Today I want to share with you four things you can say when you see your students getting frustrated. We’ve all had those moments when we have one or more students that are simply too frustrated with a problem or concept to make any real progress with it. These are some practical ways I have found to deal with those times.
“It Will Make More Sense Tomorrow”
One of the most important things you can do for a frustrated student is to ask them a question that takes their mind off of the frustration at hand. You want the brain to “forget” what it was just thinking about and that was causing the frustration.
I like to ask my students, “What does your brain do while you sleep?” The answer is that it refreshes itself, ridding itself of anything not needed so that it is ready to solve problems the next day.
Almost every child has had the experience of feeling frustrated over a problem only to come back to class the next day and find it much simpler than the day before. That’s because the brain needed a rest from the frustration so that it could begin to think clearly about the problem again.
I know that as math teachers, your default may be to remind them of a math success and that is fine, but you don’t have to restrict your examples to math.
For my students, a math example does seem to be more powerful though.
For example, if they are struggling with solving systems of equations, remind them of a time when they had trouble solving another type of problem, and they learned it and did well with it. These past successes go a long way to encouraging them and giving them confidence that they can do just as well with these new concepts.
“I Believe in You”
When a student is frustrated, they need to receive affirmation from you, the teacher, that you believe in their ability to learn the math concept they are struggling with.
As a mother of 6, with 4 of those adopted, I have been through some tough times as a parent. I was too hard on myself and too hard on my kids at times. But my mother gave me so much confidence by encouraging me that I was doing a good job.
She reminded me that it was perfectly fine to be tough on my kids, as long as they knew they were loved.
I believe the same rule holds true in the classroom: I can be tough on my students; I can demand a lot from them, as long as they know that I believe in them. I must remind them that I believe in their success, I believe in who they are, I believe in them as humans.
Knowing that someone believes that they have something to contribute to the world goes a long way toward helping them believe that they can work through difficult problems and will encourage them to give you their very best work.
Use Keywords to Build Resilience
Let’s face it, those awesome elementary teachers that we all know have taught our students some important words; words like perseverance, integrity, grit, honesty, effort, and character.
When I take the time to use these words as I am helping my students through especially difficult concepts like geometry proofs, I give them the inner belief that they can do it.
If a student asks, “But when will I ever use this in real life?”, I can say, “There will be many times as an adult that you will have to persevere through difficult situations. There will be real-life problems that require you to break them down into manageable steps so that you can solve them.”
When a high-school teacher uses some of the same vocabularies that these students learned in elementary school, it evokes warm memories for them and gives them the belief that they can do hard things, that they do have the grit it takes to get through. They will continue to develop their character to be one of integrity and honesty as they see what they are capable of.
Stop. Reframe. Redirect.
Let’s be honest here; the kids aren’t the only ones who get frustrated. We as teachers get frustrated as well.
When anyone in the classroom is frustrated, whether it is student or teacher, you simply can’t go on as if there is no problem. You have to stop. You have to find a new way of teaching the concept or a new way of explaining what you want the students to do.
The first thing to do is stop, but secondly, when you do start speaking again, slow down. Slowing your speech helps you to maintain tight control over not only what you say, but how you say it. Remaining calm is crucial to teaching, whether you are at school or home with your children. Slowing your speech is a very effective way to remain calm while still instructing.
Now is a great time to come back to what you know and what your students know. Remember earlier when I said that you need to remind your students of a former success? Now is a great time to do that!
Focusing on what a student can do, instead of what they can’t or won’t do, will help the student believe that they can learn the new concept and give them the courage to try again. Telling a story about a time when you used this concept in your own life or an example of how they might use it would be helpful at this point.
Get the students re-engaged with you. Do whatever you have to do to reset the tone in your classroom and then try again.
Ticket for Success
The most important thing to remember is that every student must grow every day! I hope that these tips I have shared today will help you to find more ways to engage that student that doesn’t want to connect.
Now for your homework-
I want you to try one of these tips this week! When you find yourself or a student getting frustrated, try telling a story. Use those keywords like perseverance and grit to share how you used these same concepts to get through a difficult situation in your own life. Remind them of some of the things they already know.
Please be sure to stop back by and let me know how you worked these into your classroom time and how they worked for you! I love to hear how these tips are helping you to not only manage your classroom better but also reach your students and build those relationships.