Funny that this is the topic for the week….I had an experience just yesterday that relates perfectly.
The story (in brief): I was called in to teach a practice lab for a group of level 1 students. We were learning a very important foundational skill – one that carries through the program and into the workforce. There are very specific guidelines for performing the skill, which the students were to practice with their lab partner. I circulated around the lab, observing each pair, offering feedback and answering questions. One particular pair was always “just finished” by the time I made it to them, and so I made a point of being present the next time they were beginning the skill. As I observed, I asked a few questions and gave some constructive feedback. I was not well received! The student became defensive and angry, and then stated I was picking on them. I was stunned, and not in a good way.
Anyhow, this experience gave me context for Brookfield’s (2015) discussion on student resistance to learning, and responding to resistance. Why was the student resistant? I suspect that the student lacks confidence and may feel that feedback is indicative of failure. Maybe they’ve had negative experiences in the past where feedback was degrading rather than constructive. I don’t feel that Brookfield really spoke to this kind of learning resistance in his book. The student was seemingly willing to learn (partaking in the activity), but not receptive to any feedback.
How did I respond to the resistance? I was feeling pretty uncomfortable with the situation, to have “teacher power” thrown back in my face, especially being a very new instructor who really doesn’t exude much power. I did my best to respond to the student’s comments, but I had to be careful not to get sucked into acting unprofessionally (e.g. arguing back, saying something I’d regret). Although the situation diffused somewhat, I don’t think the interaction did anything for breaking down the student’s resistance. But I also don’t believe this is achievable in one class for any instructor/resistant learner.
Reflecting back on how the situation made me feel, I was surprised at how “little” the student made me feel. But the prevailing thought from the day was surprise that a student would shut-down an instructor so boldly. I am certainly not an expert, but I was in the lab to help the students learn a new skill. I know students aren’t always excited to learn, but I assumed that they would all at least be willing to learn. Isn’t that why they are there?
Reference: Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.