Johnny looooved math.
He’d come every day to our math lesson with enthusiasm, ready to take on any numerical challenges I had for him.Then it would be reading time. Johnny’s face and demeanor immediately changed. He pretended to look for his reader’s notebook in his desk, then went to the bathroom for 10 minutes, followed by a trip to the water fountain. By the time he got to work, the period was over.
Do you have a ‘Johnny’ in your class?
Maybe you have a student who just puts her head down when it’s math or writing time. I had a student who groaned when she heard the words ‘Writer’s workshop.’
When students refuse to put effort into something they find difficult, it can be so challenging and frustrating. We want to help them, but we need them to put in some work too.
I feel your pain.
It’s normal to avoid tasks that ‘hurt.’ I can’t count how many times I’ve passed by my ever-overstuffed pantry and told myself I’d get to it later. Or, those few tasks I keep pushing from one to-do list to the next (I really should clean my oven soon). But, I’d rather play Words with Friends.
We all do it, don’t we?
So, I’ve compiled some tips that may help to motivate your reluctant learners. I’m sure you’ll find you already do some of these (because you are awesome!), but I hope you find some new ideas you can try as well:
1. Find the cause of their reluctance- is it fear of failure, social anxiety (performing in front of a peer), difficulty, bad experiences in the past? Validate their feelings and tell them they can help you by letting you know what exactly they don’t like about the task, as well as tell you what kinds of activities they do like, and what topics they’re interested in.
2. Use their interests- We’ve all heard this one before, right? It’s so true, though, so I had to mention it. Kids work best when work is meaningful to them. Reading or writing about football always helped motivate and engage “Johnny.” Find out what your students are passionate about, and use that when you can.
3. Praise- Praise their efforts, not only their achievement. Let them see you value hard work, not only correct answers. Here’s a great article by Carol Dweck about finding a good balance with praise.
4. Novelty Supplies- Sometimes letting kids use whiteboards and markers, play doh or wikki stix, or any other rarely used supplies, to highlight words, for example, goes a long way in motivation!
5. Provide choices- It can be as simple as having 2 books for your guided reading lesson and letting them choose which one to read. Or, 3 different sight word activities they can pick from. They’ll be much more committed if they have a part in the decision-making.
6. Get them laughing! When people are anxious about something, they put a mental block on learning or performing. When they are relaxed and in a good mood, they work much better. Get a joke book and start your small-group lesson with a silly joke, or do a fun quick activity, like a couple of rounds of ‘Would you rather?’ or another brain break.
7. Get personal- You can also start by asking them something personal you know they are excited about. Whenever I asked Johnny to tell me about his latest game, his face lit up and he got animated and re-energized from talking about it for just a couple of minutes! This also shows them you care, and they are more willing to work with someone they feel genuinely cares about them.
8. Start easy- Speaking of starting your session, I find that starting with an easy task I know they can do really helps boost their confidence, and makes them more willing to try a harder task. When it gets too hard and they want to give up, I remind them our brains really grow when we try hard things, and if we never try hard things, our brains turn to mush. 🙂
9. Have them SET their own GOALS– this is a big one! My students set their own goals often! For sight words, they fill out a goal slip, which I stapled to the back of their notebooks. They work towards that goal until the next time we meet to check in, usually once a week or every other week. They check off their progress- whether they met their goal or still needed to practice, and make a new goal.
To read more about helping your students set their own goals, read this post: The Power of Student Goal-Setting
For my post on Goal Trackers, click here: Goal Trackers: A System for Helping Students Set Their Own Goals
Yes, it can be challenging to motivate reluctant learners, but when they achieve something they’ve worked hard for, it’s soooo rewarding, don’t you agree?
If any of these ideas sound like something you do or can try, let me know!