Understanding shut-down learners
Seven strategies to help your child climb from struggles to success.
By Dr. Richard Selznick
Throughout preschool and her early elementary grades, Emma was sunny, confident, and engaged in school. Now 12 and in sixth grade, her teacher’s comments paint a different picture: “Emma enters class pleasantly, and she seems to get along nicely with the other kids. During class, however, Emma never participates, and it seems that her mind is elsewhere. Emma’s work reflects a general lack of effort. It’s almost as if she doesn’t care.”
What happened to the sunny, confident, and engaged Emma?
Jacob, age 9, loves playing with Legos and other hands-on materials. Building elaborate cities and complex scenes, he is confident and very capable. In class, though, Jacob is unenthusiastic. An observer watching Jacob’s lack of connection and energy would probably think his light bulb was dim. Often he looks pained in class — particularly during open-ended writing assignments.
A recent sample of Jacob’s writing about a school experience offers insight into his in-class struggles: “One day in scool it started as and ordenary day but at resec we hade a safty meet and I got my posit (post) I got to raes the flag It was cool because every morning I hade to come to scool erly to raseis the flag and tack down the flag I was cool because I was incharg of the flag that is one thing that happond to me.”
While these children are quite different in style and personality, both manifest the signs of a shut-down learner. These signs typically start to emerge in the upper elementary grades and become much more pronounced by high school. They include:
- A sense that the child is increasingly disconnected, discouraged, and unmotivated
- Fundamental skill weaknesses with reading, writing, and spelling, leading to diminished self-esteem
- Increased avoidance of school tasks such as homework
- Dislike of reading
- Hatred of writing
- Little or no gratification from school
- Increasing anger toward school