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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Motivate the unmotivated

Motivate the unmotivated

Related Tags: Student Engagement
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I struggle every year with at least one student who just has that "I don't really care" attitude! I try everything from bribery to being a good listener. I try new angles that will maybe connect with the student or shed some light on what will motivate them to move into action. Does anyone have any good ideas.... new or old that have worked?

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Donna Tuck's picture
Donna Tuck
Elementary School math Coach

I have taught for 21 years. There has never been a year where I did not have at least one challenging student. People have all different personalitites, including children. They are like snowflakes -- no 2 are the same. After much trial and error early on, I found that academics must come second for awhile with this type of child. My first line of "offense" is to befriend the child under all circumstances - no matter how surly the attitude. Screaming, demanding,bribing,and cajoling have never worked for me. Once I begin really acting like his/her best friend, I look for what makes them happy. One child I remember loved the computer -- so at first I let him shirk academic duties to "play" on some educational sites for a large part of the day. Soon I began tying a small bit of work to the privilege of "playing" on the computer & eventually increased the criteria for computer time. The combination or a caring, understanding "friend" and some choice in how to spend academic time seems to motivate best for me. Success is not 100% as you might imagine, but the year certainly goes better than if I engage in a power struggle with the child. And at least some of what he did on the computer gave him some academic skills. Other children like other things -- you just have to use that to your advantage. It benefits everyone because the class runs more smoothly with less interruptions from the unmotivated student.

Carrie's picture
Carrie
5th Grade Teacher

I agree with not letting students get out of doing work. It seems like you are just teaching them an "out". There seems to be such a fine line with the underlying issues that stem from home and my expectations. I know I'll never find one answer to motivate a student but it's great to hear so many different viewpoints!

Carrie's picture
Carrie
5th Grade Teacher

I love the SCOUT idea, students really seem to take pride in being able to compliment their classmates. I can see that working in my class. Thanks for the idea!

Rob A.'s picture

Relationships are the key. Try to get to know the student as much as possible and little about their home life. See if you can fill any voids they have at home. Find what they are interested in and learn as much about it as you can. Hold them accountable and have boundaries. Create some structure in their life and be someone who they can trust and count on. Many times, they get none of this at home.

Melissa Anderson's picture

Estella,
I actually teach a 4-5 combo. In the beginning, there was one student who actually gave his awards away to other students and he acted like he didn't even care about the awards. I didn't make a big deal out of it or even say anything to him, but once he noticed that the awards were coveted by every other student, he started to come around. Now, he wants them so bad because they have great scientific tidbits and science is his thing. Sometimes, I give out a few scout awards too, but that is not the original intention. Find that students' niche and try to cater a little bit to that need. Once they are "hooked," you have got them. Best of luck!
Melissa

Melissa Anderson's picture

Betsy,
I almost asked you the same question as well. I do like GLAD too. Where do you teach? I teaching in Pasco, Washington. We have a lot of ELL students in our district and in my school especially, as well as very high poverty. I have seen it do wonders on my students. A lot of prep work, but so worth it in the end, don't you think? How many years have you been doing GLAD? Do you find that it gets easier with time? Thanks for sharing! Have a great day

Mrs. Green's picture

Motivating students who have that don't care attitude is a hard task. When I am faced with that situation, I usually find something they like to talk about to spark their interest and move in from there. Once the student is comfortable, you can usually get to the bottom of why they are so uninterested in school.

Luis Rivera's picture

I have had your situation. I have tried the rewards, the extra computer time, the "friend" teacher, the spending time with another teacher, and many more. I feel that despite your best efforts, some kids just can't be changed, they have to want to change. And some just do not. I also feel that sometimes we forget to acknowledge the students who are doing well, or the ones that dont need constant babysitting and hand holding. Those students need to hear that we appreciate them, and they deserve our time too. I have actually had good kids act out, and when questioned, they admit to behaving poorly so that they can get some of the same attention as the unmotivated. When a student confesses that to you, then you realize that instead of helping one, you are hurting one....and maybe even more.

Tabetha's picture

Hi Carrie! I understand what you're going through. I have a student this year who is the same way. He doesn't participate a lot and has an attitude. I have tried to find out some of the things he is interested in and get him to talk to me. I've found that he shows a little bit more interest in the class if he knows that I'm interested in him as a person. It has improved things, not to the point where I would like, but I'm still working on it! Hope this helps a little!

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