Some students thrive during exams, others in the classroom; some are at their best demonstrating practical skills, while many prefer theory work. What remains consistent, however, is that the path to success hardly ever runs smooth. And for some students an alternative approach is required in order to unlock their potential.
I work with students like this daily and have developed a strategy to engage them in the classroom. Here it is.
At the beginning of each school year, I challenge my students to set their own list of 10 simple ground rules that they will adhere to for the terms ahead. For example, "be on time", "try my hardest", "listen to each other" and "help and motivate each other". This activity gives rise to a sense of responsibility within the group, and the students work together to uphold the rules they have agreed upon.
An awareness of the needs and feelings of others is an important skill, especially in the school environment, where emotions often run high. I encourage a system of learning that has three stages: activity, discussion and reflection. Allowing students to discuss and debate learning outcomes in this way means that they are more likely to listen to each other and understand how their opinion compares and contrasts with those of their peers.
"You can't manage what you don't measure", as the old saying goes. So I ask each student to set themselves a personal goal for the year ahead. The most popular tend to be "stop answering back", "attend school every day" and "reduce behaviour referrals". This is a hugely empowering motivational tool because the student is always in complete control - their goals are never enforced by a third party.
Community awareness and social action
Students often have very little community awareness and lack understanding of how society operates around them. Temporarily removing them from the school environment and showing them these things first-hand can have a remarkable impact on their perception of the world. For example, projects such as volunteering at an old people's home or organising a car wash to raise money for a local charity have worked extremely well. Many students have taken this one step further and begun volunteering in their own time.
Ownership and responsibility
The final task I set groups is to organise and present a showcase of their achievements to their parents at the end of term. It's a graduation of sorts, which serves to encourage ownership and responsibility while offering parents an insight into what their children have achieved. The event is always a fascinating demonstration of how far learners have come in a relatively short space of time. Witnessing previously unconfident pupils give a presentation to a room full of people is incredibly satisfying and shows what an alternative approach to teaching can achieve.
Mark Abbott is a schools partnership project instructor for vocational learning charity CVQO