Motivating Reluctant Learner
MOTIVATING THE RELUCTANT LEARNER
Asha Sharma (2 TTT) , Teacher at Sishu Griha
According to the Webster dictionary the
word motivate means to provide with an
incentive or motive.
This paper titled “motivating
the reluctant learner” is especially significant in the context of the 21st century
class rooms. Today children have a plethora of distractions and preoccupations.
It is often found that there are quite a few children who are not really
motivated to learn and this problem becomes more obvious as they go to higher
The purpose of this paper is to understand the underlying causes for
lack of motivation and to review the various strategies that can be used to get
The brain loves to learn. A question most commonly asked by teachers is “How do I motivate
students to learn?” The answer is simple. They don’t. The human brain already
loves to learn. Children have already motivated themselves for much of their
life. Their brains have absorbed information, integrated it, made it
meaningful, remembered it and used it appropriately thousands of times. All of our
students are motivated to learn but not necessarily what is taught in school! If
a teacher wants to act as a learning catalyst – one who kindles the sparks for
learning, then how to motivate learners to learn what is taught in class
becomes the key question.
A key issue to be pondered upon is “Why is the child reluctant to learn?" Is it because
- he is not
interested in what you are teaching
he not able to learn in the time-frame
the manner of presentation does not
appeal to him
According to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs there are five types of
needs, as seen in the above diagram. When these are arranged in a ladder with
bodily needs at the bottom, for many of us, it is only when the lower needs are
satisfied that the higher ones become important. Though Maslow admits that this
‘hierarchy’ is not true for everyone, children will not feel the need to
achieve at school if their basic need of good nutrition, health and emotional
security are not satisfied.
The parental and family
background of the child also plays an important role in deciding how
motivated the child is. Good nourishment is also an important
requirement because a weak or malnourished child will tend to be tired and
Montessori said, “One test of the correctness of
educational procedure is the happiness of the child” and an important
criteria for happiness is how a child is feeling,
Feelings play a very important role in the learning process. Feelings are
rooted in past experiences of success or failure. If a child has good feelings
about learning or a subject, he will be motivated to learn that subject because
of the past pleasant associations. By the same premise, if the child has
unpleasant feelings about the learning or a subject, he will tend to avoid
learning about the subject.
As teachers our goal is greater than just passing on facts and
information. If we want to send out into the world young people who respect
themselves and respect others, then we need to begin by respecting them and we
can not do that unless we show respect for their feelings. When students are
upset, they cannot concentrate, nor can they absorb new material. If we want
them to think and learn we have to deal with their emotions and feelings.
Children, just like adults, often
perform better when there is a proverbial carrot dangling just ahead. A bit of
motivation can work wonders to guide a child towards better behaviour or
Each learner is either motivated from within (intrinsic) or from the outside(extrinsic).
It is important to remember that
attention itself works as a reward for some children and bad behaviour or bad
work by such children should be ignored or underplayed.
The old fashioned merit chart is generally the simplest
method to motivate and gauge progress at the primary level. A simple check mark
or a sticker in the allotted box will provide accurate visual information to
the child regarding his progress. Smiley faces and stickers are always popular
with the under 10 age group. Tokens of appreciation and certificates also act
Another important thing to do is to praise the child as much as possible.
Children who are constantly hearing that they are being “bad” tend to live up
to that expectation, and get worse. The more kids are praised and encouraged,
the better they do. Young children develop attitudes toward
learning from the significant others in their lives. If parents or other adults
nurture a child's self-confidence and curiosity, and provide resources that
invite exploration, they instill the message that learning is useful and fun.
Children, who observe adults being enthusiastic toward education and coping
positively with setbacks, will likely follow their adult role models and pursue
knowledge as well as persevere when faced with failure.
Through school attendance, children develop beliefs about their abilities and
acquire skills to cope with new situations. A teacher's perceptions of how
children acquire information and their expectations for their students'
academic success can have a profound effect upon children's motivation.
Educators need to believe that their students can learn and challenge them to
reach their potential.
Low-ability or disadvantaged children and students who have learning or
attention disorders must work hardest to succeed. Yet, they often have the
least incentive to do so, since high-ability students are the ones who receive
the most positive feedback. It is important to note that when children experience
many failures, their attitude toward learning often deteriorates. Although
younger children are likely to make an effort to succeed, older children may
view trying and not succeeding as more negative than making no effort at all.
However as Maria Montessori said “Never help a child with a task at which he
feels he can succeed.”
Goal setting can work as a good
motivator as reaching the set goals gives the child a sense of achievement and
makes him feel good about himself. “What is in it for me?” is a good question
that could lead him to think of the things he can achieve and act as a
motivator. If the child is able to visualize what the goal is going to do for
him – earn a great report, get a place in the sports team, be able to learn
another language and above all, be proud of himself; he will find that his
brain will be much more willing to help him get there and he will not mind
Goals need to be written, seen and felt to
6 good reasons to write down goals
- makes him think about the goal in more detail.
- putting them on paper makes them more real.
- Sends a message to the brain that you mean business
- he can see when he has reached them
- he can refer to them often
- he will feel good when he achieves them
Setting a goal calls for commitment and
making a commitment tells the brain to start acting.
of intrinsic motivation
- Give learners control
and choice –allow them to choose how they
would like to learn a topic and how they would like to be assessed.
- Meet their needs and
set age appropriate goals – for example a 6
year old will have a higher need for security and teacher acceptance
whereas a teenager is more likely to need peer acceptance and a sense of
- Engage curiosity – use leading questions, experiments, and clues to kindle
- Use the multiple
intelligences ( linguistic, mathematical,
spatial, rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic ) –
when children get to express what they know using their preferred
intelligence they are motivated.
- Share inspirational
stories – true stories about other students
that overcame obstacles.
- Provide frequent
feedback to motivate them to continue.
- Provide hope for
success – there will be times when even good
learners are in unmotivated states.
- Celebrate – celebrate even the smallest success using peer
acknowledgement, class cheers and high-fives as these can trigger the
release of endorphins that boost learning.
- Instill positive
beliefs – “I CAN DO IT”- really works.
Here is a comprehensive, perhaps overlapping, list of
how motivation can be fostered:
- Providing a caring, supportive environment where children are
respected and feel a sense of belonging and believing that every child has
the ability to learn.
- Involving children in making classroom rules and consequences
that are clear and understandable to all.
- Emphasizing children's strengths; and not dwelling on their
weaknesses and treating each child fairly, without favouritism.
- Getting to know your students' interests, talents, goals, and
the way each learns best.
- Using consistent discipline and maintaining an organized, calm
classroom that is conducive to student concentration.
- Varying teaching methods and making the lessons interesting and
- Defining work in specific, short-term goals that can help
children associate effort with success.
- Assisting students in seeing that failure is not usually due to
lack of ability but due to ineffective study habits.
- Teaching children helpful study and time management skills.
- Helping children understand that it is not always easy to
develop proficiency in a subject; it takes time and effort.
- Making expectations clear and provide feedback and credit for
work well done.
- Refraining from offering nonspecific praise for little effort.
- Never embarrassing or ridiculing a child.
- Expecting low-performing children to accomplish achievable
- Enhancing the status of "doing one's best" and
provide group recognition for effort and/or excellence.
- Providing the opportunity for all children to lead a classroom
- Avoiding practices that discourage student initiative by asking
questions that encourage thought and offer suggestions of how to find a
- Using tangible rewards sparingly as they may negatively effect
children's pursuit of learning for pure pleasure.
- Providing intangible rewards for unusual student effort or
- Understanding that when students refuse to begin or complete
their work, or copy from another child, they may be doing so to protect
- Establishing a close working relationship with parents of
children who are struggling.
- Encouraging parents to assist their child in forming healthy
habits such as getting enough rest, eating well and exercising so that
they will be ready to learn at school.
- Realizing that no teacher is perfect or does everything well.
Discovering your strengths, learning from your mistakes, and concentrating
on doing your best.
Summing up, in today’s classroom, it is very important to understand the
physical and emotional needs of each child and work out a strategy to motivate
him. The requirement of each child is different and what works with one may not
work for the other. It is up to the teacher to device strategies to motivate
each child. As Maria Montessori said
“If education is always to be
conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge,
there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future. For what
is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual's total development lags
1. Super teaching by Eric Jensen
2. How to help your child succeed at school by
3. How children learn by John Holt
4. Self Esteem- the key to your child’s future by Tony Humphreys
1. Motivating reluctant learners by Joyce M.Herzog
2. Motivating children by Leah Davies, M.Ed