Engaging Students who are reluctant to learn

I’ve worked with lots of students that are reluctant to learn and it is something that I specialise in, really engaging with students, who are traumatised or scared of education.

Often this is because of a special educational need, which has meant that it has been hard for them to access the curriculum. They may feel behind or not understand what is happening in a particular subject. Sometimes students have completely disengaged with learning and need a long transition back towards any kind of work.

Sometimes, students are seeking connection. Making these connections makes it easier for them to learn. A lot of my students are demand avoidant for one reason or another.

This can look like:

  • Arriving late for lessons
  • Talking about a different subject
  • Looking out of the window
  • Yawning, looking away, failing to make eye contact
  • Telling me ”no!”
  • Ripping up work, scribbling over work
  • Taking a long time to finish a project
  • Walking away from a lesson

This is where the challenge to me lies. I have had lots of students who have employed one or more of the above strategies and what I return to each time is an opportunity to make a connection, make the child understand that I am on their side and figure out a way through. This means that I often have to prioritise the relationship with the child before any real academics begins, but this is much more fruitful in the long run! It also means that I adopt a child-led approach to education. If my student wants to talk to me about dinosaurs, Scooby-Doo or volcanoes, I can figure out a way to use this interest to engage them in a lesson. I have made books around favourite subjects, played games, talked about political and historical issues using the context of TV or podcasts and figured out ways to be trusted to be on a journey with them to learn.

I also sometimes have to consider their sensory needs, some of my students need to run around outside for 5 minutes, or need a drink and a snack to help regulate their emotional state. I spend a lot of time observing my students so that with time I can notice their change in state and step in before they dysregulate.

I also admit that I can make mistakes myself, that I don’t know everything and this helps my students see that we can learn together. Ultimately, if you have a child that can’t engage in education, usually because their needs are not being met in some way, finding a way in is the most important part of my job.

Tutoring is a job that is focused on a relationship between tutor and tutee and prioritising this relationship before academics is what makes reluctant students begin to join in. Do you remember a teacher or adult that focused on your needs, encouraged and spoke to you on your level so you could succeed? That is what I want to do for my students every day!

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