Experiment of Closeness
Stephen Brookfield, in The Skillful Teacher, explains why students resist learning. Possible
reasons why students might be resisting (p. 217-224) include:
- Poor-self image as learners
- Fear of the unknown
- The normal rhythm of learning
- Disjunction of learning and teaching styles
- Apparent irrelevance of the learning activity
- Level of required learning is inappropriate
- Fear of looking foolish
- Cultural suicide
- Lack of clarity in teacher's instructions
- Student's dislike of teachers
As I am a life-long learner addicted to learning and think that all learners to have passion, as
Barkley states, in Student Engagement Techniques, “we want students to share our enthusiasm for our academic discipline and find our courses so compelling that they willingly, in fact enthusiastically, devote their hearts and minds to the learning process” (Barkley, p. 5).
I had never really considered some students attend class and just resist, and found it surprising that I had not. It is important that we recognize why they might be resisting and implement strategies to overcome this resistance.
To overcome resistance in the classroom, teachers should consider implementing some of the following strategies suggested by James Mbuva in his article for the National Social Science Association.
He refers to Gross’ suggestion that teachers must ask the following “six question to identify the causes of resistance to learning -- whether it’s for a single student or for an entire class.”
- What can I do to establish a positive learning ATTITUDE?
- How can I best meet the NEEDS of my learners?
- What about this learning will continuously STIMULATE the learner(s)?
- How is the EMOTIONAL CLIMATE?
- How does this learning increase or affirm the learner’s feelings of COMPETENCE?
- What is the REINFORCEMENT for this learning?
Upon answering these questions, teachers can reassure themselves that they are doing almost
everything in their power to combat the resistance. I would consider adding a 7th question, which is:
7. What can I do to help my students "like each other"? The rational for this is explained below.
Recognizing and understanding resistance is crucial in today’s diverse classroom settings. Since resistance is an expression of fear, anxiety, and discomfort, educators need to create an environment of psychological safety and readiness. Teachers cannot provide challenging objectives and tasks without forming environments and relationships of trust (Goodman).
To build this type of environment, teachers can focus on a three strategies suggested by Edutopia. They collected teacher-tips on creating a positive classroom from their online community. The first is to develop good relationships by letting students get to know each other through icebreakers.
Second, teachers should ensure they communicate clearly on all aspects of classroom operation in a language they can appreciate, like humour. Finally, build trust by letting students make decisions, which enables students to feel like they helped create their environment (Raffaelli, 2014).
To build a positive environment and combat resistance, I suggest a warmer I once used when trying to engage a Pathway class. Resistance could have been the reason for their lack of motivation, but
I had not considered this at the time.
The questions I used as a morning warmer each day, were based on 36 questions from The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. Some of the questions include:
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you're going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a perfect day for you?
I staged a 10 minute mingle of free conversation, followed by timed writing, where I would usually select a structure or language focus (topic sentences, gerunds, etc.). This lead to grammar and language feedback the next day, followed by the same warmer. My students developed stronger relationships with each other, motivated one another, and class became a strong community of learners as a result.
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco:
Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher on technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (2nd
Ed.). San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Ehrenfeld, T. (October 2013). Open Gently: 36 Questions to Bring You Closer Together. Psychology
Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/open-gently/201310/36-
Goodman, D. (2007). Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies. Diversity Digest 10:2.
Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from