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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Managing Your Class When Many Students Are Reluctant Learners
Arlyne LeSchack

Many students decide in advance that the work is going to be too hard for them and they may retreat into themselves or they may act out. Either way, as the teacher in charge you need to have strategies to deal with the situation. Here are some tips taken from Classroom Discipline and Control by Fred and Carol Chernow:

  1. Be sure the child knows exactly what to do. Structure the learning situation so that the student fully understands the process. An anxious student will worry about what might happen or what could go wrong and what mistakes he or she might make. Do not assume the student knows what to do.

  2. Have the student compete with his or her own past performance rather than another child in the class. Eliminate peer pressure as much as you can. Ask questions like, "How did you do compared with last time?" or, "Is this what you expected on the test?

  3. Assure the student some success in learning. If the student is fearful of reading aloud in class, provide some practice time or allow the student to use a tape recorder. Let the student draw a book report instead of writing, if necessary.

  4. At first, accept less. Reduce the criteria for success or correctness. Gradually raise your standards to meet the level of the rest of the class.

Many times these students seem to be arrogant or they act as though they don't care. Don't let that attitude fool you; underneath that attitude is a very insecure and anxious child. Often these reluctant learners become immobilized by their fear of failure. We need to help them see that the worst thing that can happen is that they might make a mistake, which only proves that we are human.

You can minimize discipline problems if you develop awareness on the part of the slower and reluctant learner of exactly what the school rules are. Rules concerning student conduct should be clearly stated and reviewed at the beginning of the year. But if things are not working, feel free to say we are starting over, and go over the rules again. Students take more ownership of the rules if they have a part in formulating them. It also helps to explain why we follow certain rules.

Personally, I have always kept my rules very simple. My first rule is respect: That includes respect for yourself as a learner, and respect for others by treating them they way you would like to be treated. I usually explain that if you respect yourself as a learner you're not likely to act foolishly or get into fights. My second rule is to raise your hand if you wish to speak during lessons. Again I explain that when they are working independently or when we are having a discussion it is fine for them to talk, but during a lesson we need to raise our hands. My third rule is stay in your seats unless you have permission to get up. The explanation is similar. These three rules have worked extremely well for me with all elementary grades Pre-K through 6.

As a classroom teacher, I am sure you will have fewer discipline problems if you make the learning as individualized as possible. Again some ideas from the Chernow book:

  1. Plan your classroom environment. Set up listening areas, activity centers and various curriculum corners.

  2. Arrange your books and materials according to subject area and use color coding to help children know where to return things.

  3. Prepare a simple profile for each child; include scores, observations, test marks, strengths and weaknesses.

  4. Have the students help you set up rules for these learning stations.

  5. Schedule learning station work. Decide where the students should go and have a list or board with assignments.

  6. Use contracts with students; decide what is to be done and what the time limits are. Allow students to be involved in the decision making process.

  7. Use the activity centers for part of the day, and whole class and small group instruction for another part of the day.

  8. Share the record keeping with the students; many activities can be self-checking.

Take your time in implementing this plan; try one or two centers at a time. Evaluate the process as you go along. In this type of classroom even the most reluctant learners may find something of interest and be able to succeed in learning.


Chernow, F & C, (1981) Classroom Discipline and Control: 101 Practical Techniques, Parker Publishing Company, West Nyack, New York


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