How Do We Convince Students to Learn?

How do we convince our students to learn the content?  This is a question that has plagued teachers since time began.  It seems like no matter what we do, some of our students will be fully engaged (can’t wait to learn), some will be compliant (but can take it or leave it) and some will be fighting us every step of the way.

The students who are excited, either about learning, in general, or about the particular content you have to teach are easy.  It would take real work to turn them off.  For them, the learning is like ice cream – who doesn’t want more?  The students who are compliant are a little harder, but they have reasons for learning which make the teacher’s job easier.  Perhaps they want the good grade, or they understand that your content is a stepping stone to what they really want, but either way, they will take in what you have to offer without too much fuss.

It’s the last group that we really struggle to reach.  These students have many reasons for not wanting to learn the content.  Some come from a rough home life, some come from a supportive home life.  Some of them have goals for their future and some don’t.  Many of them picture themselves in college some day, even though they’re not passing middle school.

One thing that can help to reach these students is to explain what the content can do for them.  Giving them a clear reason for learning this information can give them a reason to study.  All of us want to know “what’s in it for me?” I tell students that learning this will make them smarter.  Often that can make them sit up and take notice.  I see the look in their eyes when I say that.  While they will deny it with their last breath, they all want to be smarter.  Knowing that I’m trying to help them get there often brings them to my side.

Another way to reach them is to show them how this content connects to the real world.  Telling my students that they will need this in college (or even in high school) is meaningless to them.  They have a hard time seeing past the weekend, let alone years in the future.  To them, there’s always time to learn this in the future, when they need it.  Instead, I try to help them see what it will do for them now.

I have discovered that telling them they will see literary references in cartoons, video games, etc often grabs their attention.  Once they start listening, I’ve got them.

However we do it, convincing students to learn the material is one of the most important tasks we have.  How do you engage your students?


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