8 Ways to Turn a Lazy Learner Into a Learning Addict
Hello, my name is Ginger Lewman and I am a lazy learner. Or rather, I was a lazy learner. And can fall back into those habits easily when I’m allowed to. Just like every other lazy learner, we can pick and choose where we put our efforts and interests. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
You see, just like the lazy learners in your classrooms, I was the kid who did exactly the work that was required to get exactly the outcome I wanted and not a pinch more, never mind I could have exploded the top of the lesson if I chose to. But why would I? I was having a lot of fun outside the classroom and doing more or better school work would get in the way of my social life. So, even though I was a “good” kid that few, if any teachers would have disliked, it could safely be said that most of my teachers found me infuriating. I know this because starting in first grade, every single parent teacher conference found my mom listening to a litany of, “Ginger isn’t working to her potential.” Never mind I was making an A or a B in the class. And so I got to hear a quick, half-hearted lecture from my mom about how I should try harder as my dad told her to back off because my grades were great.
And now as a classroom teacher, I’ve had many lazy learners pass through my classroom doors, just like you. And all the teachers know us as lazy learners at least by the 2nd quarter. We skate by not studying or by reading something else in class instead of the assigned work, or even failing to try any work at all and, consequently failing your class, even though you KNOW we have the potential to rock it out.
Raise your hand if you know that kid.
Raise your hand if you were that kid too…
Too many of our brightest minds have become amazingly clever in their avoidance of academic struggle. “Why work hard when I don’t really have to?” Truly bright students with the potential for bright futures are tuning out and dropping out because they’re not yet fully addicted to the joys of learning deeply. When passions and interests are fully invoked in the everyday learning process in every class, even the lazy learner can turn into a learning addict.
- Respect who they are and that they’re not you. You’re an educator. You love school. Maybe they don’t. You’ve learned to be a learner in a different environment and world than which they’re currently in. the world outside of school is growing in customizability. Ever-personalized. School is trying. Well, some schools are…But even the best schools aren’t there yet. Because there is no “there” to get to in an ever-changing world, right?
- Find interests — even within the content you have. How can you break down the topic into smaller components and let the kid dive deeper into one? Are you studying a period in time? Have them study the wars/weaponry. Or the role of women. Or the famous criminals (they’re learning the civilization’s legal structure). Or the fashions of the times…whatever piques their interest.
- Find their learning preferences — Do they prefer to work alone? in a group? late at night? with music? on computer? analog? standing, walking, lounging? doodling? And note that these choices may change from day to day or topic to topic. And that’s ok. Remember, our world outside of school is so very personalized. Let’s learn how to manage the myriad of choices we have now.
- Let them make choices. Coach them through those choices. Are those working for them? Would it be a good idea to tweak the choice? Chuck the choice? How did it work last time?
- Steer toward the controversial situation or the situation that invokes a deep sense of justice. Nothing hooks a kid like a juicy unknown or a battle between right and wrong.
- Create flexible time to go DEEP. Too many flips in topics and settings per day keeps our engagement shallow and allows our lazy learners to focused on the finish line, not the learning.
- Consider flexible finish lines — have the opportunity for the kid to opt out at a logical finish if they’re no longer interested. Create slow-burn hooks where we hook them into a deeper level so the finish lines get farther away while sustaining deep interest. Likewise, allow for a longer dive if they’re still hooked.
- Help them learn to find their own outside-of-real-life mentors. Online connections with your own Professional Learning Network will help role model for kids how to use these fun social networks for learning. So help them develop their own so they don’t have to rely on your network of dorky educators!
“But Ginger, this sounds like a crazy amount of work. I can’t do that for all of my kids! It would be chaos! I have 35 kids in my classroom at a time!”
These recommendations are for your lazy learners. Are all your learners lazy? Then you have a bigger problem than this post addresses! Consider learning more about differentiated instruction or PBL and how to implement those strategies with your kids. That should help a lot of your kids take a deeper interest in learning overall.
But you could also start by adding one tip at a time to your classroom routine for all kids. Pick one you could live with and find a way to work it into an upcoming opportunity. See how kids react. They might lose their minds. It’s ok. It’s their first test-drive with freedom. Coach them into acting like they’ve been in the end-zone before, meaning that this works better if they haven’t lost their minds.
Maybe it’s still too much for you to let your entire class go on these types of options. So then my best recommendation is to start smaller. Much smaller. Find that one kid who truly needs a friend. A mentor. Start there. Develop a relationship with that kid and find academic accommodations that will work to pique his/her specialized interests.
And keep working. The longer a kid has had to perfect academic laziness and disengagement, the longer it takes to bring them back from the brink. Have patience and stay persistent.
Because it matters.