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5 Simple Steps To Get Students To Work (Even When They Don’t Want To)

Jessica Piper

Does your staff need Motivation training? The K-12 Teachers Alliance can help you plan your in-service professional development at no additional cost.

Student MotivationOne of the most frustrating times for a teacher is trying to cajole a student to complete assigned work, especially if this student is habitual about not completing assignments. We have all had students who would not work, would not attempt to work, or would not even give you the satisfaction of looking at the work you have given them.

Some kids, whether it is stubbornness, or a mental or physical disability, cannot process assignments and therefore will refuse to work in class. We like to call them, “Reluctant Learners”. These students can pass through school via social promotion, or they may have been held back more than once because a lack of grades. No matter the situation, there are ways to make a non-worker into a busier bee.

Here are a five strategies that I picked up from BIST, the Behavior Intervention Support Team, on getting kids to work on their assignments:

Chunk the Assignment

This is especially important in secondary grades. I have to block writing assignments, give calendars, and cut-up large assignments as to not overwhelm a reluctant learner. You can physically cut-up your handouts.

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Modify the Assignment

Not all students are the same; they can’t all learn the same way or complete the same amount of work.

Maybe your little reluctant learners need a shorter assignment until they get the hang of things. You can also modify the way in which you deliver the assignment—can you let the student take an oral quiz/assignment? Can they create something? Build something?

Move the Student

Students can be sensitive to their learning environment. You have to ask yourself: Is the environment of your classroom too busy or loud for the reluctant learner? Can you move the student? Do you have a place in your room to provide a quieter and less stimulating learning space?

Learn more on safe seats and discipline in my classroom

Empathize with the Student

Sometimes students feel that teachers are just out to make their lives miserable. Why not make it known that is not the case.

Express that you know you are asking the student to do something difficult. Ask them if they can try it anyway. Reassure them that you will help them with any rough patches they have with the assignment. Ask them how many times they would like for you to check on them? (and, remember to go and check on them!)

Define the Learning Goal

What must your students know? Get to the absolute, and shave down the assignment to that goal. If you have one goal and lots of filler on an assignment, pull out the absolute and roll with that.

There are many other variations on these 5 steps, but I’ve found these invaluable through the years. Good luck with your reluctant learners. Happy teaching!

How do you get your reluctant learners to do their work? Share with us in the comments section!

Reprinted with permission from the author. Originally posted on author Jessica Piper's blog, Writing is Immortality.