If we're not talking technology these days, we are talking about engagement and reluctant learners. In a district twitter chat #byronedchat April 6, my colleague challenged the group by asking us to define reluctant learners. A great discussion ensued, but it left me thinking about those kids for the next few days.
I think education has fallen into a bad habit of trying to label a broad set of behaviors because people believe if you can label it, you can clearly "fix" it. Several great colleagues chimed in offering their interpretations:
@RockyChat3 aptly defined a reluctant learner as "someone who doesn't move thru a prescribed curriculum as expected...which is an awful def."
@JanelleGroehler offered "Ss who has difficulty or doesn't have confidence in their skills or knowledge in engaging in the curric."
The Twitter conversation moved to a more difficult conversation of our expectations, as teachers and as a system. Real challenges were posed as to what role conformity plays in our perceptions of "reluctance" and if conformance is really the goal. Do "good" students conform to our expectations and "bad" students not? Or is our goal to help the students learn by meeting them where they are?
I responded that night, and still believe, that this term is applied to a wide variety of kids for a wide variety of reasons-too wide to "fix" with a single solution, even one as temptingly neat and tidy as to just "increase engagement." I see kids who are "reluctant" for so many reasons that to label them all the same is a tragic dis-service. In twenty years of teaching, I have seen "reluctance" in:
- students with high intelligence
- students with low self-esteem
- students with learning disabilities
- students with bad home situations
- students with personal issues
- students who cannot see their futures
- students who hate school, the subject, me, or some combination thereof
- students. period.
I believe in being proactive in all things, and reaching students is no different. I don't want to respond to behaviors or performances after the fact and respond only to the symptom, not the cause. I truly believe the key to reaching all learners is through relationships. Once solid relationships are built, then keys to the real causes of a student's "reluctance" can be uncovered and only then can real solutions be sought. It may be as simple as needing encouragement, a different why, a different presentation, or a whole new structure.
We can't treat these kids all the same, there is no magic method, system, or technology to "cure" them, especially since many of them don't need "curing" at all. They need teachers and administrators who care about students as individuals, who are willing to engage with students in dialogue about their learning, and who will take risks to ensure learning for every student.