the classroom to put that tissue in the garbage? Say hello to the easiest avoidance tactic out there — stalling. Students will stall whenever they are feeling overwhelmed and are unable to focus on their current task. The reasons for stalling may differ but the motivation for the stall is the same. The student does not want to do it because he/ she deems it too difficult or too much of a mental effort to give it a try.
Avoidance Tactic #2. FAKING
Fakers employ many different tactics to avoid showing that they are having difficulty. One of the most common type of faker is the student who asks for help, and then gives the Oprah inspiring, “Oh, I get it now!!!” response when responding to the teacher. 90% of the time, your student does not get it at all and is looking for the easiest way to get away from having to prove their understanding to you. Other fakers tend to doodle on their paper in ways to make it look like they are doing their assignments, or do other school work that they like better.
Avoidance Tactic #3. MIMICKING
This one is a little bit harder for the teacher to spot, especially in math classes where routines can be the key to solving problems. Mimickers tend to copy from others around them or they tend to follow a solution pattern given by the teacher. It becomes easy to spot a mimicker when evaluations or one-on-one conferences are held because a mimicker will not be able to apply what they have learned or transfer their knowledge to other areas without the help of a classmate or a step-by-step guide.
So now that you have identified the 3 types of avoidance tactics that are common in your classrooms, how can you avoid students using them?
Tip #1. Start each new lesson with a wide, opened ended question or visual pertinent to the concept being taught
Students love to think about questions that are authentic and compelling – no matter what the subject matter is. Famous paintings, short animated videos, and even “fails” can be a great catalyst for getting your students to really get into the subject material at hand. And with the use of the internet in the classroom, there is a plethora of great conversation starters and brain teasers out there to spark your students’ curiosity no matter what the subject matter is.
Tip #2. Teach Your Students To Struggle
Children today are not taught the importance of struggling through a problem. If they are stuck on a certain level on a video game, they only have to go to YouTube and search out the latest cheat tactic to get through. Most students will give up on a Sudoku puzzle because they cannot find the answer within a few minutes of beginning it. We need to be teaching our students that real, authentic thinking happens when they have time to struggle through it. Finding a solution to a math problem might take several days and several attempts in order to arrive at a suitable answer. Producing a well written paragraph will not happen on the first attempt. Our students need to know that learning is a marathon and not a sprint. By teaching them to struggle, we are also encouraging them to develop tenacity, courage, perseverance, and their ability to take risks.
Tip #3. Teach Your Students That You Are Not the Answer Key
One of the best things I have ever done as a teacher is to have never given a student an answer. Seems hard to believe, right? When I give out an assignment, I always explain what needs to be done, and then I let my students work on the problems/ activities/ assignments/ on their own for a specific period of time. When a child comes to me to say that he/she does not understand, I will only re-read the problem, redirect them to an anchor chart/ resource/ notebook page where he/ she will be able to find the answer to his/ her question. There are times when I have had to restate a problem a different way but I never give the answer to a student. The students who come to tell me they don’t understand need to know that their lack of understanding is the first step to understanding! By employing their own strategies and by using their own resources, my students are learning to rely on themselves to figure things out and are gaining confidence in their ability to master the material. We always go over answers at the end of “struggle time” and it is nice to see my students smiling when they have done well on their own… and I love seeing my students make corrections when they have made a mistake.
Tip #4. PLAY!
I decided to change things up in a big way this year. I have begun to incorporate more games and centres in my classes. By allowing my students to play games that revolve around what we are working on, I am giving my students the opportunity to explore different concepts in a less stressful and less teacher centred environment. My students get to practice the concepts we are covering with their classmates and the engagement level of my students goes through the roof — more so than direct teacher to group lessons that I had given in the past. With the games and centres, there is no pressure for students to have perfect answers and it is really something special to see the students teaching one another!
If you have other tips to help teachers help their students deal with avoidance tactics, please feel free to leave them in the comment below!
Have a great day!