What is a Reluctant Learner?

Virtually everyone has encountered students who experience some degree of motivation challenges. A wide variety of complex reasons help explain “reluctant learners”, including problems at school, problems at home, confidence challenges, and illness. And student engagement plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the number of reluctant learners as social-emotional issues were magnified in many children. How can educators create a learning environment for every type of student which motivates them to reach their academic potential?

In a world where the pressure to perform is increasing, the problem of reluctant learners seems to be expanding. Recent research shows that up to 30 percent of children demonstrate signs of being reluctant learners. Fortunately there are ways to help ensure reluctant learners remain engaged in relevant content for long-term results, and see value in studying. Left unchecked, reluctant learners often manifest with disruptive behavior, or other behavior issues.

Lack of motivation can rear its ugly head in any environment, from the English class period in a traditional school, to the bedroom of a homeschooled student. Classroom educators utilize a number of strategies to combat lack of motivation, including reducing cognitive load, personalizing instruction, addressing the social-emotional learning needs of students, and overcoming the myriad of challenges that come from teaching students in groups. Homeschool teachers also need to have a plan for students who might become reluctant learners, even temporarily, to help make the learning process as efficient as possible.

Reluctant Learning Student Upset

The learning process is affected by many existing conditions in students: whether they are English language learners, special education students, or victims of peer pressure, to name a few. Students may be reluctant to learn or complete work in school for a variety of reasons, such as boredom, hunger, fatigue, social-emotional struggles, lack of connection with the teacher/classmates, and fear of looking stupid. The exact reasons behind student reluctance may not always be known or understood. Often after decades of experience, education conferences, and professional development, effective teachers recognize many strategies to improve motivation. Newer educators should explore best practices as soon as possible.

How do you Motivate Reluctant Learners?

Engaging reluctant learners can be a challenge, but it is possible with the right strategies. In general, one of the best ways to engage these students is to proactively get to know and connect with each student on an individual level. This helps to honor what they value and build meaningful relationships. Additionally, fostering community and collaboration in the classroom is key for engaging reluctant learners.

Happy Student and Teacher

In addition to these general themes, many individual practices will go a long way towards proactively motivating students in the classroom environment or at home, especially with reluctant and challenging students.

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Understand your student's challenges!

Let’s Go Learn allows you to measure and understand student math and reading skills with research-based, adaptive assessments. Then you can automatically build personalized learning paths from the data, so that curriculum is neither too easy, nor too hard.
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Best Practices for Motivating Reluctant Learners

While the most obvious way to motivate a reluctant learner, whether at home or at school, is with extrinsic rewards (offering a prize for completed tasks), the ultimate goal is to create learners who are intrinsically motivated (self-motivated).  Here are the top six ways to motivate your learners:

Teacher High Fives Student
  1. Meet them where they are ready to learn. Learners need to feel confident that they can do something. However, materials that are too hard can be frustrating and overwhelming, while materials that are too easy are boring and don’t stimulate enough.
  2. Adult praise and encouragement are essential. Providing feedback is important in building intrinsically motivated learners. They want to feel recognized and validated for working hard and putting effort into content that might be challenging.
  3. Foster an environment of growth and positivity. All learners make mistakes, and they are more likely to keep trying when they feel safe to fail, knowing that they will be given other opportunities to try again without judgment.
  4. Offer incentives. Extrinsic motivators often work. However, they can come in the form of tangible or intangible rewards: computer play time, outside play time, a special privilege like being a mother’s/teacher’s helper, etc.
  5. Prompt learners to create their own goals. Guiding learners to set goals is key when promoting intrinsic motivation. When they do so, they know exactly how much or how long they have to work on something and will feel the success of meeting those personal goals.
  6. Draw connections to real-world situations and their own lives. Helping learners to connect real-world situations to what they are currently learning is helpful in scaffolding content. When students make connections to real life or to themselves, content is easier for them to understand. It is critical for learners to understand why they are doing something or why they are learning it.

Let’s Go Learn
Can Help!

When using Let’s Go Learn products, here are some tips you can use to help build and foster that motivation:

1.Meet them where they are ready to learn. Use our comprehensive diagnostics to find students’ zones of proximal development (the spaces between what students can easily do and what is too difficult for them to do; a learner’s sweet spot for learning). Our comprehensive diagnostics are DORA, ADAM, DOMA Pre Algebra, and DOMA Algebra I.

ELA Edge Screenshot-Simile

2.Deliver personalized learning. Enroll students in LGL Edge. Our lessons are designed to meet students at their ZPD so that their cognitive load is lowered. Additional benefits to enrolling students in Edge include:

  • A unique learning path for students based on their greatest areas of need
  • Music to activate the brain
  • Gamification
  • Rewards in the form of medals and certificates for passed and completed lessons

3.Offer incentives
(same as above).

4.Set clear goals. How many lessons should students complete weekly or monthly? (We recommend 2-4 lessons a week per subject.)

5.Celebrate student growth by reassessing after approximately 12 weeks (pull gains reports via our progress monitoring tool).

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Ready to find your student's zone of proximal development?

Let’s Go Learn's comprehensive diagnostics will find your student's ZPD, allowing you to motivate students with personalized learning.
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There is no wrong time to start to improve your learners’ motivation, but there is also no correct time. Start small today with one simple step and see how that works for you and your learner.  Every learner is different and will develop at a different pace, so be patient and consistent and you will all reap the rewards!