For our column, Ask an Educator, we turn to educators, whether teachers, tutors, or principals, to answer frequently asked questions from parents. To send in your question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, our questions are:
“Why is my child not interested in anything? How do teachers motivate bored students?”
Many anxious parents approach me and say, “Why is my kid not interested in anything? He got D in science last term, an E in literature…” “She won’t listen to me and doesn’t want to do homework…”
Questions like these are mainly asked by the parents of teenagers. Is it true that a kid is not interested in anything? I don’t think so. Here are the most likely reasons that parents feel that way:
- Many teenagers are going through puberty and want to be cool. They are reluctant to discuss their interests or hobbies with their parents since they don’t believe that the parents can understand what they are talking about.
- Many students don’t have a say in deciding what they will learn, or what they will do in the future. Their parents have planned everything for them, and expect their children to do whatever is necessary in order to reach the goals the parents have set for them. Those students just follow their parents’ instructions and consider the tasks boring labor.
- Some students feel that their interests will be considered bad habits or a waste of time. For instance, many kids enjoy playing computer games such as Minecraft, or watching TV shows and movies.
So, now we know that it’s not that a kid does not like anything; it’s just that parents do not know their kids’ interests, or they don’t know how to turn their kid’s “useless” interests into something useful.
Then, how can teachers motivate students and integrate students’ “useless time-wasting interests” into academic tasks?
Teachers should always respect students’ interests and be patient and empathetic. Given encouragement, students enjoy talking about their interests and sharing their opinions.
One of our students came to us to improve her reading ability and to cultivate an interest in reading. Her mom told me that she never had the initiative to read.
After the first class, her teacher discovered that she enjoys watching movies, but her mom thought that watching movies is a waste of time. Her favorites were the Harry Potter movie series because she is crazy about wizardry and witchcraft. So, her teacher talked about the scenarios, plot, and characters in the movies and told her about some of the differences between the movies and the books. Then, the teacher encouraged her to read the novels to find more differences and to compare the novels with the movies.
After three months, the girl had read all the Harry Potter books. She had rewritten the ending of the story, successfully finished reading a report analyzing the writing style of J.K. Rowling and the characters in Harry Potter, and she made a poster and gave a presentation to introduce the wizards and witches of the series.
Teachers can motivate students by connecting their interests to something that can bring them a sense of achievement.
For example, we had a student who likes to play Minecraft and is good at the game. He wants to introduce this game to more people and help beginners learn quickly, so his teacher asked him to write player instructions. He researched the history of the game, the designer, and the timeline of the development of the game.
By the end of the course, he had successfully finished a 36-page tutorial book for beginners, which his friend said was very helpful. He was so proud of his book that he posted a picture of the book on his WeChat moments. Then, he decided to write two more books for intermediate and advanced players.
I’ve named only a few ways for parents and teachers to motivate students to learn. There are many more ways to motivate children as long as we can link the student’s weak subjects or areas needing improvement to their real interests. The key is to let children work on something that they can feel proud of, give them a sense of achievement, or relate to their daily lives.
Photo: courtesy of Mavis