Question: “I work with a fifth grader and it’s very difficult to get him to do more than one or two math problems during our sessions. He stalls and goofs off and drags his feet so much so that I feel like I am doing the work for him. I’ve tried to motivate him to be more proactive but he doesn’t seem to care about his grades.”
Working with upper grade students can be difficult, especially when it comes to motivating them to work outside of school. One thing that I have found helpful when working with unmotivated students is to give them an academic survey to find out what is truly preventing them from wanting to do work, or as you explained, caring about grades. (See: Sample Math Survey)
The survey should be short in length and include very general statements that your student can answer with “Agree”, “Disagree”, or “I don’t know”. Some examples of statements to include on the survey may be: Math is Boring. I like to do math in my head. I have always disliked math. The great thing about student surveys is that most of the time, students are very honest. Also, surveys provide good information that could help you to prepare more engaging math activities based on the student’s interest. Finally, surveys allow you and your student to have a very honest discussion about math and attitudes toward the subject. In my experience as a classroom teacher and tutor, talking to students about learning can reveal weaknesses and strengths that will ultimately help you when planning work and in forming a closer bond with your student.
One other option is to limit the amount of work you present during a tutoring session. Since you know your student only has the stamina to do 1 or 2 problems, why not limit the session to 1 or 2 math problems, but challenging ones! There are lot of online resources where teachers have made word problems (sometimes called “math story problems”) based on pop culture or certain interests that require a specific math skill to solve. In my classroom, I have also made word problems about specific students in the class. That personalization often increases the level of interest, especially in math.
Ultimately, once a child sees that you are taking an active interest in his/her learning, that child will usually be willing to do any kind of work you present…even math problems! It just takes time to develop the stamina and focus to study. Good luck!
About the tutor: Jackie Romo has been a School in Wheels tutor for nearly 9 years. Aside from tutoring, she teaches first grade in Rowland Heights and recently earned a MS in reading. She is happy to help in any way she can to make your tutoring sessions successful!
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