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“How do you motivate a reluctant learner?” It’s a question asked by teachers all over the country, and probably all around the world. As educators, it’s our job to figure it out. However, it’s tough! Motivating reluctant learners takes extra time and effort on the part of the teacher. But it’s so worthwhile! Read on to see tips and ideas to get your student/s back on track and learning.
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1. Make sure they are truly reluctant
First, you need to make sure the child is truly reluctant. Sometimes what we call reluctance can actually be something else. In a world where we are are sometimes pushing students beyond what is academically appropriate, we need to realize that a student may be struggling – not reluctant. Julie over at Creekside Learning wrote a great post about considering whether a student is truly reluctant or simply struggling. You can read the entire post here.
2. Find ways to motivate the student
Now that you’re sure your student is actually reluctant and not simply struggling, it’s time to find ways to help them get over the reluctance! Find ways to motivate the student. If your student loves anything and everything about giraffes, find or create materials about giraffes. Find books about giraffes! Write math problems about giraffes!
Students are naturally curious and want to learn. (Heck, as adults we often are too!) So use that to your advantage! As a child, I would have eaten up anything about horses. My teachers knew this and used it to get me to do my academics. It worked!
3. Make it fun
Let’s face it – learning isn’t always fun. Sometimes students get bored. They’re kids – they want to have fun! While you may not be able to make every lesson fun, you can with many of them! Let the students play a game, let them work with a partner, take the learning outside, or turn to Pinterest if your creative juices aren’t flowing. In a world filled with videos games and an overabundance of technology, we need to make sure we are doing our part to keep students engaged.
4. Give learning meaning
Think about your last inservice. Were you reluctant to go? Chances are that you were. Why? Because you knew it was going to be pretty meaningless to you. Now think about the last conference you chose to go to. Did you enjoy it? I’m guessing you said yes, particularly if it was a conference you requested to attend. That conference held meaning.
The same goes for our students! If they don’t see the meaning in their learning, they’re not going to be invested – which may come across as reluctance. Let them know how this lesson applies to them. Make it relevant to their life or their future. How you do this will vary greatly based on the age of your students, but you can find a way.
5. Allow choice
Aren’t you happier when you are given choices? I, for one, know I appreciate being offered both a chocolate and non-chocolate dessert option. 😉 If you feel the same way I do, chances are your students do too! When possible, offer them choices!
6. Talk to them
I’ll never forget one Kindergarten student I taught. Let’s call him Jimmy. Jimmy had been held back, so he was in his second year of Kindergarten when I got him. You could tell he had a chip on his shoulder from day one. He didn’t want to sit with the others at morning meeting, he didn’t want to try to read, and he didn’t want to participate. He didn’t care. I could have said he was a reluctant learner and threw my hands up in the air, but that would have made for a very long year!
Instead I sat down and had a heart-to-heart with Jimmy. I asked him what was up. It took awhile, but he finally told me that he knew he was stupid because he had been held back. He didn’t think there was any reason to try. He wanted to give up!
People, I almost had a Kindergarten drop out on my hands. I HAD to do something!
So we talked. I explained to him that I didn’t know how he did last year, but that it was my job to make him successful this year. And I would, but he had to do his part. He was skeptical, but slowly he started participating. Within a few weeks, his attitude had completely turned around and he was a brand new student!
My point is this – sometimes we forget that we are dealing with people, even if they are small people. Talk it over with them. Let them know you care. Build that relationship. You may be the adult who is able to turn around a student’s bad attitude and change the reluctance. While this may be the last point in my motivating reluctant learners post, it’s actually my #1 move because I feel it’s most effective.
If you’d like even more information on motivating reluctant learners, Robyn R. Jackson has written a book with great reviews. It’s entitled How to Motivate Reluctant Learners (Mastering the Principles of Great Teaching Series). You can check it out to see if you’re interested in getting your own copy by clicking here.
Motivating reluctant learners can be a challenge. I realize there are many different strategies that will work for different teachers across the elementary, middle, and secondary classrooms. What strategies have worked best for you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!