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Is Your Student Lazy?

How do teachers deal with students who do little work?

This is an issue that all teachers face. We want our students to learn and they cannot learn if they do not “do” anything. They have to be willing to think and that takes effort and momentary confusion until the person understands.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve used that worked for me in my classroom:

  1. Meet with the student away from other students. Ask them what is keeping them from doing the work. Sometimes a student will simply say, “I don’t know.” Usually they’ll give you some insight into the issue. Here are some of the answers that I’ve gotten and that stand out in my mind:

    1. I’m sorry Mrs. Dibble, it’s not your assignment, my parents had a big fight last night and I’m still upset about it. I can’t think right now. (I give sincere empathy and then contact the school counselor)

    2. What’s the point? I don’t see how learning this is going to help me in life. (This was early on in my teaching career so after hearing comments like this I worked diligently to find relevance for each lesson-Example: ions-real-life hook lead-in-ionic foot bath scam, alkaline water-legitimacy, electrolytes and athletes, etc….) Once I started doing this, I didn’t get this response anymore.

    3. “I don’t know.” This is a hard one and requires further discussion because the student may truly not know. Typically they have simply given up and are probably depressed. I reach out to the parents/guardian at this point for a conference. Sometimes this leads to counseling.

  2. Check to see if the student has challenges with reading. Some students give up if the reading level is too high. Then pair this student with another student that has a higher reading level or a table team that does and ensure that your lesson plan includes partner shares. Reach out to the Resource teacher at your school and see if this student can get additional support.

  3. The student does not believe in themselves or their ability. They have tried in school in the past and not performed well so have developed the “learned helplessness” approach to school. Why try? Trying didn’t work before so if they don’t try, they won’t look stupid. They’ll just look lazy. This is a tough situation. This is when I started to teach my students about the brain and how learning really works. Over time I developed my own “brain training” curriculum and the more my students learned how their brains work the more they started to try again and realized that they are not stupid, they simply didn’t understand what they had to do to truly learn. This was VERY satisfying for my students and for me. I explain some of this in one of the chapters in first book, Wait, Don’t Quit. My second book will provide a detailed/expanded version of this chapter.

Final Thought: Usually students are not lazy. They have a reason that they gave up. Teachers can ask themselves if the lesson is one that they are excited about and that hooks the student into learning. Or, take the time for that student, away from other students to try and get to the bottom of what is going on.

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