If you are working with students that are non-learners or unmotivated, you may feel that you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. For these students that are simply not motivated, you can encourage them by developing positive relationships with them.
I used a lot of humor in my classroom, but sometimes even a good sense of humor isn’t enough to connect with students that don’t have a positive outlook about school or themselves.
One random tidbit about me: I grew up on a horse ranch.
Here is yours truly in 1996 (as you can clearly tell by my scrunchie).
Why am I sharing this with you? Growing up on a horse stable wasn’t glamorous or lucrative, but it was hard work. And I know for a fact that you can lead a horse to water, but you indeed cannot make them drink.
For students, it’s very much the same when it comes to learning. You can lead them to an education, but you can’t make them learn it. To help these students gain some control over their education, it helps to offer a voice and a choice. They need to be able to feel comfortable voicing what is working for them, and what isn’t. Encourage them to have this voice. Try to be flexible with them when you can.
Here are some ways to help motivate:
1. The Suggestion Box. Offering a “Suggestion Box” for your classroom or an online survey to see which topics students love (or hate)- or which activities they love (or hate).
2. Offer different learning outlets for your students. This could be a digital task, an interactive notebook activity, an artsy activity, a demonstration, a hands on activity, etc. To make this efficient, I would ask for their feedback to see which types of activities they liked so that I could plan better in the future.
3. Offer differentiation for these struggling kids. Some may cringe when they hear the word “project”, but if students can choose an outlet for their project, such as creating a poster, or a website, or a PowerPoint, comic book, journal, model, etc., they will be more apt to complete the assignment. If your unmotivated kids are in an inclusion class, you may need to offer different types of worksheets, too (less text, more pictures; less heavy language, etc.) Even changing your language ever so slightly can shift your nonlearners’ attitude. Instead of projects, you could call them “models”, or “choices”,”designs”; any simple term that doesn’t have the stigma of an overwhelming project.
4. Keep it fun Keep it relevant– try to avoid dry, irrelevant activities when you can. Small hands on activities or labs will get students engaged. Also, science is a great topic to connect to student lives. When students can do meaningful activities that are relevant to their “bubbles”, they will be more likely to pay attention.
5. Get involved with the community. When I taught in an urban school north of Boston, we would study the biodiversity a small green area that was within walking distance of the school. We also took the public transportation to different parts of Boston. For kids that don’t love school, this was a real treat.
If you try at some or all of these things, that will also help foster the positive relationships that are so valuable to these unmotivated learners. It’s a nice cycle.
II. Building Confidence
We and our students are often being held to higher standards than what is fair for our diverse learners. With the high pressure of testing comes less flexibility in the classroom. It can be suffocating and exhausting, and though there is no easy “fix”. For many of the unmotivated kids, school is simply not made for them. They come to you in middle school or high school, after years of being let down by the system, and they’ve already labeled themselves as “dumb” or “stupid”, or “not good at science.” They literally have zero confidence when it comes to school. It feels better for them to stop trying than to try hard and fail.
They lose confidence in themselves.
These kids come to us broken, and we need to put their pieces back together. It seems like such a daunting task. Whatever you do, don’t give up. They need to feel secure and that you’ll be open to their efforts and questions.
Here are some ways to help kids feel more confident so they aren’t afraid to try:
1. Start off the class by reminding students that everyone has an A the first day of school. This tends to speak more to kids that are still somewhat confident, but it helps to motivate kids to keep up that grade from day one.
2. Have a “Wall of Fame” or “The Fridge” bulletin board where you put exemplary student work, any time an unmotivated student finishes even just *half* of an assignment, stick it up there. No questions asked. (Link for more info from Scaffolded Math and Science at bottom of post).
3. Start the year off with some easy “no-fail” assignments. This will get the student and class atmosphere off on the right foot. Examples might include task cards where they get a stamp before moving on to the next station, or an easy fail-proof bell ringer.
4. Differentiation. If students can choose how they want to learn something, or if they are given assignments that are bit less “rough around the edges” in their eyes, they’ll be more likely to try.
5. As the saying goes “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” It’s OK to set the bar to a high standard, just make sure that the students are equipped to reach it. Tough love, encouragement, and letting them borrow a pencil without saying a word sometimes goes a long way.
6. If you have some wiggle room, part of your class grade could be earned with effort. Once you’ve figured out who these confidence-broken kids are, be generous with the effort points, even if they did not put in that much. It sounds a bit backwards, but it helps to build their confidence.
7. Lastly, my good friend and neighbor, Shana of Scaffolded Math and Science, offers a great test taking foldable and confidence builder for free. This helps kids cope with those big bad tests! You can grab it here. She’s also the brains behind the fridge, which you can read more on here.