Yesterday, I told you that I have a “magic bullet” that turns most of my unmotivated students into eager participants.
As I shared, I’ve been dealing with the issue of motivation since I met my first tutoring client nearly 20 years ago. He clearly did not want to work with me (at first), nor have most of the students in my study skills classes ever since. So I always open my classes by asking them, point blank…
“How many of you are here because your mom or dad made you come to this class?”
80% of the hands go up! (A few of the remaining 20% shoot their hands up at the last second, realizing they probably shouldn’t admit that they want to be there.)
So, I nod my head and explain that I fully understand…
“I get it. I know you’re already tired of doing homework. You’re tired of slogging through school and fighting with your parents over schoolwork. The last thing you want to do is sit here and listen to me shove more work down your throat.
“The good news is, that’s not what I want for you, either. I want you to be successful in school, but I want you to do that with lots of free time left over. You need time for fun in your life—that is what makes life enjoyable. Fun time is also important for adults.
“I want you to earn better grades… in less time! I’ll show you how to make schoolwork easier. Much easier! No one has ever taught you how to learn or get organized, but you can use strategies to do homework and study faster… and get better results! Strategies apply to learning just like they apply to sports, video games, and getting what you want from your parents!”
By this time, nearly all of the students are listening intently. I spoke their language and they’ve started to trust me. This honesty is what your child will need from you.
Priscilla Vail, author of Smart Kids with School Problems, says that emotions are the on/off switch to learning. My words to my students include two strategies that encourage them to keep their “learning switch” in the “on” position.
First, I acknowledge how they feel. I offer sincere empathy for their frustrations (so much work) and desires (more free time). They appreciate knowing that these feelings are “okay” for them to have, and that I “get it.”
Second, I focus on what they really want: success and more free time. The number one reason students are reluctant to learn “study skills” is that they think the only way to do better in school is to work harder. When they learn that they can be successful without hours and hours of extra work, objections melt away.
If you think about it, our children are no different from us. They don’t like lots and lots of work. They also hate it when something is shoved down their throat, the same way we’d hate it if our boss came to us and said, “I don’t like the way you organize your desk, so this is how you’re going to do it!” as he slammed a new whiz-bang program in front of us. Even if we thought our desk could be better organized, we would still appreciate some respect.
So, approach your child the same way you want a “boss” to approach you. Respect and acknowledge their feelings, then focus on the benefits of better grades in less time.
Is this enough to turn every child or teen into a highly motivated student?
Obviously, no… but it is a solid, simple, start. Next step… provide choices!