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What is Learned Helplessness?

What is Learned Helplessness?

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This is an excerpt from my article, “When Children Fail in School: What Teachers and Parents Need to Know about Learned Helplessness.” To read the complete article, plus part two, just click on the links at the bottom of this post. Learned helplessness is the belief that our own behavior does not influence what happens next, that is, behavior does not control outcomes or results. For example, when a student believes that she is in charge of the outcome, she may think, “If I study hard for this test, I’ll get a good grade.” On the contrary, a learned helpless student thinks, “No matter how hard I study for this test, I’ll always get a bad grade.” In schools, learned helplessness relates to poor grades and underachievement, and to behavior difficulties. Students who experience repeated school failure are particularly prone to develop a learned helpless response style. Because of repeated academic failure, these students begin to doubt their own abilities, leading them to doubt that they can do anything to overcome their school difficulties. Consequently, they decrease their achievement efforts, particularly when faced with difficult materials, which leads to more school failure. This pattern of giving up when facing difficult tasks reinforces the child’s beliefs that he or she cannot overcome his or her academic difficulties. Learned helplessness seems to contribute to the school failure experienced by many students with a learning disability. In a never-ending cycle, children with learning disabilities frequently experience school difficulties over an extended period, and across a variety of tasks, school settings, and teachers, which in turn reinforces the child’s feelings of being helpless. Articles in Learned Helplessness… When Children Fail in School: What Teachers and Parents Need to Know about Learned Helplessness When Children Fail in School Part Two: Teaching Strategies for Learned Helpless Students I cordially invite you to share your thoughts and ideas on this topic.

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