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Some Strategies for Keeping Work Going in the Upper Elementary
November 1st, 2008 by Steve Thorpe

Upper Elementary:

Some Strategies for Keeping Work Going

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Paying close attention to what captures a child’s interest is one of the most effective tools for motivation.

1.   Make sure you present a large number of lessons in every subject area to every child. Give these lessons with the attitude that you are trying to “hook” the children’s interest; it is up to you to capture the child’s attention rather than it being up to the child to find your lessons interesting. Actively work to “find the way” with each child.

2. Through both observation and conversation, find out what each child is interested in and present lessons, create research opportunities, and encourage exploration of these interests.

3.  Search for the underlying cause of the child’s lack of motivation. There is almost always a cause and it usually involves a skill or set of skills that the child feels insecure about. Children like to do what they are good at and shun areas were they feel incompetent. If children successfully shun a topic for long enough, they can prevent themselves from developing their skills in that area and can set themselves up for feeling even further behind. We could address this vicious cycle by forcing the child to perform through assignments, but the gentler, more organic, and ultimately better way is to help the child identify the stumbling blocks and then help him or her work to overcome them. When we give assignments out of our inability to address the underlying problem, we often strengthen the child’s negative association with that area of study and shut them down in that and other areas of life. Often, we also create an adversarial relationship in which the child if forced to submit to the will of the adult.

4.  Set the expectation that everyone works to the best of their abilities. Follow this up with individual conferences in which you discuss each child’s work and set some goals with the child. If a child doesn’t want to follow up on their lessons, then it becomes their job to figure out what they are going to work on. Lack of work then becomes a problem that you work together to solve. Try to find good work partners to help and encourage the child. Try setting daily goals and then evaluate, with the child, what prevented them from focusing or what helped them achieve concentration. Make a list of the problems and solve them together, one by one. You may have to work towards creating a more harmonious classroom culture because social anxiety can make concentration on work nearly impossible for some children. We have to work hard in order to create and maintain emotionally supportive places of learning in our ever changing modern world.

Peer-support creates a much stronger learning environment.

5.  Check to make sure that there is a wide variety of work experiences available to all of the children. We increase the chance that children will unlock a hidden talent or discover and unknown passion when they are allowed to work in a wide variety of contexts. Raising chickens, going on camping trips, playing sports, creating art, performing music, cooking, model making all have the potential to ignite a child’s interests. The goal is to find something that the children are good at and enjoy doing. This becomes an arena through which they can attain mastery. The more paths that we open to the children, the greater the chance that we will be able to ignite the child’s interests and fan the flames of knowledge.

6.  Work to create a supportive class culture that is enthusiastic about learning. We can achieve this by encouraging the children, giving a lot f inspiring and interesting lessons, supporting the children’s own explorations, and setting high standards. When the culture of the class is elevated, then children learn to support their peers. Prevent children from forming non-working groups that socially reward each other for not working.

7.  Help your children set individual goals and then help them explore ways to become accountable to themselves. The goals are always negotiable, but children should be held to a high standard. Always assume that if a child is resisting work, it is because there is some part of them that feels inadequate, they have other unmet needs that are siphoning off their energy, or they truly lack interest and needs more engaging or a wider variety of lessons and work choices.

Copyright © 2008 Steve Thorpe. All rights reserved.
“The teacher, if indeed wise, does not bid you to enter the house of their wisdom, but leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”  – Khalil Gibran

4 Responses  
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