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Engaging unwilling learners

(7 Posts)
Judyandherdreamofhorses Fri 21-Mar-14 21:17:04

Does anyone (parents or teachers) have any ideas of how to engage those few children who do not seem to have any interest in learning?

I don't mean 'wow' lessons or topics, but strategies that help them really make the effort required to learn what is being taught.

I'm thinking of a couple of children in particular, for whom the response to a question is always 'I don't know', who will always ask 'What do I have to do?' after an instruction or explanation, and expect a teacher or TA to do the thinking for them.

They are taught by excellent teachers, with all the obvious good practice strategies in place - I'm trying to find out what we have missed. Y2 and Y3, by the way. No identified SEN.

morethanpotatoprints Fri 21-Mar-14 23:04:55


I know this goes against the grain, but having recent experience of this can only say, they do it when they are ready.
When it becomes important to them they do it, catch up if they were behind and quite often really enjoy these subjects as a result.
By leaving off for about 6 months my dd started to show an interest in reading and writing. She could manage and was average, but couldn't see the point before.
She does both for pleasure now.
I know the school format doesn't really allow for this, but allowing them to do it at their own pace in their own time really does gain the benefits.

PastSellByDate Sat 22-Mar-14 06:16:48

Hi Judyandherdreamofhorses:

I agree with a lot of what morethanpotatoprints is saying - especially if in general children aren't too far behind where they should be


and stressing that I'm just a Mum....

Sometimes you do need to actively intervene.

I've been on a lot (see maths feeds for backstory) - but in short, DD1 was seriously behind at end of KS1 (NC L1 across the board on Y2 SATs) so we have employed two strategies for DD1:

If you want to do that in future you need to realise it involves:





She watches a show with Brian Cox (Wonders of the Universe/ Solar System - Stargazing Live) or 'Dr. Maggie' (Dr. M. Aderin-Pocock/ The Sky at Night) and enthuses about them and we discuss how hard he's had to work to achieve this, the mathematics involved to understand the things they are discussing, etc....

She and her sister have adored BBC4s The Secrets of Bones with Ben Garrod - again we've discussed that to do what he does it takes dedication, hard work and education.

The Olympics have been brilliant - especially the little biopics about athletes - because she's learned that it has taken years of practice and hard work to achieve that level of fitness and skill as an athlete. She really responded to Jessica Ennis - and watching the documentary about her training and the team of coaches/ physiotherapists around her and all the travelling, training and pain she's had to endure really hit home.

My brother teaches primary in the US and he really pushes sports heroes as role models for his kids. He finds this especially useful with the boys - and he also brings in sports statistics (understanding them/ working out what they mean/ creating dream teams and following their performance) in his maths teaching for = UK Y5/ Y6 children.

We've also made a point of discussing the effort that goes into things she enjoys - films/ cartoons. We look at the credits and discuss the huge team of people necessary to make the film/ cartoon. We discuss the computing involved. If there are little 'extras' about how the film was made at the end of the DVD and they seem particularly good at showing all the work involved - we'll show those to her as well - so she understands the film/ cartoon isn't something just whipped up - it's taken hundreds of people and years of effort to put together.


DD1 attends a Cof E school and I think my one major complaint about the institution is that Ye Olde Protestant Work Ethic is not conveyed to the children.

So at home, with conspiring relatives/ friends, we work hard to show her that success rarely comes from out of the blue - it usually comes from hard work, good ideas (which often are aided by a good educaiton) and training. Education is the key to a lot of success - understanding how to do things (be they sports, music, maths, etc....) takes years of practice & training.

I don't know that we've totally won - but we're hopeful that she's learned through doing more herself that things which once were difficult can become easier, if not easy.


Judyandherdreamofhorses Sat 22-Mar-14 08:02:28

Thanks for your ideas and experiences. They make a lot of sense and I agree that it's a long term thing. Not easy when you have parents saying 'What are you doing to move my child on?' and senior management saying 'Why is this child still on level...?' when you feel like you've tried everything!

Judyandherdreamofhorses Sat 22-Mar-14 08:03:26

Thanks for your ideas and experiences. They make a lot of sense and I agree that it's a long term thing. Not easy when you have parents saying 'What are you doing to move my child on?' and senior management saying 'Why is this child still on level...?' when you feel like you've tried everything!

PastSellByDate Sat 22-Mar-14 08:37:40


I think if parents are expressing they're concerned about the slow progress of their child then you do have an opportunity to explain (and admittedly this is delicate) - that their DC just doesn't seem to understand how important these fundamental building blocks (good reading/ calcualtion skills) are to his/ her future success.

Ask parents to help reinforce concepts of practise, perseverence and effort lead to success through examples of sports/ acting/ non-fictional heroes all around.

I think most parents are reasonable and understand that it isn't just down to the teacher - but has to involve the child & parental support for learning.

Also - I think some of this is lack of routine. I fear I'm hugely old fashioned, but we have laid down the law of no tv/ movies/ video games until work is done. It can be delicate - everybody has their own views on whether to totally relax at the weekends or not - but it might be useful to discuss 'homework routine' with parents and the benefits of training/ guiding children into good study habits.

Finally - on your side of the equation - how 'interesting' are your homeworks? Could you get more out of uninterested pupils by changing up the style of homework.

Maths: Instead of a photocopied Heineman's maths sheet on percentages (the usual at our school I fear) - why not ask the children to read the sports pages and find percentages there and explain them to you. Or try KS2 Football scoring challenge: or this on football numeracy:

Or try asking them to find examples of propotions of ingredients used in the food the eat over the weekend. Pizza toppings by weight: 2 parts cheese: 1 part pepperoni: 1 part chilli peppers - or record the calories they've consumed over the weekend and then work out what proportion was processed foods/ fresh foods or what proportion was dairy products/ meat/ vegetables or fruit or fish.

With writing: Why not ask the children to make a cartoon strip related to a historic theme - so find the 10 facts about life in Roman Britain - but then show that in the form of a cartoon strip/ animated stop-motion film/ etc... or facts about a geographical location (The Amazon, a country in Africa, Spain, etc...)

Why not have them prepare a 'report' on how to improve homework for pupils at the school (there may be good ideas there).

With reading: Non-fiction is really heavily overlooked - but things like sports pages of newspapers/ car magazines/ etc... have lots of good information and are a refreshing break from Horrible histories/ science series (which is it for Non-fiction at our school). A really useful exercise my brother uses is to look at the coverage of the same story across several different newspapers - so same event but how do the papers treat it? All the same way or are there differences?


somuchtosortout Sat 22-Mar-14 16:34:19

Personally I would go with a more subtle, psychological approach.
I find they type-cast themselves in the role of the un-motivated pupil. They are not used to feeling that sense of achievement so they have no motivation to achieve.

Firstly I would set them up to get something really right. Something really basic like 'Wow, I'm so proud you remembered all full stops/followed instruction/set out work as explained etc…' followed by sticker or whatever. You'll have to choreograph it!
Better to do this privately rather than in front of whole class, or you will inevitably get other students say 'but I get full stops every day!!'
Everyone has individual targets anyway so not to hard to differentiate rewards.

After doing this a few times over a few days I would go with the 'wow you are getting so fantastic at this' (Try to ignore all the usual negatives, just let them go for now). 'Now let's work on this'

I would also try and give them some ownership of their work. 'Ok, how do you want to set this out? Let them choose something.

Lastly I would give them a leading role in something that they are a bit stronger at. So in group work, or P.E etc…

For me the key is that we only ever act as others expect us to act, especially as children. Yr2/3 I find are great stages when children can still easily be made to snap out of their negative self-stereotypes. Much harder in yr 5/6.

Hope at least some of that made sense!

And maybe you have already tried all of this and were looking for something extra, so apologies if I'm preaching to the converted!

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