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How can I motivate my reluctant learners?

It can be hard to galvanise some children, especially when they seem disengaged. Here, Tracey Lawrence shares her tips

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It can be hard to galvanise some children, especially when they seem disengaged. Here, Tracey Lawrence shares her tips

This is a question that I get asked frequently, and I see it asked on social media quite regularly. Motivating children who appear disengaged, withdrawn and reluctant is hard, particularly when it’s day in and day out. You see, it can be easier to be reluctant than to engage with something that you either don’t feel pushes you, or that you struggle to understand.

If we think about our special educational needs and disability children, they can be some of our most resilient children; having to try their best at all times and use all of their efforts to achieve their targets. As teachers, we feel extremely proud as their faces beam when they’ve achieved their latest goal. SEND children aren’t usually our reluctant learners. Don’t get me wrong – they can be – but I’m not focusing my answer to this question solely on this group, as you may expect me to.

  1. Differentiate
    Of course nobody can differentiate activities all the time, but certain strategies are easy to implement. You can facilitate the child’s thinking through a different style of questioning – for example, using open-ended questions for challenges.

    Try adapting your plans to include different techniques, as well as shorter steps for them to achieve. Crucially, this will allow them to see what they have achieved, in turn giving them that motivation to learn and try a similar task next time. You can build on this in subsequent lessons and refer back to this achievement, making it explicit to the child that they have the ability to succeed.
     
  2. Listen
    When we see reluctance we may be looking at disengagement. Could there be a reason for the child's disengagement? I’m not telling you to go and have a chat with the child about whether everything is OK, but just to listen.

    Was your child a motivated learner in previous years but has suddenly disengaged? In this case, you need to ask what has changed. Don’t worry, it doesn’t point the finger at you as a teacher, but it is important to stop and check.
     
  3. Play to their interests
    If the child has been reluctant throughout their school life, then start your journey of finding out what will motivate that child. Think about their interests; if basing your geography sessions around Pokémon Go is what it takes to engage and support them, then do it.

    Never underestimate the power of child-led learning. Get them involved in planning their own learning – a sense of ownership could be the key to unlocking that child’s potential.

Tracey Lawrence is assistant headteacher and specialist leader of education in social, emotional and mental health at Danemill Primary School in Leicester

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