3 Reasons Why “Try Harder” Never Improved Learning


When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart talk with your son about the subjects he’s failing? Did he tell you something like, “I’m doing my best. I just don’t get math.” He may have even gone on to lament, “Why can’t I learn like Sarah?”

Then when you went to his parent-teacher conference, his teacher insisted, “Johnny has the potential to do so much better. He must try harder!”

This is a common theme sung by many teachers who received conventional training. They have just about exhausted their bag of tricks…so it’s Johnny’s fault. That’s why he isn’t learning more and achieving better scores.

Pull out your magnifying glass and let’s take a close look at three reasons teachers tell struggling students to try harder.

1. They think the children are just lazy.

Have you  ever stopped to observe children at play? When they’re interacting with objects of their interest, they can maintain strong focus and intense concentration for hours. No. Failing children aren’t lazy. They may appear that way, but that’s just a symptom of a deeper problem.

2. Their classmates are learning the material taught, so there must be something wrong with those who struggle, like Johnny.

Cookie-cutter teaching does not cater for individual differences in learning and thinking. People take in and process information through their senses. The possible variations make pathways of learning different for everyone. Most students who struggle to learn lessons or skills taught are visual-spatial and/or experiential learners. They see the whole picture, can figure out the problem and can tell you the solution, but are required to produce their responses in an auditory-sequential way. I’d have quite a bit of trouble transcribing a movie while watching it. Wouldn’t you? I may be exaggerating a bit, but that’s pretty close to what these visual-spatial learners are asked to do in school, on a daily basis. Added to that, some children need to move to facilitate retention of what’s being taught, but it seems like after kindergarten, there’s very little movement taking place while learning is going on in most classrooms.

3. These children have a bad attitude. They resist “drill and practice.”

Since when does more of the wrong thing make it right? When you go to a doctor because of a health problem, if the prescribed medication is not having the desired effect, what does he do? That’s right! Change it. If you purchase some clothing without trying them on, then found out they were too small when you put them on at home, what would you do? Exactly! Take them back to the store.

Then why do some teachers believe that more of the same…drill and practice…will produce different results for all their struggling students? Isn’t that what Einstein referred to as insanity? Performing the same actions but expecting different results?

Learning is more than pouring book knowledge into students. All of the senses must be functioning efficiently, and effectively working together. The learning dilemma can be solved for most of the students who struggle. In upcoming posts, we will talk about some of the available solutions that you, mom (or dad), can apply at home.

Question: What is your child struggling to learn in school?

Florence is the mother of an amazing teenager; an educational consultant, author, speaker, speech-language pathologist, encourager and perpetual optimist. She shares tips, tools and resources with mothers (and other caregivers) of struggling and/or failing children. She is fiercely committed to helping them develop and enhance their children's foundational skills for learning, to grow them to success in school and life. A believer in the unique learning abilities of all children, she is an advocate for those who learn differently.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why “Try Harder” Never Improved Learning

  1. This is a very interesting article. When my son was in school, we experienced some of this. What do you think is the solution to this problem?

    • The solution to the learning struggle is different for each person. One common element, however, is the importance of finding out the child’s preferred way of learning and thinking. For example, if your son was really good with Lego blocks, puzzles, or assembling models of toys? This would be an indication that he liked to learn with his hands. Having him handling something that did not require conscious thought while acquiring and processing information would probably have worked better than requiring him to sit still and listen to you give verbal instructions.

  2. Great post. I’m thankful that the teachers and administration at my sons’ school are trained and willing to look for alternative ways to teach material. For example, my sons don’t like to write or draw, but allowing them to do a project on the computer or by dictation opens up a whole new world of opportunity for them to express themselves.