In a school setting, there is almost always at least one student who seems to make everything difficult. Maybe they refuse to do their work, or maybe they talk so much that no one else can work. Perhaps they argue with the teacher or ignore the teacher altogether. It might even be all of the above! So, how can you deal with a difficult student?
Before you read on, we’d like to help you out. If a teacher has labelled your child a difficult student, go ahead and send them this article. It’ll go a long way toward erasing the stigma while giving your child the educational opportunities they deserve. Happy reading!
What is a Difficult Student Anyway?
The classification of ‘difficult student’ has more to do with the instructor than the student. The student doesn’t necessarily want to be difficult, but they end up being viewed as such by others. Instead of labelling them and moving on, it’s important to take time to understand where the student is coming from.
Imagine you start a conversation with someone, and you tell them you really like cars. Then, the other person completely ignores you and goes on to talk about pencils for the next forty-five minutes. That would be incomprehensibly rude, right?! And that is exactly how some students feel about school. It’s not their fault for being disinterested, but it’s not exactly the teacher’s fault either.
Bridging the Gap – How to Teach a Difficult Student
A teacher needs to teach the curriculum, and students need to learn it. There are many ways to achieve that outcome, but each of those ways won’t work for every student. Some students—those typically labelled difficult—need a different approach, one that resonates with them on a personal level. Here are the best ways to help a difficult student find that spark and develop a love for learning.
1. Connect Passions to Schoolwork
Kids can’t help but get excited about things. A child’s interests might have nothing to do with school, but that’s okay! It’s possible to incorporate a student’s interests into their schoolwork, and it goes a long way toward increasing their level of engagement.
For example, a student who loves dinosaurs will enjoy a reading-comprehension article about T-Rex a lot more than one on a different topic. You can pack the article with everything they need to learn for their grade level, and they’ll be happy to check it out.
This approach works for all subjects too. When it comes to a dinosaur-loving math student, each correct answer could be a clue to a dinosaur-themed riddle, or an instruction to colour in part of a picture that turns out to be a dinosaur when it’s completed. Get creative with it!
2. Play Their Game
What if a student’s passions completely overshadow the entire lesson? That’s okay too! You just have to know how to play their game.
For example, a difficult student might become so involved with their love for dinosaurs that they spend more time pretending to be a dinosaur than anything else. They might distract themselves with dinosaur noises or dinosaur movements, making it impossible to continue with the lesson. But it doesn’t have to be impossible!
You can work these quirks to your (and their) advantage. Turn the whole experience into a game. As an example, when reading a story, tell them they can associate a different dinosaur sound with each word. So, when they read a word, they can follow it up with a dinosaur sound. Not only will this get them invested in the lesson, but it serves as multi-modal learning and can help them develop many more skills than they otherwise would have done.
You can also pull from well-established education resources and slightly modify the lessons therein to fit the student’s interests. This approach works wonders!
3. Focus on Specific Goals
A difficult student might not understand why the curriculum is important. If it seems meaningless to them, why would they do it? That’s why it’s crucial to help students set goals they’re actively working to achieve.
Goals come in all shapes and sizes, and they’ll be different for each student. It’s worth helping the student identify a few short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals they would like to achieve so they can have something to keep them going from class to class. Make sure to remind them of their goals often, and check in with them to see how they’re progressing toward their goals.
For a difficult student, a quick reminder of a goal can help correct contrary behaviour. If a student wants to become a paleontologist in the future, remind them of the little things they need to be doing now in order to achieve that. If their conduct is distancing them from their goal, let them know so they can adjust. This is a great way to incentivize their cooperation while improving their habits in the long run.
4. Set up a Rewards System
Sometimes students need a little extra motivation, and that’s where rewards come in. Rewards can be anything from a few minutes on YouTube to a small toy, and you can experiment with different rewards to help a student develop the skills and habits they need to succeed.
Rewards work particularly well when paired with goals and positive reinforcement. For example, you can negotiate an appropriate reward for doing five minutes’ worth of work and applaud the student for staying focused during that time. In future lessons, you can incrementally increase the goal/reward by having them work for seven minutes at a time, then ten, and so on. Keep it exciting by challenging them to hit new milestones!
Also, remind the student that part of the reward is all the knowledge they’re gaining. Every so often, take a moment to recap how far they’ve come since their lessons have begun. They’ll be amazed to see the progress they’ve made, and it’ll help them realize what a difference their cooperation makes. This further encourages good habits, making life easier for both them and their instructor!
5. Have Faith in Your Difficult Student
When people know that those around them believe in them, they feel a lot more capable and confident. Make sure to tell your difficult student that you have faith in them, and give them positive reinforcement as they go through their learning journey.
It’s important to maintain a level head and exercise patience. It won’t always be easy, but students respond better to calm, understanding instructors than impatient, quick-tempered ones. Instead of getting frustrated by difficult behaviour, remind the student why you’re doing what you’re doing and move forward.
If you make it plain that you believe in your student, they can start to believe in themselves. This belief leads to confidence, and confidence can lead a student to want to do their work. At that point, learning is no longer difficult, and the student can make the most of their education opportunities.
We Can Help with Difficult Students
At Tutoring…With a Twist*, we never see students as difficult. All students are unique, and they each need a unique approach that works for them. That’s why our tutors come prepared with lessons custom made for each individual student.
Also, our tutors go beyond the curriculum by focusing on developing life skills. This helps students become responsible and accountable in the real world as well as in school. It’s all part of our signature twisted approach to learning!
If you think you’re ready to see what the twist has to offer, feel free to contact us. We would love to be a part of your success!
*Services provided by With a Twist Education Ltd.