Monday, December 26, 2011

Learned Helplessness

Since we're on break, I'm channeling my inner Tiger Mom and working hard with Younger Daughter.  We're going through the "finished" Investigations workbooks that her second-grade teacher sent home, completing some of the untried pages and fixing mistakes.

So, I turn to an untried page and say, "Let's do this one".  Then YD just looks at me expectantly.  She's gotten so accustomed to having the teacher read the directions to her that she doesn't even try to read them herself.  Me:  "Go ahead and read the directions!"  Several times YD has started reading the directions, and reverted back to her worst habits of word-guessing, reading "color" for "circle" and "equation" for "equals".  I think it's a form of learned helplessness, and I think it's got to stop.

So I had Sainted Husband type up a list of all the vocabulary words that show up in the workbooks, and we'll start drilling them with YD as part of her daily reading practice.  Not only is Investigations heavily language-based, which creates unnecessary roadblocks for a language-delayed child, but the language it uses is not remotely aligned with the reading curriculum.  I'm sure YD isn't the only second-grader who has trouble reading words like "equation", or, God forbid, "trapezoid".

If I were purely homeschooling YD, I could choose what curricula to follow, and we could use it in a systematic way.  But since I'm sending YD to public school and afterschooling her in an attempt to bring her up to grade level, I vacillate between using the best curricula I can find (phonics and Singapore Math) and preparing her to deal with her classroom environment, which pushes reading "strategies" and Investigations math.  I just hope it all works for her.


  1. WOW, you should be a consultant or something. WHO would have ever thought of aligning math words with reading words? Maybe this concept could apply to history as well!

    So simple... yet so un-done. :)

  2. It's wacky, isn't it? Seems to me like the obvious choice for math is to minimize the amount of reading involved, so that struggling readers can still make progress in math.

  3. Suburban Chicken FarmerDecember 27, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    "Learned Helplessness" is a psychological term meaning something very different than your example.

  4. How is the psychological term different? What I see is that YD has learned not to attempt to read the directions in her workbook, although she's capable of reading most of it. When I tell her to do it, she reverts to earlier forms of "helpless" reading, namely wild guessing, instead of sounding out the letters.