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Reluctance or Lack of Interest?

Reluctant is a term that is regularly used in education. If you are a parent of a child who struggles with a particular curriculum area there is a high likelihood that their approach to some aspect of their learning has been described this way.

Often, when children experience difficulty with a task for an extended period they are deemed reluctant. You may have heard reluctance associated with writing or reading, or, a reluctance to contribute to class discussions or engage in maths activities for example. This reluctance is then tied to an inability to perform a task which subsequently leads to poor performance or lack of skills and knowledge.

The dangerous thing about the term reluctant is that in an attempt to describe behaviour we are failing to identify why this behaviour has developed in the first place. Reluctance is used almost as an excuse, a mental and/or physical block that inhibits a child's ability to grow and learn. If your child is not under the tutelage of a skilled practitioner, someone who knows how to break down this block, then there is very little hope this reluctance can be shifted.

My question to you is, is it reluctance, or is it lack of interest?

We need to realise that now more than any other time in history, children have access to a plethora of stimuli and ways to express themselves. Therefore, it is now more than any other time in history up to those of us in education to shift the landscape of learning and respond to the world that children live in.

That's the secret to breaking reluctance. Responding.

"If we keep doing what we've always done, we will get what we've always gotten."

You see, a reluctant writer will always be a reluctant writer until we find something they're interested in to write about. Or, until we provide them with an alternative to pencil and paper. A reluctant reader will continue to demonstrate reluctance if they are asked to read a book they cannot relate to.

Responding is also about taking into account personal circumstances. Children who are reluctant to engage in maths activities may be so because they don't have an understanding of the concept, or because they don't see it as relevant.

I'll use an example that would be seen in classrooms the world over. An age-old method for teaching discounts and percentages is to use catalogues and have children choose items and calculate savings on particular items. Catalogues...

When was the last time your child picked up a printed catalogue and flicked through it to find a toy they liked? Actually, when was the last time you did that? This activity was exciting and engaging when I was at school. I vividly remember the excitement of planning a party using a supermarket catalogue.

That was almost 20 years ago.

Would it not be more socially and culturally relevant for children to look at online advertising and promotions for items they are interested in? Jessica might have no interest at all in planning a party for the class, but she sure has an interest in looking at how much she could save on a new set of headphones on eBay.

Building interest in learning leads to growth because it develops a personal connection to the intention of the learning. Reluctance to any learning is born out of a lack of interest, however, the flip side is that engagement is born out of creating interest.

Granted, there are factors such as cognitive impairments and other learning difficulties that impact learning growth, but the fact remains the same. If a child who experiences difficulty with learning is interested in the learning taking place, then they too will engage in the process more deeply. Every single person on earth learns at a different rate. It is our interest in what we are learning that allows us to engage and grow at all.

Learning growth is not linear, nor should we measure learning growth as an apples to apples comparison. Yes, we do and should measure learning outcomes based on the curriculum, this is extremely important. It is however equally as important to value the learning growth of each individual as they exist in distinction from the group. Learning growth has a direct correlation with effort applied and is a powerful motivator for learners and educators alike.

As educators, we must endeavour to allow children to meet curriculum requirements while exploring the world as relevant to them. As parents, we must do the same. We have the power to show children that the world they live in holds endless possibilities and that learning is the key to unlocking them.

We must shift the mindset that there is one approach to learning and that what has been done in the past will work today. This is imperative for the growth of all learners. Let's work to create a cultural shift where children feel excited about the process not because learning is easy but because it is real.

Whether you like it or not school is a part of life, and learning is a part of school. But learning has implications far beyond the four walls of the classroom. I will say it again, learning is the key to unlocking the possibilities that life holds. Learning is exciting for what it does in the now but also for what it brings for the future. That is why I am passionate about building and sustaining a world that values learning. Not just for what it provides now, but for the possibilities it leads to in the future of a world that we cannot even comprehend today.

So, the next time you hear the term reluctant referred to when describing a learner it would be useful to ask "is it reluctance, or lack of interest?

Troy Giess

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