How to reach and teach reluctant learners


Mike Charron

Linda Haynes (Sumitra) enjoys working with Patrick Whelan ’15

Mike Charron, Contributor

Studies show that students with learning disabilities need to feel like the work relates to them in order to do better work and feel engaged. Frank Tkaczyk, a teacher who has worked with students with special needs for over two decades, said, “I think its very important that work relates to the students because it makes the work meaningful to them and motivates them more. Students learn better when what they’re learning has intrinsic value. I think teachers these days try to do this. Unlike the old days when i first started teaching this was easier for teachers to do.

Now the trend is towards common core curriculum and standardized testing. This makes it harder for teachers today to differentiate their curriculum to tailor it individually to tap into each student’s area of interest.”

When reluctant learners are treated as lifelong learners and they are allowed some more freedom to choose what they would like to do for a project or assignment, it makes students more interested in their work.

“It’s hard to imagine anyone pursuing learning for his or her  entire life without the element of choice. If knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge is to empower the individual, than how can that happen without being free to choose what one learns? In a free society the pursuit of happiness requires the possibility for each individual to determine his or her  own destiny.

Students who are reluctant learners often struggle in school because they can’t focus–sometimes caused by attention deficit disorder or oppositional defiance disorder,which makes it  harder to focus in class and makes it harder to do the work outside of class. Many students over time have been told that they are poor students doing subpar work; this discourages the reluctant student and deters him or her from doing more work and trying harder.

Some reluctant learners feel the need to try to keep up with their peers and give up in frustration.

Many reluctant learners don’t know how to study effectively and in the classroom they get little to no help with learning how to study; teachers should ask the students what their strategies were and should ask to see the student’s work, so they can see the student’s process. Studies show that when a student feels that the work pertains to his or her  daily life then it will be more interesting to the student; students also feel more engaged in their work when they feel like they have a bit of choice, such as  if they will be working in pairs,groups, or individually or to research what they want within the vicinity of the topic.