Five ways to engage reluctant learners

http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/05/27/ctq_barile_motivating.htmlOne of my favorite bloggers, John Spencer, wrote a post a year ago on how to engage reluctant learners. But let me first quote the hook, his opening paragraphs:

I am currently on my fifth solid day of doing things that I find difficult, scary, or boring. Two days ago, I called the cable company to set up my internet. This might not seem like a big deal, but I am terrified of phone calls — especially to strangers. Although I hate conflict, I engaged in a negotiation.

Another example: I pretty much live in my head. I work well in the area of ideas. Most of what I make tends to involve multimedia. I am not great at anything remotely kinesthetic. So, it was a stretch to put together furniture and to learn how to work a charcoal grill for the first time. Turns out getting the charcoal to light properly is harder than it looks.

Those words certainly resonated with me! How many of the items that Spencer describes also apply to me? Let me count the ways:

  1. Making phone calls to strangers is scary.
  2. Both of us hate conflict.
  3. Both of us “work well in the area of ideas.”
  4. Anything kinesthetic is outside of my comfort area, as it is with Spencer.

So that was a promising beginning. The main point of difference is that I rarely work in multimedia — a minor difference. It’s dwarfed by a subsequent sentence of Spencer’s: “I have carved out a life where I can do things I enjoy that challenge me only within the areas of my strengths and that fit into my personality.” Yes indeed.

We teachers should think about Spencer’s commentary here:

Often what passes for a defiance is simply the natural reaction to doing tasks that are difficult, scary, or boring. Some students get queasy before speaking in front of a crowd. That’s how I get when I pick up a phone. Some students will get distracted and put off a reading assignment. That’s how I was about putting together an office chair.

Analysis is all very well, but it needs to be accompanied by a solution. Spencer provides five:

  1. Focus on agency.
  2. Be intentional.
  3. Understand the emotional reaction.
  4. Allow for mistakes.
  5. Remember that we are all at a different pace.

That looks like a list of platitudes unless you read Spencer’s detailed commentary and examples of all five solutions. So… do so!

And then go out and try to follow his advice. I know I’m going to. (The operative word is “try.”)



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