Can you help kids who refuse to help themselves?
I’m a substitute on extended assignment as a special education teacher at a small country high school. I have students I assist in an Algebra I inclusion class. Some of them refuse to participate. They won’t even try. I overheard one saying his mom was going to let him drop out next year! Is there a way to reverse their attitudes?
Kate Ortiz: Only they can reverse their attitudes, but there are things you can do.
People are motivated by success, so it may help if you provide bits of success that lead to note-taking and homework completion, rather than focusing on the bigger goal.
Can you get the notes ahead of time and give students a copy with blanks in important places? They are more likely to follow along and focus if their job is to fill in the blanks instead of taking a whole page of notes.
Adjust the assignment by having them do only half of the items.
Work some problems together to figure out where they are stuck.
(I took algebra in ninth grade but never understood it until I took remedial classes in college.)
Verbal encouragement works best when it is specific. “Good job” is not as effective as “You did the first two steps of that problem correctly.”
Point out progress rather than focusing on what they didn’t do: “You got 10 points on that assignment. That’s five more than yesterday.”
I have encountered a few students who, despite every strategy I tried, simply refused to work. They often had issues far outside the scope of school.
But I have also encountered many who, over time, developed confidence and the desire to progress.
Hang in there!
Anthony: Bring in a successful guest speaker. I doubt if they’ll say anything you haven’t already said a million times, but a fresh face can sometimes be influential. The key is to find someone they can relate to.
Antonio: Show them this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about education and salaries, at www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm.
I recently discussed it with my seventh and eighth graders. They were amazed at the salary differences.
It opened up some great discussion.
Howard: Proximity, Praise, Prompt, and Leave:
- Proximity. Move around the room and check work of all students (not just special ed). Notice who is stymied or not attending. Approach quietly. Whisper. Establish eye contact.
- Praise. Note something the student has done: “Hey, you made it to class today.” “You have the first part of the problem figured out.”
- Prompt. Briefly tell the student what to do next (less than 20 seconds): “Line up the value places in the problem.” “Six times eight is 48.” Don’t bring attention to what the student hasn’t done or mistakes. Tell them you will be back shortly to check.
- Leave. Don’t “hover and smother.” Move to another student. Keep your comeback appointment.
LR: We have a similar problem on a American Indian reservation. The students are unmotivated. There is chaos in many homes.
Add the race dimension: “I’m not gonna work and you can’t make me because you’re not native. Anyone who cooperates with school authorities is trying to be White.”
Plus, the outsider dimension: “You’re not from here. You don’t know anything about us.”
I am not White and I live on the reservation so I can know about my students and their lives.
How do we combat this?
Kate Ortiz: LR, I have no experience teaching on a reservation, but it seems to me living in the community is an enormous asset.
Keep learning about your students. People lose negative attitudes faster when they feel valued.
Tell them, “You are right. I’m not from here. I chose to come here to live and teach, and I will listen to anything you can tell me that will help me help you learn.”
NEA’s classroom management advice column
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