Motivating a Struggling Learner

Posted on January 1, 2017

My daughter has several learning disabilities. As a result, traditional learning is one of the last things she wants to do. She loves to explore new physical activities in her acrobatics class, loves to learn about science from the Wild Kratts show, and loves to try her hand at cooking. But pull out a math book, and she is literally running from the room.

She has a perfectly good brain, but the process of understanding and hardwiring new information can feel so difficult, almost painful. No wonder, she is resistant. But this resistance causes her to fall further and further behind her peers.

So we have a couple of options: Try to shove an atypical learner into the typical mold, or adapt the learning to her.

While we do some traditional textbooks and workbooks, we try to work alongside her and provide information in ways that she can better process. Here are some of the teaching methods that have worked for us at different times throughout her education.

Start a challenging lesson/subject with ball tosses.
Not only is this scientifically proven to help kids with learning challenges, it’s fun. It makes us forget we’re doing schoolwork, and it strengthens our relationship. Recently we’ve used this fun koosh ball, but any will do. We toss two-handed, then toss right hand to right hand, and then left hand to left hand. We incorporate our other kids if they want to be included. Options are unlimited.

Treat reading intensive lessons as read-alouds.
I read science books or history books to them while they illustrate the lessons. Older kids can write a paragraph on the topic, while challenged learners can narrate back verbally or answer questions. If focusing is a challenge, offer silly putty or play-do in a plastic bag to squish and squeeze during the reading.

Diffuse frustration with alternatives.
When my daughter’s frustration is higher one day, or a particular lesson is upsetting her, she can take a break and do keyboarding lessons on my computer, listen to audiobooks on her bed, or take a break outside. The more flexible I can be with her schooling, the more she learns, in a positive atmosphere. When she realizes I’m not going to push her too hard or become frustrated myself, she can trust me to try the lesson again later.

Incentives.
Figuring out how to incentivize your child effectively can help tremendously. My daughter is a kinesthetic learner and loves charts. We have used an apple tree chart, where she “picked” the velcro apples as she learned the subjects written on them. Currently, each child has a chart they have made, and they receive a sticker when their work is done for the day. My struggling learner needs even more immediate feedback on her progress. So she receives pennies as she works, a few for handwriting pages, five for math pages, and so on. The clink of the pennies is motivating and she gets to redeem them later for electronics time.

There are many options for motivating different kinds of learners. Just keep trying until you find what works for your child.

And if you have had success in this area, please share in the comments what has worked for you!

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