How Teachers and Parents can Reach Unmotivated Students

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

-1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

You have probably already realized already that there will be some students in your classroom this year that are not excited about school. They struggle with the school work, may have increased behaviors, and above average absenteeism. If you have students that are unmotivated in your classroom, we have to be creative in finding ways for them to be engaged at school. Today we are going to explore a variety of ways to reach unmotivated students.

Do Your Homework

Before trying a lot of different interventions for your unmotivated students, explore what has worked well in the past and what has not. Try and reach out to their previous teachers and parents to find their interests and any interventions that may have worked in the past. Try to establish positive behavior supports in your classroom. See what other teachers are doing across the grade level that will help provide consistency for students.

The Five to One Approach

One way to help produce positive behavior in the classroom is the five-to-one approach. To promote positive behaviors in your classroom, try to have a ratio of five praises to one redirection. Who doesn’t like approval? Everyone needs a pick-me-up every now and again, and maybe your students do not get this at home. It makes us feel good to be recognized for something we did well. It makes us want to continue to keep doing our best. This can be hard to do for teachers, especially when this routine is something new. Like any other skill in teaching, you have to be intentional about it. This does not mean that you merely praise a student for getting out their pencil or turning in an assignment. These praises need to be genuine and sincere, and that is when the student noticed that you were looking for the good in them instead of the negative.

Once they see that you are there to help them, hopefully some or all of the negative behaviors will decline. Some students will need more intervention than this, but 5:1 is an excellent place to start for all kids.

Find What Motivates Your Students

For some students, praise only goes so far. We have to be ready with a variety of options for students who need that extra support. Before you go to the store and buy a bunch of candy, toys, etc., we need to determine what motivates your students to learn. At the beginning of the year, I typically have students fill out an interest inventory for me. These survey’s are short, but I can get a wealth of information from them. Some of the questions include what might help them learn the best in the classroom. To my amazement, most of the answers that I get do not require me to go out and spend a lot of money! Here are some typical responses from students that help motivate them to get their work done:

  • Listening to music while I work
  • Getting a brain break half way through the lesson
  • Sitting in a “special chair” for the day
  • Having some choice in my assignment
  • Playing in the gym
  • Eating with a friend in the classroom
  • Playing video games
  • Extra recess or free time at the end of the week
  • Extra free reading time
  • Time for drawing/art
  • Candy
  • Stickers/small toys

Finding the Time

Multi-ethnic group of students bored during class

Most of options above involve either having time with friends or time to relax. If you see that your student’s have similar results as mine typically do, then we need to carve out some time for these rewards. This can be the hardest thing to do since we are already pressed for time with our curriculum and implementing academic interventions. To simplify things in your classroom, you could create a reward menu of options that students could choose from throughout the day.

Try to look at each block of time for your subject area or class period, and within that block of time look for 3-5 minutes where you can incorporate some of that brain break time or free choice. Some of the other rewards may need more thought such as when an appropriate time would be to allow video games, etc. If the productivity of your students increase, then you have found the right motivator for them! Over the course of the year, student’s interests might change so it might be a good idea to survey the students again around January to keep things fresh.

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