Motivating Reluctant Learners


So what is a reluctant learner anyway?

According to Joyce M. Herzog, a reluctant learner is a student that is not interested in what the teacher is teaching and consequently, not able to learn within the time-frame nor manner of presentation provided (2002, as cited by 123HelpMe, February 2019).

Most educators can certainly identify with the challenges of dealing with a student that seems to lack motivation or who exhibits reluctant behaviors to be engaged within the class or with specific activities. It can often be extremely challenging because the teacher may not be able to specifically pinpoint the trigger point’ or cause. This can be extremely frustrating for the teacher as well because they can feel helpless in trying to connect and reach these students.

In many cases, to make it even more challenging, the student may have a high degree of potential, but for whatever the reasons, there is a lack of commitment or engagement with school. Furthermore, it may even be situational, depending on the topic of study, the classroom situation, or other external/extenuating factors. That being said, the impact of student motivation and how it impacts a student’s learning experience, whether positive or negative, can make a big difference for children and so it’s important to review this information here.

Teachers often may ask, “why?” – Why are these students unmotivated or reluctant?

Consider the following potential risk factors that can influence why students may become reluctant, whether in a given situation, a particular activity or becomes apparent with a student over a period of time:

  • A lack of confidence with the learning tasks or experiences
  • Misconceptions about one’s own abilities
  • Fear of failing- students are afraid of what might happen
  • Anxiety
  • Learning problems
  • Shyness or personality issues
  • Peer pressure
  • A lack of interest
  • A lack of motivation –
  • Language barriers
  • Behavior issues
  • Home environment problems
  • Situational
  • Social-economic status

When one considers potential problems and risk factors for reluctant learners, one of the most common factors that must be considered first is student motivation.  So what can a teacher do? What instructional strategies can have a positive impact on this type of student?

I recommend that you begin with these Lucky 7 Student Inspiring Strategies:

  1. Present relevant content that matches student interests and makes it clear how the content is valuable for your students. It is important for reluctant learners to know the value of what they are being asked to learn.
  2. Focus on designing a more student-centered environment.
  3. Find a way to integrate technology that is meaningful to students. For example, I saw a great lesson where a teacher had their students edit twitter posts.
  4. Design a specific plan for students to achieve and feel positive about their achievements.
  5. Be sure to create an environment that is positive and student-centered. Keep the expectation clearly pointed to what students can do and not focused on what they can’t do.
  6. Create an environment that encourages reciprocal feedback between the student and the teacher.
  7. Make the passion that you have for your content transparent. Students can sense if you are passionate about the work that you are doing and the content you are teaching. If you aren’t motivated why should they be?

Because the issue of reluctant learners is such a significant factor for student success in life, it must also be explored in-depth. Teach & Kids Learn (TKL) has developed several comprehensive online courses for teachers which have been found to be very beneficial for teachers in addressing this issue in their classroom. Here are a few which you may want to consider: