Some of the most difficult children to teach are those who have a fear of failure.

Unfortunately, for may teachers  such children often display deep scars of failure that can challenge even the most experienced and successful teacher. In my opinion, those teachers who possess the ability to change an individual’s perception of failure have achieved the ultimate challenge in the classroom or on the playing field.

One strategy to deal with fear of failure is to focus on the child’s cognitive/emotional areas (limbic system) of the brain or how they learn best.

For boys, it can be anything associated with their kinesthetic intelligence or movement. This would confirm why studies show that boys learn best when the teacher is physically active or animated during a teaching lesson. Conversely, girls learn best when the teacher is more stationary. The reason for this might be due to the differences in girl/boy limbic system.

In other words, a girl’s hippocampus  represents a part of the brain associated with emotional relationships  In fact, a girl’s hippocampus is larger than boys. On the other hand, the amygdala is larger in boys and is responsible for the fight or flight response.

Therefore, successful teachers are usually the ones who combine a mixture of lessons associated with movement, yet stationary contemplation to satisfy both types of learners.

Another area of intense failure with the child’s brain can occur with weak test-taking skills, particularly with the child who expresses their intelligence kinesthestically.

Such children may fail during the test-taking experience because their bodies are placed in a sitting or stationary situation. Again, sitting during a test situation can create an unnatural feeling in the amygdala , particular for boys, which can create test anxiety. On the playground or on the athletic field such children use their body (movement) and brain simultaneously for peak performance. However, sitting at a desk can affect critical learning brain centers such as the cerebellum, which is linked to the somatosensory, cerebral cortex, etc.

One simple strategy is to allow the test-taker to stand up during the test or to take frequent breaks to ground anxiety or again tap into the cerebellum. Another strategy is for the student to write a short letter (15 minutes) about their fears of test-taking before taking the test has showed to improve test performance (Journal of Science, 2012). For younger children teachers can have children draw their feelings on paper before taking a test.

Moreover, studies have shown that student who used cursive writing scored higher on the SATs than those who printed (College Board, 2010).

Finally, student learn better if conditions are arranged so that they have to make errors. In other words, students who take tests on material before studying it remember the information better and longer than those who study without pretesting (Finn et al, 2010).

Whatever strategy you choose, it is imperative that you address the cognitive emotional factors of fear failure along with the more obvious strategies such as specialized tutors, increased study times, conferences with teachers etc.

David Sortino, a Graton resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher. Email him at davidsortino or contact him through his blog: Dr. David Sortino – Santa Rosa Press Democrat.


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