frequently receive questions from teachers and administrators
asking how to deal with “reluctant learners”. We are all familiar
with students who seem completely disengaged in school. They
either slump across the desk in a near coma, or spend class
time disrupting and disturbing their classmates. It is one of
the most frustrating phenomena in schools. And sadly, a classroom
full of reluctant learners has even driven some young new teachers
right out of the field.
it’s no surprise that I’m asked frequently about how to deal
with student engagement (or lack thereof).
are two or three causes for a student to be inappropriately
engaged in school. The first thing you need to rule out of course,
are health issues. Serious sleep deprivation, depression and
other significant mental health issues can certainly lead a
student to tune-out, sleep or even act-out in a classroom. Health
issues require support and assistance, outside of the realm
of teacher and we’ll save for another topic.
outside of health issues, we find only 2 real causes for non-engagement:
Power/Control issues and self-efficacy issues. Both of these
are addressed and corrected for in a Layered Curriculum classroom.
perception of control is extremely important. Often times, a
student who refuses to work in class, is simply trying to establish
control boundaries. They have set up a “me vs you” playing field
and they are determined to be in charge of the game. If you
are familiar with Layered Curriculum, you already know that
one of the big “C”s” in the model is CONTROL. Set up your classroom
so that students feel very much in control of the room. What
they are doing, how they are learning, pacing, assignment choice
- these are all factors to give students a perception of control.
me remind you here, that just because you are increasing students’
control in the room, you are not accepting classrooms that our
“out-of-control”. Boundaries, limits, policies, deadlines, etc
are setup and maintained by the teacher. You set up the framework
and let the students choose how to work within that framework.
So, increase a student's perception of control and you have
eliminated one of the two causes of the non-participating student.
most common cause of the reluctant learner has to do with self-efficacy
and boredom. The student perceives the assigned task is either
above or beneath their ability. Regardless of whether or not
the teacher believes the student can do an assignment, if the
student is not confident, they fail to try.
On the other
hand, if the student perceives the assignment is of little value
to them or too easy for their current skill level, they too,
are unengaged. Students reporting boredom in school is on the
rise. Probably brought on by the increased exposure and use
of electronic media, this boredom is having a negative effect
on student academic performance.
takes us to another big "C" in Layered Curriculum:
CHOICE. Make sure, whenever possible, students have some choice
in the type of assignment, duration or sequence. By offering
a variety of difficulty levels and learning modalities, you
increase the possibilities for students to feel appropriately
challenged and effective learners.
line here is quit fighting the students. Well-running and self-running
classrooms require students to feel in control of their learning
and be actively involved with the scope and direction of that
learning. Off task behavior, non-participants and disruptive
behaviors can all be solved with a simple shift in the perception
of control and student choice.