How to Motivate a Failing Student?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Catsey85, Feb 29, 2016.

  1. Catsey85

    Catsey85 Guest

    Feb 29, 2016

    I am a new teacher who teaches math intervention to 4th grade students. Throughout the school year I have seen many students improve in their classwork and attitude towards learning. However I, as well as the fourth grade teachers, have a student who has never been motivated to work. The fourth grade teachers change homerooms to teach math, reading, science, and social studies. The reading intervention teacher and myself both work with this unmotivated student who is failing. When approached the student lowers his head and shrugs when asked a question. When discussing his grades he replies that he knows he is going to fail, but does not care because he can't be held back again (he was previously held back in an earlier grade). What methods can be used in order to motivate a student who knows he is going to fail, yet does not care?
    SHF likes this.
  3. vickilyn

    vickilyn Multitudinous

    Jul 19, 2014
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    Feb 29, 2016

    Wow, I've got nothing but some questions. Have you talked to guidance? I would want to know something about the family dynamics where a fourth grader is resigned to failing without any regret.

    I am assuming that the CST has evaluated this student? Sometimes apathy is a front that is easier to live with than the admission that the student can't ____________. Many times the parents don't know how to advocate for their children, perhaps because of their own lack of education or knowledge about what is out there to help their student. Perhaps there are home issues that have not been explored, depression, low parental interest, lack of parental support, etc. Sometimes these students will share what is wrong, but I see that as a job for someone with more training and resources. The lowering of the head and shrugs seem to indicate a sense of hopelessness - like there's absolutely no hope that things will get better. That breaks my heart.

    We have all had students we couldn't help, but it is hard to give up on one this age. I don't think I could walk away without exploring the questions in my mind, but sometimes, sadly, we can't save them all, although we never stop trying. Best of luck.
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2016
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  4. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

    Nov 20, 2012
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    Feb 29, 2016

    What does he care about? That information might help in driving less apathy in the classroom.
  5. Kippers

    Kippers Companion

    Jul 7, 2007
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    Mar 1, 2016

    I like this. Finding the ticket to what matters to this child is key. I bet he has experienced only failure, and if there are siblings or neighborhood kids, plus classmates, there could be a lot of teasing, taunting, other things to increase a sense of failure. Nothing makes me more sad than to hear a parent say "I've given up on this child."

    My guess with the head down is that this child doesn't get a lot of support and has lost intrinsic motivation.

    Without making it painfully obvious, extra attention and non-academic side conversations can make a world of difference. Pulling that child in for a lunch or two at your table just to chat will help open up what they like- Star Wars, etc. That can lead to small extrinsic prizes given at close intervals at first, and spread out longer. It shows you care and it's something special that matters to them. Celebrating any success- again a sincere success helps. Printing out a certificate (Word has them online) for classroom success (even on a weekly basis- most improved would work here) gives him something to take home and put on the refrigerator.

    If your school does any kind of positive behavior referrals where the principal reads names of kids caught doing good over the loudspeaker, that's terrific. If you've got a team who will be supportive- even lunch ladies and playground duties or other teachers- who can say "hey- I heard your score went up in reading, tell me how you are doing tomorrow" you are creating a community of support.

    If he feels less alone, and wanted and valued, something will turn around. This is so time consuming, but you are so good to try.

    It's easy for me to post this, while I have a student who is doing everything he can to cause damage. Mad, I handle poorly. Sad, given time, and others on board we can turn around.
    adeeb likes this.
  6. alacris

    alacris Rookie

    Feb 23, 2016
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    Mar 8, 2016

    Let your kids know that failure is often a part of the learning process, and let them fail without penalty. Kids who are not afraid to fail are more willing to accept scholastic challenges and less likely to sabotage their own academic efforts.

    Extrinsic motivation is likely to result in limited progress that vanishes when the reward disappears. So be discerning when offering rewards for good work.
  7. blazer

    blazer Connoisseur

    Feb 18, 2009
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    Mar 8, 2016

    Strategies I have seen or have used.

    One friend in a special school had a demotivated student who was an Ice hockey nut. Not a mainstream sport in the UK but she knew I was a fan. I had a rummage around and found a selection of hockey bits and pieces ranging from pins and pucks right up to a Czech international (replica) jersey. She put them into an order and set him targets to achieve to get each thing in turn leading up to the jersey. She said it really got him focused.

    Something I have used with teenagers is a positive report. The pupil is given a ticklist of achievable behaviours such as having pens/pencils/ listening/ completing tasks/ being on time/ completing HW. Each lesson the teacher just ticks those behaviours achieved and each morning I check the list from the previous day and praise the pupil when they get lots of positive ticks and comments. Pupils see that they can actually be positive and this usually results in better grades and a more enjoyable school experience for them (and their teachers)! I always tell colleagues that the report is for positive things only. If they have any negative stuff then that has to go through the usual channels. I normally find that the negative stuff reduces.
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  8. adeeb

    adeeb Rookie

    Dec 23, 2014
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    Mar 8, 2016

    I love your whole answer, and this part stuck out to me. There must be a reason that the student doesn't care about his grades, whether it is discouragement earlier on in life, his being accustomed to failing, or something else. I think showing him that you care and knowing him on a personal level will help in this situation. When you've developed a closer relationship to him, he knows you will be rooting for him to succeed, and he won't want to let you down.
  9. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Jan 12, 2011
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    Mar 10, 2016

    I agree and find helpful most of the other comments so far, from the growth mindset-oriented ones to the "find what is interesting" ones.

    There are a number of reasons why a child may lack motivation, from stuff going on at home interfering with concentration to a simple lack of enjoyment of core learning tasks such as reading. Personally, I enjoy getting information from books, but the physical act of reading honestly just isn't that much fun.

    One of the biggest reasons for lack of motivation is lack of experience with success. Motivation is often experiential, meaning that kids often need to experience success with something before they feel motivated to do it. Often times, we assume it's the other way around (kids need to be motivated, then they will start to do it). Some of the hobbies, skills, and professional endeavors that I've found most motivating and rewarding in my own personal life got their start because I happened to do something in that department, and found success in it (e.g., I enjoyed it, was complimented on it, found I could do it well).

    So, following that logic, I think you've got to create a scenario in which this child experiences success 90% of the time. Over time, hopefully the child will start to find motivation in education because he comes to the realization that he's good at it. In order to do this, the first step is obviously a highly individualized instructional program in which he's only given stuff he can do. Challenges are introduced slowly and deliberately, and at first should be challenges that you're sure he can do successfully.
  10. SHF

    SHF Rookie

    Jun 20, 2016
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    Jun 24, 2016

    Thanks for sharing your story! Do you have any advice for a pre-service teacher who will be completing student teaching in an emotional behavioral support room for kids with ASD and EBD? I'm looking for online/tech strategies and tools to help motivate and build trust/community! Thank you so much in advance.

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