Whether you're a new teacher, a seasoned veteran, or anywhere in between, you likely have the experience of trying to teach when a student refuses to work. In schools, it's sometimes simply called a “work refusal”. It's the scenario when a student, for some reason, just refuses to start the work you give them.
Sometimes when a student refuses to work, they just rest their head on their desk or act out in anger. At times the teacher might be told, "I'm not doing this." Other times, students just will not complete the assignment.
When a student refuses to work, it can be extremely frustrating. So what can you do? In this post, you discover:
- Quick To Do / Don't Do List with Students Who Refuse to Work
- 8 Brain-Based Strategies for Work Refusal
- FAQ About Work Refusal
- Classroom Climate Strategies
- Suggested Resources
Let me say, that sometimes our lessons themselves can have little to no impact if a student refuses to work. So let's tackle this challenge with techniques and methods.
What to Do (and Don't) When Students Refuse to Work
If you're reading on your phone, you'll probably appreciate this quick list. And if this is all you read, you'll probably take away a few great ideas to help when a student refuses to work.
When a student refuses to work, it can often take an artful balance of just the right techniques from the teacher. This is not easy, but a few tools in your teaching repertoire can help.
Let's dig deeper into a few teaching tools.
9 Brain-Based Strategies for Work Refusal
Thanks to Todd Finley for inspiring these eight strategies that focus on the whole child by enhancing student-teacher relationships and personalizing learning. They are:
- Learn What They Love
- Chunk Tasks
- Show You Care
- Increase Focus
- Be Consistent
- Diagnose Reading Problems
- Try Video Mentors
- Give Choices
- Praise Small Victories
FAQ About Work Refusal
These are frequently asked questions that we've received about students who refuse to work in class.
What can I do when a student refuses to work in class?
- Meet With The Student.
- Address Behavior Privately.
- Phone Home.
- Build A Relationship With The Student.
- Ask Other Teachers.
- Stop Doing The Things That Don't Work.
- Give The Student A Meaningful Role In The Class.
- Positively Reinforce The Student.
- Plan on Ignoring the Work and Simply Talk to the Student.
- Address the Work Refusal and Provide Choices.
- Be Patient While the Student Builds Trust in You.
What is a student refusal to work contract?
A work refusal contract spells out what is expected of the student, how the teacher will support the student, how the student can get help, how the student will communicate the need for a break, and possible rewards or consequences for work refusal. A work refusal contract empowers the student with a set of strategies and routines.
Do I need to document everything I do?
No. Your job is to teach. However, you should keep a simple log of what methods you try each day and then a simple check or minus to indicate if the method created a positive response from the student. If student work refusal persists, this log can come in handy with a response to intervention team.
Can I use peer pressure to motivate students who refuse to work?
Positive peer pressure is a natural motivator and may prove successful in some cases. Non-threatening peer evaluation or buddy systems can provide mild accountability, a sense of community, and social interaction to help motivate reluctant learners.
What if the student is just lazy?
Can you define lazy? Is the student tired? Does the student appear to have low energy or appear to be sad? Is the student misunderstanding directions? Does the student have unproductive work habits? Is the student easily distracted?
Each of these questions point to different functions of the student's work avoidance. Digging deeper than "lazy" might provide insights into why the student is avoiding work.
What if a student refuses to work in a group?
Sometimes students prefer to work alone. Is it possible that your class has introverts, extroverts, and a blend in between? Of course. Not everyone works in teams in real life. Not everyone works alone. Maybe there are times where independent work (or at least the choice) is more appropriate than forcing group work.
What are reasons for student work refusal?
If a student is outwardly refusing to do work in the classroom, there is always a reason. And yes, the reason shouldn't outweigh the reason to be productive and do school work, but let's be real.
Quite often, we don’t know the individual reasons for student work refusal. Some reasons include:
- A history of trauma.
- Emotional changes (divorce, new siblings, parent work schedules).
- Social change (friendship conflicts, rumors, bullying).
- Work habits.
- Reading level.
Classroom Climate Strategies
Sometimes subtle changes in the classroom climate or atmosphere can impact students in positive ways. The follow classroom climate strategies may be all that's need to help some students who refuse to work in class.
- Emphasis on effort and growth over high scores and achievement. (More on growth mindset)
- Encourage risk-taking. Celebrate student attempts even when inaccurate, that's how we grow!
- Make students feel welcomed by greeting them at the door, giving high-fives, and hold conversations about student life.
- Ensure smooth and effortless classroom transitions.
- Create calm spots in the room for when students need to unwind or be alone.
- Minimize distractions (if they exists). This includes windows, other students, the door way, or noises.
Resources: When a Student Refuses to Work
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