ELLs Struggling? This #1 Cause Is the Most Important

One of the biggest challenges we face as teachers is figuring out why some students are able to learn the material while others are not.

When a student doesn’t get it, we may feel responsible, guilty, embarrassed, frustrated, and we start looking for an explanation.

Maybe the issue is with the student…

  1. They didn’t listen.
  2. They’ve given up.
  3. They didn’t try.
  4. They weren’t thinking.
  5. They didn’t care.
  6. They wanted to make my life difficult.

Maybe the issue is with me…

  1. I didn’t explain it well enough.
  2. I didn’t make it interesting enough.
  3. I didn’t help enough.
  4. I wasn’t creative enough.

Maybe the issue is with the parents…

  1. The parents work too much.
  2. The parents don’t speak English.
  3. They let their kid watch too much TV.
  4. They don’t provide a safe, healthy home environment where learning is prioritized.
  5. They let their kid eat too much sugar.

Maybe the issue is with the system…

  1. General education teachers are unprepared or unwilling to adapt their teaching.
  2. The textbooks are terrible.
  3. I just don’t have enough time with my students.
  4. I have too many students.
  5. I have to spend all my time preparing students for standardized tests.
  6. I don’t have enough support.
  7. Communication hasn’t been in a language parents can understand.

These are all important factors, and all worth considering, but many students do just fine under these circumstances.

There is a more fundamental reason than any of those mentioned above.

The #1 reason our students struggle has to do with their beliefs about learning and school.

Mistaken beliefs about learning and school can completely debilitate a child’s ability to learn.

Here are a few of the most common beliefs I see affecting students’ learning:

1. They believe that learning is too difficult for them. When they don’t get it right away, or don’t get it right the first time, they get frustrated and give up.

2. They believe their learning is someone else’s responsibility, like the teacher’s or the parents’. If they don’t get it, it’s someone else’s fault. They wait around until someone else helps them do it.

3. They believe that learning is something unwanted, something imposed on them that gets in the way of what they really want to do, like playing, watching TV, or returning to their home country.

Since there is often some truth to each of these issues, it won’t due to simply dismiss them. It won’t due to simply tell the student not to feel that way.

The only way to help a child overcome these beliefs, the only way to help them grow their minds to meet the challenges of learning, is to show them that they can learn and that learning can feel incredibly rewarding when you persevere.

We need to set our students goals that are just enough out of their reach that they have to struggle, but not so far out of their reach that they fail over and over. With each step forward, the goals can be just a little more challenging.

What other reasons have you found that cause students to struggle? Leave me a note in the comments!

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