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How to Teach a Challenging Learner

From time to time, I’ll hear a parent ask: How exactly do you teach a challenging learner – one who doesn’t seem to want to learn?

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a wide variety of students.

Some have been really easy to teach, while others…well, they’ve been more of a challenge.

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Fortunately, I like a challenge!

So how, you might ask, do you actually teach a child that doesn’t want to learn?

It’s really not as hard as it might seem. It takes consistency and understanding, as well as a bit of creativity, but it is completely possible.

Let me share the secret!

The Challenging Learner

This is the child that seems to defy any sort of focused teaching method…no matter what you try, it just.doesn’t.work.

Schools may classify this child as defiant, hyperactive, or lazy (whether or not this is true).

On the contrary, this child often doesn’t fit any of these descriptions.

Rather, these are the traits they tend to display when they’re forced to sit through instruction that makes no sense to them, that doesn’t come close to causing them to learn.

They want to learn…they simply don’t learn in ways that are typically used in classrooms.

Rather than sitting quietly in a highly structured system, reading a text and filling out worksheets, this child thrives on action and variety.

When taught in a way that he or she understands, impulsiveness shows its true face as quick-witted creativity.

Hyperactive tendencies transform into the ability to take risks and adapt to changing situations.

Defiance and laziness start to take a back seat to a competitive, resourceful nature.

Their strengths begin to surface, and they’re amazing to see.

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Weaknesses of a Challenging Learner

However, this learning style comes with some inherent weaknesses that you will need to help your child compensate for or overcome.

The challenging learner tends to be distractible, to have a short attention span.

This child tends to be disorganized, focusing on the present rather than planning for long-range goals.

While that may be par for the course at age 10, it can be pretty detrimental as an adult.

To keep this child going, you do have to have a variety of learning activities available. However, you also need to slowly and gently teach them how to stick with something, even when it gets “old.”

Notice I said “slowly and gently!”

This is not a skill that your child can learn quickly, no matter how much you may want them to. It just plain goes against their rough and ready nature.

They can, however, learn it. And as an adult, it’s a skill they’ll need.

Homeschool Methods to Consider

For this learner, you’ll want to use a method that plays into their strengths while (over time) shoring up their weaknesses.

This means you’ll want some structure, but you’ll also want enough flexibility to keep up with their ever-changing interests and needs.

Unit studies tend to be a big hit with this student. They are structured enough to keep things in line, but flexible enough to allow them to really dig and explore.

If your student is motivated to learn and just needs to do so in unconventional ways, unschooling (also called delight-directed learning) may also be a good choice.

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With these two methods, you can structure your student’s learning to fit their needs fairly easily, and you can change things quickly when they need it.

However, you can also work in the lessons they would otherwise resist, like sticking with a “boring” or uncomfortable task.

When much of their learning fits them so well, they’re more likely to stick through the few things they don’t enjoy!

And at the end of the day, that’s the goal. Teach them what they need to learn while allowing them to learn about what they love.

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