6 Awesome ways to engage reluctant learners.

Awesome (Evidence based) ways to engage reluctant learners.

In this post I am classing reluctant learners as those who often do not finish tasks, they may do the minimum to get by or even flat out refuse to take part. As inclusive teachers we constantly have to be mindful of the drivers of the child’s behaviour. The key to creating engaged learners is to know the child and the barriers they face. Some issues may go deeper and require additional specialist support. A class teacher dedicated to engaging their students can have a huge impact on the student’s experience of education and their outcome in life. Engaging learners is as much about emotional confidence as intellectual propensity so make that bond and enable all to achieve

A class teacher dedicated to engaging their students can have a huge impact on the student's experience of education and their outcome in life quote about inclusive education

1. Indulge Interests.

Making learning relevant to their lives is essential for developing much needed intrinsic motivation (Sanacore 2008). Nothing is more meaningful than hooking them with an element of their interests and building the learning around that. For example if their interest is computer games develop a task encompassing that i.e  extending the backstory of a character. This is your first hurdle to getting a child to engage in what you have planned (Putting a minecraft border around a worksheet doesn’t count).

2. Provide Challenge.

Being challenged to accomplish a difficult task can really boost self esteem and the confidence to try incrementally harder tasks. In this case we are talking about the initial barrier. Even a simple task can have a tricky element to it e.g building a marble run track but it needs to bridge a gap and the pieces are too short. What can the child find to do the job?

3. Encourage attempts

So many children I work with are wary of the negative emotions linked to perceived failures, of not being good enough. Not make mistakes but to be free to try and fail without judgement. There are different ways to achieve this depending on the child. You may want to provide prompt positive feedback or stand back completely. Learned helplessness can be a big issue in classrooms where failure is almost a dirty word. Also do not focus solely on tasks a lot of education is about trying to communicate. If a child is trying to make friend model some approaches.

4.Raise their value.

How the children perceive themselves can have a huge impact on their engagement. Are they the troublemaker always on the black cloud? Consistently receiving negative comments about themselves, may lead to reinforcing of  low self-esteem, low-efficacy, or learned helplessness. An easy way to do this is to praise and recognise all achievements. Take down any “Shaming”  reward charts etc.
5. Provide trust and freedom.
This can feel like a bit of a risk. Giving students freedom and a chance to act responsibly can reduce reliance on adult feedback and support, which in turn elicit flexibility of thought, interest in the tasks, and positive emotions. It can also enhance creativity, and persistence (Clifford 2007; Deci and Ryan 1987). This could be as simple as running an errand or allocating a key responsibility. The mini TA role can be effective for set periods of time. If you are talking about high expectations provides opportunity to shine.
6. Provide Choices.
This is not about the level of challenge but the degree of power & control over classroom activities that the child has, self-determination is compromised when teachers require them to rigidly follow curricula, rules, and assessments. Freedom to choose can positively influence their values as well as their academic performance and their general well-being (Kohn 1993) I have for example let my students choose the country we study for a topic, the books they read and even sometimes if resources allow where we go on community trips.
I don’t want my students to comply I want them to be able to self advocate. If you have any top tips leave them n the comments below of tweet me.
 An infographic on engaging reluctant learners as an inclusive teacher


Joseph Sanacore (2008) Turning Reluctant Learners into Inspired Learners, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 82:1, 40-44
Clifford, M. 2007. Students need challenge, not easy success. In
Kaleidoscope: Readings in education, ed. K. Ryan and J. Cooper, 218–24.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Deci, E., and R. Ryan. 1987. The support of autonomy and the control of behavior.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53 (6):
Kohn, A. 1993. Choices for children: Why and how to let students decide. Phi Delta Kappan 75 (1): 8–20

A girl writing. a blog link about education and inclusion.


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