Developed by
Dr. Judith M. Newman

Practice as Inquiry


Roger Gadsdon

In the spring of l994, I was invited to be a participant in a joint venture between the school division and Dr. Judith Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Education. It began as a one year exploration in developing supportive classroom environments for learning. Dr. Newman's expertise on literacy and her action research stance of reflective practitioner framed the two major components of our exploration.

The teachers involved in the Literacy Project, as it became known, were from three elementary schools. We each selected one or two students to focus upon. These students were identified as being significantly behind in reading and writing. I chose Sandra, who had just been transferred to special education from the resource program, as my target student. She was in a regular grade 6 classroom. Her file indicated a literacy level of between grade 2 and 3.

In the literacy project, we were encouraged to become better observers. The three facilitators, lead by Judith, challenged us to look differently at our assumptions and interpretations of our observations, not only of the students, but of ourselves. We teachers were supported in our efforts to engage openly in conversations with project colleagues about challenges and contexts and to just try a range of alternate ways of attending to the learning needs of the target students.

After initial discussions about the project and my early observations of Sandra in her classroom, I chose to change her learning environment. I met with her parents, and I began to find ways to shift the responsibility and control for learning from others to Sandra.

At the close of the first year of the project each teacher was asked to reflect on an aspect of the work with our target student. In my reflection, I chose to discuss the wide array of avoidance strategies and the varying degrees of anxiety exhibited by Sandra that frequently pre-empted her learning. During the course of the year and in my project reflection, I spoke of my sense that Sandra had somehow learned to be a helpless learner.

This past fall, I chose to take the Action Research course offered by Judith to further my understanding of action research while continuing a second year of the Literacy Project. I remained intrigued and committed to exploring this notion of learned helplessness and to find ways of reversing it.


At the start of school last year, Sandra was transferred to my special education caseload from the resource program. She was in a grade six classroom working at a grade two level. Her previous teachers believed Sandra needed to have an instructional assistant beside her doing her work with her. Hearing impaired, she couldn't keep up academically and she lacked motivation to work independently. She was extremely dependent upon adults to direct each step of her lessons. Frequently, during those first few weeks, I would find Sandra copying what the instructional assistant had produced on scrap paper. If the instructional assistant went on a break, so did Sandra. If the instructional assistant was helping another child, Sandra would sit passively and wait until redirected.

This was the second year Sandra was with the same classroom teacher. Her classmates were polite to her. They seldom associated with her at recess time and rarely would any see her socially outside of school.

When I sat and worked with Sandra, she frequently stalled-out on learning tasks and criticized herself. She used negative body language to support her helpless stance. She'd shrug her shoulders, or look around the room, stare blankly, or place her hands in the air and shake her head, indicating she was giving up. Sandra was not in charge of her learning. She had little or no ownership for what was to be learned. However, she had learned to con others into doing tasks for her. Her passive approach and procrastination lead others to be sufficiently frustrated to do her work for her or to leave her alone and not expect much from her cognitively, socially, or emotionally. Sandra, and those who worked with her, seemed to be locked into an unhealthy pattern of learned helplessness.

Seeing what was not working in the regular class and from the current traditional instructional perspective, I chose to create a different. Instructionally, I needed to change the materials, format of delivery, and the way in which supports were provided. After moving Sandra to a smaller group environment, Mary, my full time instructional assistant, and I set up routine writing and reading activities. One of the first things we both noticed when we began was how difficult it was for Sandra to sustain routines or activity patterns on a daily basis.

At first, each day seemed like a new experience for her. She made comments like: What do I do, I don't know, I don't get it, I'm stupid. Almost daily her head would sink and her shoulders would droop until she would meld into the desk and hope that both she and her inattentiveness would blend into the woodwork and we would not challenge her to produce or to be responsible for her learning. Asking Sandra to 'just try' and know it was okay to make mistakes seemed beyond her trust and comprehension..

With shifts in environment, interactions, and the different ways supports were provided, things gradually began to change. A shift from being learned helpless to being an engaged learner was now in motion.


Sandra had just set all her science experiment materials out on the work table. Mary, her instructional assistant, was sitting ready to provide a minimum level of support if needed. Sandra took charge, pouring 250 ml. of soda pop into a glass beaker. She watched intently and commented on all of the bubbles. She carefully opened a tiny box of raisins, removed four and placed them in the beaker. She leaned over the beaker with her chin nearly touching the table, closely watching the bubbles work upon the raisins. With her face fixed, her lips formed a smirk which grew quickly into a smile.

After watching these proceedings, I looked down to resume my work. I thought to myself, yes, Sandra is certainly engaged in her science experiment this year. Last year, I provided major support for every little part of the project. She is risking more, proud of herself, and interested in doing things more on her own.

All of a sudden the silence was broken by a loud giggle and laughter. Sandra shouted excitedly, "Look at that one raisin. It's jumping up and down." Mary and I both smiled and watched this animated child continue to talk about her observations during the five minute experiment. Her face was radiant with a glow of confidence seldom seen in the months previous.

Mary helped her Sandra record her observations and then Sandra repeated the experiment four more times with different liquids. Each time she attended diligently. For me, what mattered most in the doing of this experiment was that Sandra took charge and did it for herself. From the look of happy curiosity in her eyes, she enjoyed it too.


It was the second last day before the March Break. The bell rang. O Canada came over the P.A. The announcements were short. A few minutes later Sandra came to my classroom from her homeroom class. I sensed she was agitated. "Mr. G., Gary just said to me that I was deaf." She looked puzzled as if to ask, What do I do?

I smiled and shook my head. "You know Sandra," I said, "he was trying to make you upset. He is correct; that is why you have two hearing aids." I rehearsed a script with her- "Sandra, when he comes in and you get a chance to talk to him you may want to tell him, 'Yes, you are right, I am deaf. That is why I wear these hearing aids.' That way you can turn around his negative comment." She smiled and realized she didn't have to feel bad for being hearing impaired. In fact, by using her hearing aids she knew she could hear quite well. A few minutes later, Gary came in with the other students. We sat for our morning meeting. After a few brief comments I informed Gary that Sandra had something to say to him about his earlier remark. Sandra made her statement with confidence and a little smile as she finished. When I looked his way, he was staring down at the floor.


A couple of weeks before the spring break, Sandra's dad stopped by. He shared an event that had happened on the weekend.

The family had gone to the swimming pool with Sandra, her brother and cousin. Sandra finally decided she wanted to go in the deep pool. The lifeguard told her she would have to swim a lap to get an L on her arm which was to let people know she could swim in the deep pool. Her brother and cousin walked along side the pool edge giving her words of encouragement as she did her lap. Sandra got her L. She went to the diving board and jumped off - for the first time. She went down the big slide-for the first time. Afterwards she came up and said, "Dad, It was easy. I don't know why I didn't try this sooner."


During daily work Sandra, the instructional assistants and I attempted to approach the learning from a child-centered perspective, consciously monitoring ownership issues for Sandra's learning. Also our participation in the Literacy Project provided one morning per week to involve other educators to observe, interact with, and discuss Sandra's learning. The following two critical incidents illustrate our just try approach.

In late October of the first year, Sandra was sitting in a cluster arrangement with the Director of Student Services, the Principal, and myself. We were all engaged in a conversation about the similarities between stories in books, videos, and TV shows. We chatted about stories being somewhat predictable, having one major problem, and that there is a trying of solutions to hopefully resolve the problem.

This was a powerful moment. It resonated for me that this conversation was not contrived. It was spontaneous, informative, and the first time I saw Sandra contributing actively in a literacy learning activity. Sandra's contributions and expressed understandings were the cues we used to guide us in adjusting our conversations to stretch Sandra's experiences. When Sandra offered a direction in the discussion, we followed the tangent to the end and would refocus ourselves back to the main discussion.

All four of us were engaged in the collective conversation which lasted fifteen to twenty minutes. Sandra, I believe, realized she was an equal contributor and that her voice was valued. When she began to be overwhelmed and anxious, her avoidance pattern of disengaging from the conversation kicked in. Sandra's head and eyes lowered. One of us immediately read the behavior and jumped in, not to rescue, but more importantly to redirect the conversation and dignify her re-connection to her being an active participant. It was excellent!


The second glimpse follows after three months of encouraging Sandra to respond in writing regularly. Sandra had a limited set of skills and strategies in dealing with work habits and classroom routines. Attempting to support her development of these areas we put in place a series of simple procedures, routines, and provided opportunities for Sandra.

One such daily ritual was for Sandra to respond to four questions at the start of every morning. These responses were recorded in a journal used used only for that purpose. The questions were: What did I do last night?, What am I going to do today?, What am I going to do tonight?, and How do I feel? It took three months to see consistent daily effort to respond.

The main intention of these questions was to encourage a commitment to the daily routine. They also served as starting points for other purposes. Sandra kept responding to these questions until after Christmas at which point the responses werestock and Sandra would not elaborate and extend her responses.

Early in January, I was frustrated with not moving further in stretching Sandra's responses. I shared Sandra's responses in the journal with Judith and my block as to how to move beyond. We explored some alternatives and I chose to just try the concept of having Sandra engage in written conversation with the instructional assistants and myself. After exploring what it would look like, Sandra was willing to just try too.

So each morning, Sandra would come into class and read and respond to a question written in her journal. Afterwards, she would ask us to respond or she would rise and carry her journal over to where we were and wait for us to read her conversation and respond to her questions.

This new routine not only extended her responses to four questions, but it moved us into a written conversation between Sandra and others. We gradually went from the safe and predictable answers to standard questions to a wider range of questions and answers with Sandra also risking to ask others questions in a written forum.



I considered the point that human beings apply resistant strategies in certain situations. In my role of teacher, I focused on forms of resistance to learning. In Sandra's case, learned helplessness. I wanted to discover and understand her reasons and identify her learned helpless strategies. This I hoped would lead me to discover and provide strategies to counter with positive and supportive interventions.

  •  I observed and attempted some interactions to find and reach a basic understanding of her resistance patterns to learning in general, and specifically to literacy.
  •  I met with her parents to seek an understanding of past efforts and their perspectives on her learning.
  •  I became familiar with the research literature related to learned helplessness to prove or disprove my assumptions.

A process of ongoing, cyclical reflection became paramount. I constantly rethought how to approach matters of learning and support for Sandra differently. The challenge remained one of providing appropriate strategies and skills for self-control and responsibility for learning and simultaneously dismantling her use of learned helpless strategies while still pursuing her literacy and academic learning.

In my initial observations and interactions I noted the behaviors she exhibited around others. Sandra's inability to perform at an academic level comparable to her caused her to her shut down-she would appear lethargic, her head would lower toward the desktop, she would stare blankly at whatever book she was trying to read. If anyone asked her to respond she would mumble inaudibly, or simply refuse to reply. She would hope that the adults would become sufficiently frustrated, that they would do the task for her, or simply leave her alone. Sandra was never a behavior problem. She would just sit there passively.

Once Sandra was away from the grade six classroom, I was able to provide a supportive environment with only a few other students for her to interact with. In this protected situation I was more available to directly monitor what she was doing and to create challenges I thought she could handle.

In the beginning, all I wanted was for her to try. She would sit and stall. Sandra persisted with her learned helpless patterns and comments. Julia, an instructional assistant and myself responded to her putting herself down with, "Just do your best." I sat with her and prompted her to do what she could. Julia and I praised whatever small attempts Sandra made.

Writing for Sandra was difficult. The differences between her verbal and written language was quite striking. In writing, her thoughts were disjointed and she was unwilling to put even partial words or thoughts on paper. Yet in conversation, on the same topics, Sandra could express her thoughts in a reasonably comprehensible way. The challenge for me was to bring her conversation to print. I did that by having her write three/four patterned sentences using simple words. Some of the words were taken from a spelling list, other words were developed from contexts about which she had some knowledge or from her own experiences.

Slowly, over time, I expected Sandra to do more on her own with greater independence and a lighter degree of support. The tasks were not drastically different. However, I made it clear that I expected her to make an attempt by herself. I started placing more demands on her. I began expecting more than just an attempt; I started looking for more than a a few words. I expected her to write simple sentences and to read them back getting her to check whether what she had written made sense.

Now, at the close of a second year with Sandra in this action research process of reflection-in-action I have observed a gradual shifting of control, responsibility, and ownership for learning from outside influences and forces to Sandra, the learner, herself.

When we began, Sandra was an example of a learned helplessness individual; a student relying almost totally on someone else to initiate and sustain a learning activity. After we had worked for a few months, she started to initiate tasks on her own and began to sustain herself at an activity for a short interval before needing to be prompted again.

After nearly two years of observing and attending carefully to different just try approaches, I found significant growth for myself as an educator. Sandra can now attend to and complete a number of tasks after receiving the initial directions and a minimum of monitoring from a distance. I can now attend to observing student and adult interactions with greater understanding and insight. The behavioral cues speak loudly as indicators for the ways we need to reflect on the needs and possible interactions differently.


In mid September of the first, I visited Sandra's home to discuss Sandra's Individualized Educational Plan with her parents. I was greeted at the door and taken to the dining room table and offered coffee or tea. I sat on the broad side of the dining table and her parents sat on the other. Sandra nervously milled about curiously wondering what we were about to say to each other. After a few pleasantries, Sandra and her brother went to their rooms and we began.

The conversation that took place over the next two and a half hours was both emotional and passionate. Sandra's parents shared health difficulties at birth and the late identification of her hearing impairment. I shared what I knew from her files, the I.E.P. plan, and my own observations of Sandra after the opening weeks of school. Her parents were very sincere and open to considering some different approaches. I informed them of the Literacy Project and that Sandra was the student I would like to focus on. They were supportive. We discussed the importance of open communication, an eclectic approach, and the need to be a team to support Sandra's learning efforts. Her parents continued to hope for a thread that would make things start to hold the fragments of her learning together and weave for Sandra at least a functional level of literacy leading towards some degree of independence in her adult life. As I left the dining table that evening I was inspired. They had provided meaningful background information and had helped me to understand their perspective, tensions, and perseverance at advocating their daughter's need for help.

What I realized after reflecting on this information was that help did not necessarily mean more or direct adult intervention. It meant I would need to redefine what that help would look like. Yes, her parents were keenly interested in making sure everything that could be done was being done. My job was to determine how best to do it. The help must be supportive and proactive.

Over the two year period Sandra's parents and I have continued to work as a team. We have realized the importance of maintaining open communication and the need to support each other. The differences of the just try approaches, and our mutual desire to make the messages between home and school congruent, forced not only fundamental changes for myself, but also for the parents with regardto issues of perceptions, expectation, ownership, and control for the learning.


The reading of the research literature took on a different meaning and purpose when working in the action research framework. Instead of looking to what experts write first and then searching to find it in my situation, the action research frame has supported first recording the evidence of my situation through observing critical incidents, reflections, and conversations with others. From the common threads that emerged over time, I then began to go to the literature that spoke to the emergent themes; in this case learned helplessness as a form of passive resistance. I used the literature to guide my inquiry, to affirm or challenge some of the choices I made, and to provoke me into reframing my own practice. Reading became an important part of the reflection-in-action (Schon, 1983).

In considering the notion of learned helplessness, I was drawn to a review of literature ranging from John Dewey's Experience and Education (1938) through to Steven Covey's popular book on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). I reviewed material on learned helplessness (Slusky, 1994; Oelwein, 1995), procrastination (Fiore, 1989), on not-learning (Kohl, 1994), on codependency (Beattie, 1989, 1992; Bradshaw, 1988), critical reflection on learning and teaching (Newman, 1991), a study on reading instruction (Garcia et al, 1995), and Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1993).

Dewey was convinced that basing education upon personal experience may mean more multiplied and more intimate contacts between the mature and the immature than ever existed in the traditional school (p. 21). The relationship which developed between Sandra and me over the past year and one-half has illustrated his belief in action. I believe it is through the exploration together of the instructional challenges that dramatically shifted my ways of dealing with Sandra's specific learning needs and her ways of perceiving herself as a capable learner. As we improved the quality of her learning experiences we also demonstrated what Dewey refers to as continuity and interaction. He stated that the two principles of continuity and interaction are not separate from each other. They interact and unite. They are the longitudinal and lateral aspects of experience (p. 44). A third point that was significant for me was Dewey's identification of the marginalized student. These students, when they come to school, are already victims of injurious conditions outside of the school and have become so passive and unduly docile that they fail to contribute (p. 56). Sandra's medical history and late identification of hearing loss were significant factors to be considered in her having developed this passive and docile stance.

One final statement of Dewey's that speaks to the reflection-in-action and collaborative nature of the enterprise is that development occurs through reciprocal give-and-take, the teacher taking but not being afraid also to give. The essential point is that the purpose grow and take shape through the process of social intelligence (p. 67). In our interactions, I would attempt to set expectations a little above Sandra's horizons. Some days it worked, other days not. Mostly on-the-fly, I would reassess and adjust as needed. At times even adjusting didn't work. Those were the moments that cast me as the learner and Sandra, the teacher. I was seeking to understand and learn in order to better understand Sandra.

Dr. Alan Slusky, a postdoctoral fellow in clinical neuropsychology, presented a paper at the 28th annual conference of the Council for Exceptional Children in Winnipeg in 1994. In his paper he covered several learned helplessness topics. He began by citing Robert Ziegler's three stages of children's reactions (Ziegler, 1981).

Stage 1: The initial reaction to learning difficulties may be through intrapunitive or extra-punitive behavior. The quiet child may be easier to ignore yet it is equally important to detect the reaction of withdrawal. Stage 2: The disengagement reaction demonstrates that the avoidance of materials is more intense. It is more difficult to engage the student in learning tasks. The student develops an I don't care attitude which shuts off communication, exchange, and learning. Stage 3: The defensiveness reaction encrusts the I don't care attitude. Denial and negativism are acute, and from the teacher's perspective these students accept little or no responsibility. These students expend a great deal of energy to show that school, teachers, and the 'good' kids actually are the dumb ones.

Sandra was solidly at stage 2.

Next, Slusky listed the main characteristics of learned helplessness:

  •  slow to start a project or assignment
  •  gives nonverbal signs of defeat
  •  frequently requires teacher prompting
  •  quick to give up at first obstacle
  •  does not ask for assistance
  •  may be destructive or withdrawn
  •  exhibits little pride in his/her work

Slusky describes the passive learner as one who constantly relies on others, blames others, and requires both extrinsic motivation and reinforcement. In contrast, he describes the active learner as one who constantly controls his or her own behavior, is independent, is responsible for outcomes, has intrinsic motivation, and has self-control techniques.

To Sandra, extrinsic rewards meant little. It took intrinsic moments which came from smiles and positive self comments such as "I did good and I know that" to start her toward self-reliant learning.

Kohl, in I Will Not Learn From You (1994) looks at resistance to learning through socially and culturally constructed beliefs and values. While for Sandra this was not a conscious act, her lived beliefs demonstrated that she too responded to her learning with resistance and a type of control of others.

Oelwein (1995) found in her research that some down syndrome students develop behaviors to avoid learning situations. By distracting their teacher, refusing to cooperate, or by introducing a different agenda, these students have learned ways of avoiding failure and not have to complete tasks asked of them.

The book, The Now Habit (Fiore 1989) is dedicated to identifying and exploring ways of dealing with procrastination. In it he explains that procrastination is a symptom rather than a problem. He contends

we procrastinate when we fear a threat to our sense of worth and independence. We only act lazy when our natural drive for fruitful activity is threatened or surpressedthe deep inner fears that cause us to seek such unproductive forms of relief are suggested to be the fear of failure, the fear of being imperfect, perfectionism, and the fear of impossible expectations, of being overwhelmed. These fears prevent us from working on and attaining possible goals and relationships (p. 5-6).

This dsecription fits Sandra well. Through her, I have come to realize that fear is not always overtly detectable.

Newman discussed 'Berlin Wall' as someone who has built solid defenses behind which to hide, or someone who insists on playing 'make me' (p. 85) At the outset, Sandra presented very high, silent, and thick Berlin Walls. Over a long period of time our combined efforts wore away parts of these walls. Now we can hurdle them.

With her belief that students control what they learn (p. 89) Newman explains that for the learner it is their willingness to 'just try' [that] makes all the difference (p. 90). I found that for Sandra I would frequently let her know it is okay to make mistakes. "Just try your best. We learn from our mistakes." After many brief attempts at just trying, Sandra began to extend the try's and felt good about her successes.

The findings of a qualitative literacy study Garcia et al. (1995) at the seventh grade level drew some parallels with Sandra's situation. While all of the nine participating teachers in this study believed they were operating their classrooms in a child-centered manner, the researchers contended that the classrooms were teacher-centered and content driven. The average and under-achievers were more teacher-directed than the high-achievers. Teachers tended to have different expectations. The weaker students were expected to orally read content areas in class, rarely permitted to silently read in class, and not given homework because the teachers believed they likely couldn't get work done without their assistance. The weaker students' learning was highly controlled by the teachers with little chance of ownership by the students themselves.

The findings revealed that researcher perceptions differed from teacher perceptions. In the researchers' view the average and under-achievers were in an environment of teacher-centered and content mindsets that significantly altered the intended learning outcomes and actually removed rather than promoted a child-centered approach that would lead to a healthy growth of self -power, control, and responsibility. Thus, teachers were promoting the antithesis of what they said they wanted; they were setting conditions leading to learned helplessness not only in literacy learning but all learning.

Gardner's seven intelligences theory (Gardner, 1993) presents a helpful model from which to view facets of intellect development. He contends that there are at least seven identifiable intelligences. He also expressed his belief that there are still other intelligences yet to be identified. What particularly caught my attention with regard to learned helplessness were the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences.

Gardner describes intrapersonal intelligence as the knowledge of the internal aspects of a person: access to one's own feeling life, one's range of emotions, the capacity to effect discriminations among these emotions and eventually to label them and to draw upon them as a means of understanding and guiding one's own behavior. A person with good intrapersonal intelligence has a viable and effective model of himself or herself. Since this intelligence is the most private, it requires evidence from language, music, or some other more expressive form of intelligence if the observer is to detect it at work (p. 24-25).

Interpersonal intelligence builds on a core capacity to notice distinctions among others; in particular, contrasts in their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions. In more advanced forms, this intelligence permits a skilled adult to read the intentions of others, even when these have been hidden (p. 23).

To merge these two areas one finds that interpersonal intelligence allows one to understand and work with others; intrapersonal intelligence allows one to understand and work with oneself. In the individual's sense of self, one encounters a melding of inter -and intra-personal components (p. 25).

With Sandra, the growth in literacy learning was preceded by growth in her intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. It is through a self realization that she successfully became a risk-taker. Personally taking charge has allowed Sandra to exercise greater power, control, and responsibility for her learning choices. It really comes down to the student developing positive beliefs and values about themselves and the world around them.

Steven Covey (1989) stresses a proactive process by which people can become more effective and move beyond learning strategies and skills that were identified in the codependency literature of John Bradshaw (1988) and Beattie (1989, 1992) as unhealthy. Like Bradshaw and Beattie, Covey speaks to the rescripting of the beliefs, values, and dysfunctional aspects imbedded into our birth through adulthood relationships. He advocates helping adults confront their co-dependancy and developing new strategies. Sandra now considers that she has a voice. She is now starting to exercise healthier strategies and new found skills to discover, clarify, and reassess her earlier beliefs and values with regard to herself and those around.


As I reflect, I think about that puppy-dog look at the start. Sandra's words and body language repeatedly shouted out "Help me, I can't help myself." Then I think my own growth. I've become better at watching for that look in the past year and a half and in the process, I've become better at watching, questioning, and reflecting on my own teaching practice. Working with Sandra and supporting her to meet challenges has cast me in a very different role-that of a proactive reflection-in-action researcher/learner/teacher. I realized we needed to work in very different ways. At the outset, that meant a change in environment, a change in methods, attending to Sandra's social and emotional states throughout the day and getting a reading on the home environment/support.

After getting a handle on her anxiety/avoidance, we adopted a just try approach. It worked very well indeed. People involved in the literacy project would sometimes see Sandra in the small group setting and at other times by herself. After these sessions we adults would meet to discuss our observations and discuss some strategies to test out. This feedback became very important for me in helping me rethink instruction. I needed to understand learned helplessness in order to set up learning situations which might foster more independence and self-reliance.

I believed at the start I was looking at literacy issues. A child-centered approach in the smaller setting on a daily basis with others offering outside perspectives once per week did on the surface look at literacy learning. Coming to explore the notion of Sandra appearing to be learned helpless forced me to rethink even more.

Literacy learning would either come after or in a companion process as her resistance avoidance and anxiety) was the main area that fundamentally needed to be addressed. The literacy became the curriculum content that allowed us to explore ways of attending to the issues of self -power, control, and responsibility.

For me this meant as an educator I must look at students differently. I must be a better observer, particularly of the students who struggle rather than label their actions and behaviors as that of learning disabled children. I need to know these students more directly and continue to respond rather than react immediately to the cues provided by the students. That requires me to take a "detective' investigative stance rather than an imparter of knowledge stance.

In looking at the whole child in the environments of home and schooling, I found myself more sensitive to the child's inner tensions. For me to realize Sandra's tensions of self -power, control, and responsibility and her responses to the stimuli in her world was a fundamental hurdle to be bridged. We developed our working relationship towards supported learning. The literacy learning focus provided her with language to better express herself. The curriculum content for literacy learning could not be taught in isolation from the issues of learned helplessness she held with regard to her self.

In making the observations as to her levels of anxiousness and the variety of avoidance strategies Sandra exhibited, I realized my own learnings. Not only was I attending to her by becoming a better observer, I began to be more aware of observing what I was doing to support or stall the learning momentum during her tasks.

Suddenly, I became acutely aware of how I had begun to watch the other students in the room and started to more carefully monitor their avoidance strategies and states of anxiousness. Almost instinctively, I started to shift how I was working with them. I more consciously reminded them of their choices, responsibilities, and that my expectation for them to just try their best. It became clear to everyone that to do nothing or be helpless were no longer choices.

Beattie, M. 1989 Beyond codependency: And getting better all the time. Center City, MN: Hazeldon Foundation.

Beattie, M. 1992 Codependent no more: How to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself. 2nd ed. Center City, MN: Hazeldon Foundation.

Bradshaw, J.E. 1988 The family: A revolutionary way of self-discovery. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

Covey, S. R. 1989 The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Dewey, J. 1963 Experience and education. New York, NY: Collier Books.

Garcia, G.E. et al. 1995 Reading instruction and educational opportunity at the middle school level (pp.2-17. In Center for the Study of Reading Technical Report No.622. Champaign, IL: College of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Gardner, H. 1993 Multiple Intelligences: The theory in practice. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Kohl, H. 1994 I won't learn from you. New York, NY: The New Press.

Newman, J.M. 1991 Interwoven Conversations: Learning and teaching through critical reflection. Toronto, ON: OISE Press.

Oelwein, P.L. 1995 Teaching reading to children with down syndrome: A guide for parents and teachers. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Schon, D. 1983 The reflective practitioner. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Slusky, A. 1994 Learned helplessness: What it is and how to help. A workshop paper presented to the 28th Annual Conference of the Council for Exceptional Children.

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