Get Your Students To Unbelieve

Giving Students Control

Psychologist Kevin Dutton has coined a term for something I am sure you have seen at some point in your career as educator. Have you ever had a student, or group of students, actively resist your attempts to teach them? Do they seem to completely reject the whole process? Dutton refers to this as ‘unbelief.” It is the active resistance to what we are trying to accomplish in the classroom or a complete rejection of the learning environment.

Unfortunately, this does happen in classrooms across the country. Some students will come into your class with this mindset already firmly planted. You can win these students over in a variety of ways. First. it is important to build a good rapport with your students so that they will want to work with you. Otherwise, your students will do their best to do the absolute minimum to get the credit, move on, and never look back.

“If you don’t ever get off that dynamic, you end up having showdowns, as each side (teacher and student) tries to impose its point of view. You get two hard skulls banging against each other.”

You Can’t Make Anyone Learn

If you have taught for any length of time, I am sure you have had your share of showdowns in the classroom. “But if you can get the [students] to drop their unbelief, you can slowly work them to your point of view on the back of their energy.”

You can’t make anyone learn anything. The choice has to be up to the student. So, “don’t directly persuade them to see your ideas. Instead, you ride them to your ideas. As the saying goes, the best way to ride a horse is in the direction in which it is going.”

Give Your Students the Illusion of Control

“Asking calibrated questions–by asking for help–is one of the most powerful tools for suspending unbelief.” These type of questions “offer no target for attack like statements do. Calibrated questions have the power to educated your [student] on what the problem is rather than causing conflict by telling them what the problem is.”

How to Ask

First, you need to figure out the direction you want a conversation to go. Design the questions that will ease the conversation in that direction while letting [your student] think it’s his choice to take you there.”

Secondly, avoid verbs or words like ‘can,’ ‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘do,’ or ‘does.’ These are “close-ended questions that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’

Try to stick to just two question words: ‘what,’ and ‘how.’ Don’t use ‘why’ because it sounds accusatory. “Even something as harsh as ‘Why did you do it?’ can be calibrated to ‘What caused you to do it?’ which takes away the emotion and makes the question less accusatory.”

Here are some questions you can try

How can I help to make this better for us?
How would you like me to proceed
What is it that brought us into this situation?
How can we solve this problem?
What’s the objective / What are we trying to accomplish here?
How am I supposed to do that?

“The implication of any well-designed calibrated question is that you want what [your student[ wants but you need his intelligence to overcome the problem. . . You’ve not only implicitly asked for help–triggering goodwill and less defensiveness–but you’ve engineered a situation in which your formerly recalcitrant [student] is now using his mental and emotional resources to overcome your challenges. It is the first step in your [student] internalizing your way–and the obstacles in it–as his won, And that guides [your student] toward designing a solution. Your solution.”

“There are two key questions you can ask to push [your students] to think they are defining success their way: How will we know we’re on track?
How will we address things if we find we are off track? When they answer, you summarize their answers until you get a “That’s right.” Then you’ll know they’ve bought in.

Don’t Accept “I’ll Try.”

“I’ll try” often means “I plan to fail.” Other times, “You’re right” can be just a way to dismiss the conversation. “When you hear either of these, dive back in with calibrated ‘How’ questions until they define the terms of success implementation in their own voice. Follow up by summarizing what they have said to get a ‘That’s right.”

Today’s Teaching Tip features quotes from Chris Voss’ book “Never Split the Difference” that I highly recommend any educator to read. It wasn’t written with teachers in mind but if you read it with your teacher hat on, it will inspire you and give you all sorts of tools to use in your professional practice.