Engaging Reluctant Learners
Every teacher struggles with a reluctant learner at some point. A reluctant learner is a student who does not pay attention, seems bored in class, is unmotivated, and often vents this frustration through inappropriate behavior or silence. According to Rick Smith, author of Conscious Teaching, the secret to motivating students is a meaningful—yet challenging— environment in which the students’ minds are actively involved. The human brain grows new connections through direct involvement in activities. New connections are necessary for learning. It is critical for students, especially for reluctant learners, to interact with the material and be engaged in order to learn.
In his session, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lecture,” Smith shared that the key to engaging reluctant students is to follow a pattern of teaching for 10 minutes and then requiring students to actively summarize the main point. Examples of these activities include highlights, rhymes or songs, slogans, alliterations, and speculation. If you can sit through a three-hour lecture and learn, your brain is already capable of subtly using these steps. Reluctant learners need to practice these skills daily in their classrooms in order to train their brains to automatically do so.
Positive Feedback Encourages Participation
Smith also shared several ways to encourage students to participate in classroom discussions. The "eight raised hands" technique, for example, requires the teacher to refrain from calling on any student until at least eight hands are raised. The teacher then calls on each of the eight students, but only responds “thank you” after their answers. When everyone is finished the teacher shares the correct answer. This approach gives the reluctant learner a chance to participate without receiving any negative feedback if the answer given is incorrect.
Each of the techniques ensures that no student is ever put on the spot or given negative feedback if they do not know the correct answer. Reluctant learners can succeed. “A reluctant learner is riding the learning train,” Smith said, “She gets off at every stop. We must keep engaging her to pull her back onto the learning train. "