1st June 2012 at 01:00

The problem

I work in FE and have a group of students who are resitting GCSE English with the aim of gaining C grades. They have politely informed me that they have nothing against me personally, but they intend to put in minimal effort for the course and fail. As this is the aim, they behave appallingly and mess about in lessons. I've been battling since September, explaining the necessity of GCSEs for university, employment and so on, but to no avail. They have been hauled in front of management, shouted at and threatened, but still no improvement. The sad thing is, I would really like them to succeed. What can I do?

What you said

Although these students behave appallingly in your class, they have been respectful enough towards you as their teacher to articulate their strategy. There is method behind this messing around. They are, week after week, coming to your class. So these learners are motivated (enough to turn up) and they like you. Seems like a good starting point. Can you find something else that appeals to them about having a GCSE, even if they are not persuaded by university or employment?


The expert view

The definition of a thankless task. If it's FE, surely this isn?t a compulsory course, so why are they there? If it is optional, and they don't want to do it and have essentially promised you they will take a dive in the exams, why doesn't the college show them the door?

But we cannot make people act in a way that they do not wish. Free will resides in the individual. This is not an intellectual problem of them not understanding; this is an emotional decision.

The other approach is a behaviourist one. Motivate them extrinsically if you can't get them to want to learn. Attach a series of sanctions and rewards to undesired and desired behaviours. The ultimate sanction is expulsion. Perhaps losing one of them would show the others you mean business. That assumes they want to be there, and they may well not.

Do you have the ability to insist they stay after class and work? The threat that their ambivalence will actually lead to some form of consequence should have the motivating effect you seek. Actions speak louder than. well, you know.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru.

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