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Education, Teacher

5 Effective Strategies for Engaging Reluctant Learners

There’s always a way to help even the least excited kids see the bright side of learning.

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By Julia Bashore

reluctant learners

We’ve all been there. You’re teaching what seems like a great lesson, and yet once again, there are a few reluctant learners who just aren’t on board. Whether they’re doodling at their seats, whispering to their neighbor at the next desk, or simply staring into space, one thing is clear… they’re not learning.

Reluctant learners aren’t trying to drive you crazy (well, usually).  They simply aren’t ready to invest in your teaching.

This may be because the material is too challenging… or not challenging enough. It may be because they’ve faced struggles with learning in the past and no longer want to try. It may be because they’re exhausted from the night before, or distracted by other issues going on at home.

There are countless reasons why a student might feel reluctant to learn, and trying to address them all can be overwhelming.

The good news is that there are some simple strategies you can put in place to boost motivation and focus for all the students in your class… even the reluctant learners.

Read on to discover 5 foolproof ideas you can implement into your teaching routine right away.

1. Create a Kind Community

One of the most important ways to include reluctant learners is by building a classroom community where everyone feels welcome.

An easy way to start your day on a positive note by having students participate in a morning meeting.

This chunk of time doesn’t have to be long, but it’s incredibly powerful.

Your morning meeting lets your students review the daily schedule, check in with how they’re feeling, and share exciting news.  The goal is to get everyone on the same page and set the right tone for your day.

There are tons of morning meeting ideas available online.  Incorporate whichever games and routines best match your style.

Whether your kids are doing yoga stretches or creating positive affirmations, your morning meeting activities establish your classroom as a safe space where everyone’s feelings are respected.

This goes a long way in encouraging reluctant learners to go out on a limb and share an answer when you’re teaching something tricky.

When they know they’ll be respected and supported by their peers, reluctant learners will be more willing to take that chance.

Morning meetings also give you an important window into why your more reluctant students act the way they do.

Are they the first ones to jump into a game because they hate sitting still?  Or are they the ones holding back because they feel shy around others?

Morning meetings don’t just help your students get to know each other… they provide valuable insights into their personalities.

2. Set Those Goals

Once you’ve established your classroom as a friendly, caring place, you can build motivation for your students with goal-setting.

Goal-setting amps up the “buy in” factor for your students by letting them take charge of exactly what they want to achieve.

Take the time to have private mini-conferences with each student during whole group time so that they can set a goal that’s right for them.

Are they hoping to finish a certain book?  Master multiplication facts?  Write an entire paragraph?

You know your students best, so make sure to provide them with encouragement, guidance, and feedback during your goal-setting conferences.

Once a goal has been decided, write it down!

Whether you have the kids jot them in a journal or you document them on your computer, you want to have evidence of the goals they’ve set.

Keeping a log of their goals builds accountability for students.

If a goal isn’t met, let your students brainstorm why.  Make sure this isn’t a punitive process, especially for reluctant learners.  You don’t want them to feel ashamed of missing the mark.

Instead, you want to help your kids genuinely reflect on why they might have fallen short, and come up with strategies to help them improve next time.

Making goal-setting a routine procedure in your classroom lets students know that you expect them to keep making progress.

It also sends the message that even though we don’t always hit our goals right away, we can keep trying.

A log of goals also makes it all the more exciting to celebrate your students’ achievements when they knock them out!

3. Use Technology to Your Advantage

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Sometimes screen time can feel like the enemy.

We’re constantly competing for our students’ attention against the lure of social media and online gaming.

Instead of ruling technology out as a negative impact, harness its power for good by letting your students use educational learning apps to supplement your teaching.

Expert-designed, proven-effective apps like HOMER can boost the skills you’re teaching in the classroom while still feeling like a fun treat for your students.

HOMER tailors lessons to every student’s age and skill level, so you can be sure what they’re learning is actually suited to their needs.

The program includes a wide array of different books, so kids can explore content that appeals to them.

Plus, this highly rated app celebrates milestones and mixes in entertaining games, making it an engaging and rewarding experience even for every learner.

The lessons continue to advance as your students make progress, so that they gradually master increasingly complex concepts.

With over a thousand different activities available, HOMER is sure to keep your students engaged while helping them work on the areas where they need more practice.

HOMER is ad-free and easy for students to navigate, making it an ideal independent activity.

You can take it for a test drive with a special 60-day free trial to see if you’d like to add it into your rotation.

It’s guaranteed to be the station even your reluctant learners are clamoring to go to first.

4. Celebrate Small Wins

Take every opportunity you can to celebrate your reluctant learners’ wins… big or small!

Reluctant learners often feel as if they’re “not good” at school.  Maybe they have a learning disability.  Maybe they’ve gotten low grades in the past.

For whatever reason, there are many students who sadly just don’t see themselves as successful.

You can help change that idea by emphasizing their achievements when they meet a goal… no matter how small.

Celebrations don’t have to be costly or time-consuming, but they should be meaningful.

Practical prizes like a new pencil, eraser, or highlighter can still be super special to a student who knows they’ve earned it with their own hard work.

Experiential rewards, like extra recess, leading the line, or getting to sit at the teacher’s desk for a day, are another fun way to distinguish a student’s accomplishment.

A quick note or phone call home to brag about them to their parents or caregivers is another easy way to put a smile on your student’s face… as well as their family’s.

Whole class rewards can also boost motivation for your reluctant learners.  

Did everyone pass the latest spelling test?  Did you make it through an entire week without anyone losing their homework?

When they see their individual contributions as part of an important whole,  reluctant learners are more likely to keep trying even when things get tough.

5. Mix Things Up

Another easy way to pull in reluctant learners is to mix up the way that you teach.

While a consistent routine is important, your classroom delivery should look a little different every day.

Let kids work with different students during small group time.

Allow them to stand up or sit on their desks while you’re lecturing.

Have them walk (or skip, or hop) from station to station around the classroom as they complete their group work.

Incorporate different brain breaks (I Spy, Simon Says, et cetera) to give them a chance to reset during a long or challenging lesson.

Or, you can incorporate learning apps like HOMER into your classroom routine. Kids love playing games, and an app like HOMER is the perfect way to mix things up while keeping the learning going.

Mixing up the way you teach and the way students learn keeps things fresh and prevents reluctant learners from getting frustrated.

The chance to move, talk, and try different activities makes learning more fun and less overwhelming, even for the students who typically feel challenged.

Plus, letting students work with their peers gives them a chance to learn from one another and get to know different classmates.

When we mix things up, we grab the attention of reluctant learners who might otherwise tune us out.

Final Thoughts

There’s no silver bullet to getting reluctant learners to fall in love with school.

Good teachers know, however, that there’s always a way to help even the least excited kids see the bright side of learning.

Inspiring reluctant learners may not be easy… but it’s always worth it.

Have you ever taught a reluctant learner?  How did you help them believe in themselves?  We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

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