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Connecting with Kids: How to Reach Reluctant Learners

We always hit the ground running in January. We’ve just had a good long break and had some time to relax and review the first few months of the year. It leaves us refreshed and ready to start again!  

The kids are much the same. You can always tell that you’re getting close to vacation by the restlessness in your classroom. But January brings a new calm and maturity.

We always have one or two students, though, who don’t follow that same pattern. They seem restless throughout the year and vacations for them don’t typically help. In fact, they may even make things more difficult. These are typically the students that need a little extra support all the time. They have the most difficulty with change and transitions and need the most support managing their own emotions and behaviors.

So January brings the chance to use your refresh for a restart.

You know the kids we’re talking about. You likely have one or two. These kids need a lot of your time and attention and really benefit from it. But you can’t ever seem to really see lasting changes despite all of the time. 

Learning from Experience

One of our former students was like this. Anxious, restless, and often bored, “John” was a tough nut to crack. He always seemed to be on the outside of things in the classroom. He had friends but preferred to watch instead of engaging. He did his work but only the bare minimum. And asking him to talk or think about himself and his own emotions got you a look that said, “no way, no thanks.” 

So instead of going head-to-head with him, we decided to step back a bit and let him take the lead on his own. Instead of discussions, we watched TV shows (if you know us you know our fondness for old Brady Bunch clips) and video clips featuring characters in different scenarios. Then we used those videos to springboard discussions about the “characters” instead of the students. We used ourselves as models and shared our own ideas and stories.  Over time we’d ask kids to connect themselves to the characters, and then little by little asked questions about them personally. 

It took time. We watched a lot of videos. But eventually, there was more willingness from John to connect his own emotions to different situations. He understood emotions in general, and even the emotions he felt, he just wasn’t comfortable sharing those emotions with others―or really connecting the events that drove those emotions in the first place. Once we spent time showing him how different characters managed emotions and shared some of our own stories, you could see he felt more confident doing it on his own. It really helped him to be less anxious and restless. 

Three Strategies for the Hard-to-Reach Student

If you have a student you’re having a hard time reaching, try these three things.

1. Take a step back and reexamine the situation. Sometimes a fresh look―maybe it’s January―will be the ticket to a new idea or seeing the situation differently.

2. Find a new approach. We almost always suggest videos for kids who are reluctant. It’s not only fun and “not boring,” but it also allows the kids to let characters speak for them. That’s a really safe way to share something―and is often the first step in talking about themselves.

3. Be patient. Change takes time. Give students the chance to feel comfortable and to use different ways to express themselves. It may not be at the pace we want, but it will be at the pace they need. 

Further Reading
This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit
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