For the 2022-23 winter seminar, all members and guests met via Zoom on January 29th, 2023. Our topic was “ How To Reach Reluctant Learners”. Our guests are educators from Nebraska who teach a mixture of science and mathematics courses to high school and middle school students. The seminar was set up to be an open discussion that covered the previously stated topic. Before we met, we were asked to submit questions to our guests/panelists, and our sponsor, Michelle Michl, generated a list of these questions in addition to other questions. I personally learned a lot from this experience, including what a reluctant learner is, why it's important, the biggest challenges, misconceptions, strategies, how to consider if it is the teacher who is the problem, self-efficacy, and other resources.
What is a reluctant learner? In our Zoom seminar, we defined a reluctant learner as an individual (in our case students) resisting engagement with the curriculum. There are many factors that could lead to this, including but not limited to lack of confidence, lack of skills, and having problems at home. This topic is important because there are many students who are reluctant learners. One current reason for reluctant learners is due to the social distancing from the COVID-19 pandemic. We also discussed how social media and technology could be a possible cause, as students have everything they need to know at the tip of their fingers and feel the curriculum is an unnecessary use of their time.
We also discussed the biggest challenges for teachers when it comes to having reluctant learners in the classroom. Some factors were the time and curriculum. The curriculum can be too rigid to allow time and resources to focus on the more reluctant learners. There is also the factor of potentially having excelling students become bored and keeping a good pace for everyone. Another thing the teachers are facing is that they can't seem to get parental support, and they can’t get help or provide any assistance to their children. During the discussion, we continually stated how large of a gap there was between students who were excelling and those who were reluctant.
Some misconceptions that we discussed are scholars choosing not to participate because the students simply do not have any skills versus the students simply don’t care. These misconceptions from a teacher can be extremely dangerous in how they approach students' needs and attitudes as it can hinder a reluctant learner's success even further.
Some ways the teachers help ensure success in their classroom is by making the class predictable with a routine. They also explained that they would put up the same slide during their warm-ups that states for the students what success looks like. They also would have “brainbreaks” and “ice breakers” as transitions and pose questions of the day that are not content-related. Some strategies they used in the classroom were asking questions such as, “Can I help you get started?” instead of, “Why aren't you doing your work?” and, “What do you need from me today?” They also shared that it was beneficial to give students a 5-minute break to regroup. One important thing to keep in mind as a teacher is that students love to have choices, so giving students choices on what problems they want to solve is a great way to engage them.
To be a successful teacher with reluctant learners, one has to; be reflective, have a growth mindset, and apologize to students when needed. These ideas also lead us to the next topic, self-efficacy. You must have positive reinforcements built into your lessons and classroom environment. As a teacher, you need to be aware of what tools/skills your students have that they can use in your classroom. Have your students complete reflections as well. For example, make prompts for them to answer after their test such as, “ How did you study for this exam”? Also, encourage attempts and mistakes.
The panelists also provided us with some resources, such as APL training, attending professional development, and visiting a teacher's classroom and observing. Some additional wisdom they left us with are as follows: Don’t give up, ask for help, go in with an open, growth, and positive mindset, build relationships (especially earlier on), think “every day is a new day”, and “keep the big picture in mind”. All in all, I speak for everyone when I say that we all learned very valuable information during this year's winter seminar.
Kristina Quinn (’23) is a Noyce scholar at Doane University. She plans to teach mathematics in a high-need secondary school.