By Joe White, Assistant Head Teacher @jw_teach

In this post I am classing reluctant learners as those who rarely finish tasks, they may do the minimum to get by or even flat out refuse to take part. As inclusive teachers, we constantly have to be mindful of the drivers of the child’s behaviour.

To create an engaged learner, know the child and remove the barriers to learning they face.

Some issues are deeper and require additional specialist support. A class teacher dedicated to engaging their students can have a huge impact on the student’s experience of education and their outcome in life. Engaging learners is as much about emotional confidence as intellectual propensity, make that bond and enable all to achieve.

A class teacher dedicated to engaging their students can have a huge impact on the student’s experience of education and their outcome in life.


Making learning relevant to their lives is essential for developing much needed intrinsic motivation (Sanacore 2008). Nothing is more meaningful than hooking them with an element of their interests and building the learning around that. If their interest is computer games develop a task encompassing that i.e extending the backstory of a character. This is your first hurdle to getting a child to engage in what you have planned (Putting a minecraft border around a worksheet doesn’t count)


Being challenged to accomplish a difficult task can really boost self-esteem and the confidence to try incrementally harder tasks. Even a simple task can have a tricky element to it e.g when you build a marble run track but it needs to bridge a gap and the pieces are too short. What can the child find to do the job


So many children I work with are wary of the negative emotions linked to perceived failures, of not being good enough. Not make mistakes but to be free to try to fail without judgment. There are different ways to achieve this depending on the child. Provide prompt positive feedback or stand back completely. Learned helplessness can be a big issue in classrooms where failure is almost a dirty word. Also, do not focus solely on tasks a lot of education is about trying to communicate. If a child is trying to make a friend, model some approaches to building relationships. We design games and opportunities to share positive activities


How the children perceive themselves can have a huge impact on their engagement. Are they the troublemaker always on the black cloud? Consistently receiving negative comments about themselves will reinforce low self-esteem, low-efficacy, or learned helplessness. An easy way to raise the child's value in class is to praise and recognise all achievements. Take down reward charts etc that may be a source of shame


This can feel like a risk. If you give students the freedom and a chance to act responsibly you reduce reliance on adult feedback and support. Elicit flexibility of thought, interest in the tasks, and positive emotions. Trust and freedom also enhance creativity, and persistence (Clifford 2007; Deci and Ryan 1987). This could be as simple as running an errand or allocating a key responsibility. I have found “The mini TA” role effective. If you are talking about high expectations provide the opportunity to shine.

I don’t want my students to comply I want them to be able to self-advocate


This is not about the level of challenge but the power & control over classroom activities for the child. Teachers compromise self-determination when teachers require children to follow a rigid curriculum, rules, and assessments. Freedom to choose can positively influence their values and their academic performance and general well-being (Kohn 1993) For example let the students choose the country you study for a topic, the books they read and even sometimes if resources allow where to go on community trips.

Find out more on Joe's website:


Joseph Sanacore (2008) Turning Reluctant Learners into Inspired Learners, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 82:1, 40-44

Clifford, M. 2007. Students need challenge, not easy success. In Kaleidoscope: Readings in education, ed. K. Ryan and J. Cooper, 218–24. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Deci, E., and R. Ryan. 1987. The support of autonomy and the control of behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53 (6): 1024–37.

Kohn, A. 1993. Choices for children: Why and how to let students decide. Phi Delta Kappan 75 (1): 8–20

Written by ChatterPack

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