What does “I can’t” really mean?

I teach a wide range of students. I cover Entry 3 to Level 2 Functional Skills in my day job and I tutor GCSE in my spare time. My students are all really different, but there are a select few who have something really common. At a certain point – some as soon as they see the activity, some at least after having a cursory glance at it – look at me and say “I can’t do it”.

We’re taught as teachers not to listen to can’t. There’s no such thing. If you try, you can. Does this sound familiar? I’ve used similar tricks with my groups. “Use a dictionary to look up the words you don’t understand and see if you can do it then”. Sometimes it works, but there are still those students that sit and stare at something you know they can do, because you’ve prepared it based on something they’ve already done well, and say “I can’t”.

I’m ashamed that this blog post has taken me so long to write, because it also means that the realisation behind it was far too long coming. I used to work in a mainstream secondary with SEN pupils, and now I work with students with far more diverse and complex needs. And what they’ve taught me is: I can’t means I don’t believe I can.

This has changed how I handle “can’ts” in my classroom. Instead of “try”, my first reaction is now “what can’t you do”, so that the students can break that initial fear in to smaller chunks. Then we can work on that small chunk and, in the end, they usually find they can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s