Volunteer Experiences: What do you do with an unwilling student?

Thanksgiving at Mark Twain

For some people, mathematics comes easily. Other students really have a knack for history or social studies, or maybe reading and writing. Of course there are many factors that play into this, such as exposure and how that exposure went. But what do you do when a child seems already determined to not like something? Are there any ways that you have worked around this and changed their mind?
I’ve been experimenting continuously in my after-school program to get some of the more unwilling students excited about writing. What has worked best for me so far is one-on-one conversation in a relaxed tone, finding a way to relate the activity to what I know they do enjoy. Kind of like helping someone attempting to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time, holding on and running alongside them until they get the hang of it, I have been doing small, informal interviews. I assist them at the beginning of an activity by asking them questions that spark their mind and let them fly off in their own direction.
Of course, giving them free reign to write about whatever they want would be the easiest! But working in at least some sort of constraint is worthy to development skills like problem solving. So, because it is a month focused on giving thanks, I asked them to make a list of what makes them feel grateful. This activity let them choose what they want to bring the most details to while staying in a certain topic. Some of their awesome responses included: the whole world, my friends, pizza (there was an overwhelming response for this and), CANDY, my mom and dad, Allen (he was thankful for himself!), bananas, living in Iowa City, my family, my pets.
Lots of the students in the program also love to draw, so they chose to illustrated these reflections and answers! The index cards they wrote on turned out as colorful as their personalities and responses.
Next, we did an alphabet poem—writing a poem with 26 lines, each line starting with the next letter of the alphabet. It took the kids in my group a minute or two to catch on, but after starting with a few examples, one of the boys finished his quickly, timidly seeking suggestions for the more difficult letters like ‘q’ and ‘x.’ However, one girl at my table was not very excited to do the poem. She kept saying she didn’t understand, and I tried showing her what one of her peers was working on. She still said she didn’t “get it,” but I was fairly sure she just wasn’t interested in doing the activity. She didn’t seem to know how to start on such an open ended prompt.
I asked her what music person she knew started with an ‘a.’ “ARIANA,” she exclaimed with wide eyes. From there one, we came up with different music performers and described what they could be doing or wearing. Because we got a late start, we didn’t finish the poem, but she was enjoying jumping from letter to letter, not in alphabetical order but by artists she could think of, filling the sheet up sporadically, and, most importantly, with a smile on her face.

~ By Chelsea Essing


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