Motivating Teens who do not want to Learn

Unless teenagers can see some RELEVANCE to their lives, they do not wish to learn. Unless there is a purpose in homework or study, the student rarely commits to completing the work. The days of learning because students should learn are gone. The element of duty is lost for teenagers.

I am leading a “push” at my high school to teach differently. It is not easy! I am an English teacher, a History/Geography teacher and a Drama and Art teacher if necessary. Where possible, I integrate these disciplines in a single lesson. If the class is one of battling 15 year olds, I add a few “life skills” connections. And that is the “winning card”. Integrate, not separate, disciplines and give the learning a life value; give the learning relevance to life.

To cite a particular example of a 16 year old boy, who could see no need to begin sentences with a capital letter. Yes! Horrifying! But I tried to do something about it. I learnt that all he wanted in life was to be an electrician. Somehow, studying a novel had no place in his scheme of things (nor did any punctuation for that matter). We talked about what it meant to be an electrician. Then, we talked about the necessary paperwork!
“So your bills have no capital letters? What will your customers think? Are they going to guess what you mean or maybe get another electrician?”
You can see where this conversation goes. Yes! His use of capital letters has improved radically AND so has his sense of clear organization.

What about the student who sees no meaning in writing poetry? Take them into an Art room or a Music room. Let them add some painting/drawing to their poetry OR write in response to music! Suddenly, the whole wish to learn something new changes, because now there is a connection with teenage interests.

Once this “groundwork” is established, you would be amazed how it can be extended. Back to the “electrician” student. He still can’t be encouraged to read a novel (but I’m working on that!) but he now will read the newspaper! He is reading advertisements, to get an idea how he can advertise his electrical expertise! In his peripheral vision, he notices other articles. Sometimes, he reads them! That is at least a start!

But what of the potentially academic student who is just lazy? The one who relies on class notes and discussions but is totally unmotivated to study? Leave questions unanswered at the end of class discussions! The answer will be discussed next lesson! But that means the student, who loves to air views, may have to do some research! This is a wonderful tactic for senior high school students! Their homework has relevance because they want to “look good” next lesson and be prepared! There is a connection! It is not homework for the sake of homework!

I believe the days of mutually exclusive subject areas are diminishing. After all, in the workforce, jobs rarely involve one particular skill. The multi-skilled worker is preferred to the specialized one. Life is not about boxes and labels but about connections.

Students are keenly aware of wanting to enjoy life. They want part time jobs, schooling and time to have fun! In other words, 21st century society is demanding that we teach students differently. Students only see the worlds having immediate meaning to their lives. That is their real world! Unless we teach to their reality AND THEN endeavour to take them down new roads of experience, we can never reach them. Give them a reason, give them a purpose, give them relevance and they will learn.