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How to reach our most challenging students

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How to reach our most challenging students

What challenges with students do you find most difficult to overcome? Is it more difficult to teach a struggling student complex concepts or motivate an obstinate student to be willing to work? Is it more difficult to accommodate substantial learning disabilities or engage an uninterested student in boring tasks?

Though certainly not true in all circumstances, most educators when expressing the challenges that gray their hairs and wrinkle their brows dwell on problems of motivation and engagement. Whether they truly are more difficult, it is no surprise that such challenges feel thusly because attempting to motivate an uninterested or resisting student is nearly always less fulfilling than attempting to teach a struggling though willing learner.

The Case for 2×10

The case can be made with absolute certainty, then, that any strategy that is clearly linked to making progress in such challenges is worth pursuing. However, the case is even stronger when it suggests the possibility of progress even beyond the immediate challenge.

That’s what researcher, author, and psychologist Dr. Raymond Wlodkowski found when studying an intervention he called The Two-minute Interview. When conducted effectively, the intervention demonstrated not only a substantial improvement in the behavior of the student in question but also notable improvements in the rest of the class.

How can this be? In short, when the most disruptive or disengaged students in a given context improve their behaviors, others take note. Therefore, it is safe to assert that when facing an especially challenging classroom or group of students, we are well-served to identify those individuals pushing hardest against us and implement the 2×10.

What is 2×10?

2×10 is a relationship-building strategy that, as noted, ought to be reserved for those students with whom we are making little or no progress via broader means. This is because the strategy itself is somewhat time-intensive and cannot be implemented effectively with more than a small handful of students at any given time.

(For more on the 2×10 strategy, check out this entry in our Instructional Strategies Library.)

The strategy involves 10 two-minute one-on-one conversations with the targeted student, held over 10 consecutive days (or at least, school days). The topic of the conversations is personal, not academic, and is motivated singularly by the desire to get to know the student better on a personal level: likes and interests, hobbies and activities, family and friends, etc. 

From the perspective of the student, the strategy is a clear demonstration that the teacher likes me, cares about me, and knows me.

How and When to Implement 2×10

Because the strategy requires a commitment to both the duration of conversation and the consecutive reiteration of interactions, it is not a strategy to be used in high volume. It is also not a strategy to be used repeatedly with the same student. 

Instead, I identify that student (or two perhaps) who most resists my broader and briefer efforts to connect and establish an opportunity to interact regularly. Whether there is time before or after class or during some independent task or another, I need to ensure that it allows the full two minutes and is unlikely to be interrupted. Interruptions in both the time or the daily iteration may decrease the effectiveness of the strategy.

Look for more effective strategies to engage and motivate students? Check out our 4-week Fostering Engagement micro course!

Zach Ripley

Author Since: May 31, 2017

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