Think Big and Believe in the Possibility

Why do students not follow directions

So why do students not follow directions

When it comes to following directions in the academic setting, entitlement can often be a major contributor to why students choose not to comply.


Researchers at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (New York) found that people with a stronger sense of entitlement were less likely to follow directions than those with less entitlement.


Why do students not follow directions



Entitled versus Humility and Gratitude

In general, people who feel entitled view rules and guidelines as unfair restrictions on their behaviour. 


By contrast, those who carry an attitude of humility and gratitude feel less entitled and are more likely to recognize the legitimacy of authority and see direction-following as a way to achieve their goals.


This difference in outlook can have a significant impact on how likely someone is to comply with given instructions.


The researchers observed that the entitled participants were more likely to resist authority and complain about the imposition of the directions.


On the other hand, the less entitled participants were more likely to focus on the task at hand and try to understand why the instructions were given.


Why do students not follow directions





This difference in attitude is illustrated in two different responses to a scenario where a student is told not to talk in class:


The entitled student might think, “This rule is unfair. I shouldn’t have to put up with this just because I’m in school.”


Meanwhile, the less entitled student might think, “This rule makes sense. If I want to do well in this class, I should follow it.”


Why does this sense of entitlement lead students to disobey instructions


One possibility is that when students feel entitled, they become more independent and self-focused.


They no longer see themselves as part of a team, but instead as individuals who should be able to do whatever they want.


As a result, they may be less likely to listen to others and follow their instructions.


This difference in perspective can lead students with a greater sense of entitlement to disregard instructions altogether.


And when students don’t follow directions, it can create conflicts not only with teachers and other authority figures but also with classmates.


Why do students not follow directions


In some cases, these conflicts can even lead to expulsion from school.


Engaged versus disengaged


Another potential reason why students may not follow directions is that they simply don’t see the point.


When people are disengaged or apathetic, they often don’t care about what’s happening around them and don’t see the value in complying with authority figures or regulations.


This can lead to a lack of compliance, especially if students feel that the instructions are pointless or irrelevant.


What can educators do to help lessen the impact of entitlement on instruction following?


There are several ways to address this issue in the classroom and have students follow directions.


The tips below ensure the students function effectively in an environment where a teacher has the full attention of his/her students and which is conducive to learning.


Be clear about expectations and consequences from the outset


As the person giving instructions, understand that if students know what is expected of them and why following directions is important, they may be more likely to comply.


Logical and reasonable consequences


Another way to foster a willingness to follow directions is to ensure that the consequences for not doing so are logical and reasonable.


For example, if students are not following directions in the classroom, you may have them sit in a time-out or lose privileges.


Enforce the rules consistently


If students see that some people are allowed to break the rules without consequence while others are not, they may feel that the rules are arbitrary and unfair.


Consistency and fairness


It is important to be consistent with your expectations and enforce the rules evenly among all students.


One way to help students willingly follow directions is to have them practice doing so in a safe and controlled environment.


For example, you can have them follow simple instructions such as cleaning up their workspace or putting away their belongings.


Encourage active listening


Make sure students are paying attention when you’re giving directions by having them repeat the instructions back to you or answer questions about what you’ve said.


The intellectual development of students of the same biological age vary; some students will have trouble remembering what seems to be a perfectly simple set of directions. 


For others, English may not be their first language.


Why do students not follow directions


These students require a bit more time to process the instructions before it makes sense to them. Be patient.


Use positive reinforcement


When students do follow directions, make sure to point them out and praise them for their good behavior. 


This will help encourage them to continue following directions in the future.


When giving directions, using positive reinforcement will likely get students to follow them more closely.


This can be done in different ways, such as giving them praise or letting them earn privileges or rewards for following directions.


It also provides a sense of assurance and validation that the student is doing the right thing and can help increase a student’s motivation to comply with instructions.


Model the behavior you want to see


If you want students to be respectful and attentive, make sure you’re modelling that behavior yourself.


In this type of environment, students are more likely to see authority as legitimate and therefore be more willing to comply with instructions.


Practice what you preach


One way to teach students to willingly follow directions is by modeling how to do so yourself.


If you give clear and concise instructions and remain calm and polite when giving them, your students are likely to mirror your behavior.


Specific and sequential instructions


You can also give them specific directions for completing a task, such as how to complete a math problem or how to construct a model.


Why do students not follow directions


These could be verbal or visual directions. Remember, not all kids learn the same way.


As they become more comfortable following directions, you can gradually increase the complexity of the tasks.


Avoid power struggles


If students feel like they are being constantly berated or controlled, they may start to rebel against any authority figures.


Instead, try to have a calm and rational discussion with them about why following directions is important.


Classroom management


It is literally reading the room and sensing the dynamics at play in class. Students behave differently in different environments.


As the teacher, it is your job to provide learning strategies that play to the individual strengths of your students.


It may mean providing visual cues or sharpening up your students’ listening skills for the non visual learners to help them follow instructions.


Eye contact


Maintaining friendly eye contact is one way to ensure that students will follow directions.


When teachers or authority figures make eye contact with students and communicate positively, it shows that they are interested in what the students are doing and that they take the students seriously.


Maintaining friendly eye contact and using an even tone of voice build respect and trust. 


When people feel respected and trust the person giving them instructions, they are more likely to follow those instructions.


This can encourage students to behave in a way that is respectful and compliant.


Spend time uncovering what motivates them


Helping students understand those following directions is important for achieving collective goals.


Allow a degree of self direction


Another approach is to give students more control over their own learning, so they feel like they are not just being told what to do. 


By giving students a sense of ownership over their education, we can help them see the importance of listening and complying with directions.


Create a classroom climate that is conducive to cooperation and mutual respect


When students feel like they are part of a supportive community, they may be more likely to follow directions and cooperate with others.


Encourage them to seek clarification and have students repeat your directions. 


They are witnessing and hearing their peers communicating and cooperating as a group.


This is very empowering for older kids to know they are being heard.


Work on building relationships of trust


Building trust so that students are more likely to come to them for guidance when they encounter a difficult task.


By establishing these types of relationships, educators can help set the stage for successful instruction following behavior.


What 4 skills do students need to follow directions


i) One key skill needed to follow directions is the ability to take instructions literally. 


This means accurately understanding what is being asked of you and carrying out the instructions exactly as they are given.


ii) Another key skill is the ability to stay focused and remain on task, even when distractions are present.


Why do students not follow directions


iii) Being able to work independently and efficiently is also important, as is the ability to be patient and not give up when a task seems difficult or time-consuming.


iv) Possessing good problem-solving skills can help when something goes wrong or an unexpected obstacle arises.


How do you deal with students who don’t follow directions


If you are a teacher, one strategy for dealing with students who don’t follow directions is to have a consequence in place for when they do not obey.


This could be anything from having to stay in during recess to getting detention.


Why do students not follow directions


You could also try talking to the student one-on-one to see why they are not following directions and see if there is anything you can do to help them.


If the student is still having trouble following directions after taking these steps, it may be necessary to report the issue to the student’s parent or guardian.




We have only briefly touched on why students do not follow directions and offered some possible explanations.


One reason may be that students are not given enough direction or clear instruction.


Students may not understand what they are supposed to do or why they are doing it. 


Students may also feel that they are being micro-managed or that their autonomy is being taken away.


Finally, students may not be given a sense of ownership or responsibility for their work.