Some students throw themselves into school with such positive attitudes that I don't have to worry about their resistance—I only have to make sure that they have successful experiences in class to maintain their enthusiasm. Many students, however, are less open to new strategies for learning math; their responses range from silent withdrawal, to questioning their value, to open refusal to use them. Over the years, I have used different strategies to honour student resistance and work with it rather than against it. I find that students need to be able to express their resistance in order to maintain their sense of self in the class, and that when they can do so with dignity, they are more likely to be able to stay present and attend to the work. When Arleen Pare (1994) did some research for her MA thesis in my classroom, she found a positive correlation between student expression of resistance and student retention. The more complex and open their resistance to me and my teaching, the more likely they were to continue to come regularly:
These results suggest a positive association between conscious, active resistance and regular attendance. It also suggests that the more that conscious resistance is encouraged, the more likely it is that regular attendance will result (Pare, p. 115).
As an example, take the student who keeps his coat on, sits silently at the back of the room, or near the door, and whose body language says, "I'm not here." Pare found that this student is more likely to drop out than the student who says, "Why do we have to do this stuff anyway?" and then gets a response that respects his resistance.
Students sometimes express their resistance to participatory methods by simply dropping out of the class, but over the years, I have developed a teaching stance that recognizes, honours, and encourages open expression of their resistance. As a result, many students will question my methods when they are new to them. As you will see from the examples that follow, their resistance may be indirect, and often comes in the form of a question that is not a real question.