Back to school: Motivating students to re-engage with the curriculum


Following an extended school absence the most important question we should consider is: “How do we motivate our students to re-engage with the curriculum we are offering?” For some students time away from school will have been a relief from the pressures of learning and others may have found alternative activities, both good and bad, that have provided them with a feeling of success. Learning without the guidance and support of teachers may have fostered feelings of failure in some, damaging their belief in their capabilities.

An effective action plan

Getting children physically back into school in the first instance will be a strong focus for many leadership teams. Time away from school may have given some of our young people the opportunity to be poorly influenced by peers or even the adults around them. An effective action plan to engage the community on the importance of all children returning to school, and how to do this safely, will be key. 

We are social beings, we value relationships and interactions with others. Following an extended school absence the initial focus should be on re-establishing and, if needed, building strong trusting relationships between teachers and school staff. Children, teenagers in particular, need a sense of belonging, a group identity and affinity. They need to feel their teachers care about them and have a genuine interest in their wellbeing and learning. Trust is key - doing what you say you will do – as is providing clear expectations and sticking to them, even when a child is displaying behaviour that is disruptive and challenging. 

Maintaining a classroom that breeds respect is crucial. You should consistently model behaviour that communicates what is desirable, be it your school’s core values, learning habits or core purpose, as well as the belief that every child is capable of making progress and learning. Ensure behaviour management routines are practiced by students and consistently enforced by staff so that they become habitual - this may include new routines around increased hygiene and social distancing. 

All of these steps will be crucial on our return to school to build strong relationships in order to engage and motivate our students in their learning. We all know that students will listen and learn from those teachers they like and respect, therefore a focus on ensuring all children achieve a strong score on the PASS factors, Attitude to Teachers and Feelings about School will be vital.  

Through a carefully planned curriculum, focused on quality formative assessment and efficient lesson planning to take the shortest and most direct path to learning, we can ensure all students achieve the core learning outcomes. We must constantly ask ourselves, “What will my students be thinking about when completing this task?” If it is not focused on the learning objective then it is not efficient. For example, creating a PowerPoint may be fun but if a student is focused on using the best animation, background and font, the learning will be in creating a PowerPoint not in learning the core ideas. 

If we ensure our young people have a reason for coming to school - they want to be a part of the school community, spend time with their peers and feel safe and cared for by their teachers - we will have a good chance of creating learning environments in the classroom that breed success and therefore motivation. By doing this, we will rebuild feelings of self-efficacy, learning ability and capability to create happy and healthy schools. 

PASS (Pupil Attitudes to Self and School) is an all-age survey that will help you understand your students’ mindsets as they come back to school, and if they are confident, ready and motivated to learn. PASS includes a ready-made collection of PASS Interventions, which provide ideas on how to address any issues identified in your results. From September 2020, we will also provide additional interventions, specifically designed to build student confidence after a prolonged absence from school. 

Nicola Lambros Director Of Education Cognita

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