Resistance in the Classroom

stock-photo-hispanic-brunet-schoolboy-in-765900In Stephen Bookfield’s The Skillful Teacher, he dedicates two chapters to student resistance to learning and how to respond to that learning.

One thing I am liking more and more about this book, is that it looks at subjects that, on the surface, are logical and self-evident issues in the classroom, but that many people – if pressed – would not be able to speak to in any kind of detail. He presents very simple, logical, and practical points about these issues and then follows it up with actual applicable solutions.

He discusses points that I would think most of us can identify with – fear of looking foolish, lack of clarity in instruction/direction, and the perceived irrelevance of a learning activity. How many times have students sat silent and defiant for any one of these reasons? The resentment is such a huge obstacle to learning.

Brookfield asks teachers to turn the lens on themselves as part of solutions to respond to resistance – teachers can put themselves in their students’ shoes and ask if the resistance is justified. For example, can they acknowledge that the activity is pointless if the only justification is a policy requirement and that if students are aware of this, the resistance is understandable?  (Brookfield, 2015). Or that the level of learning is too advanced (or too simplistic) for where students are at?

He also discusses being knowledgeable about your students’ backgrounds to find meaningful connections for them in the classroom, as well as involving former resisters – having former students who were initially resistant but then came to appreciate the value of the learning to speak to the class (Brookfield, 2015). It’s a powerful tool to have real-life stories from students to attach to the learning.

Probably my favorite method that he discusses of overcoming resistance is modeling. This is a concept and practice that I talk about all the time – not only in the classroom but in life in general. Teachers need to own their own part in creating resistance if they don’t model the activity and engagement level they are asking of their students. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been put in small groups for discussion and the teacher goes and sits at his desk and does something completely unrelated to the activity happening in his classroom – is completely disengaged.

The more I read of this book the more I appreciate it. It’s an extremely helpful and practical text.

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher, 3rd ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.


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