How to inspire a reluctant learner

As written by Maxine E, a fully qualified UK teacher, and private tutor offering academic support and mentorship in English, Art and Study Skills. Maxine has taught in both Primary and Secondary schools in London, since 2010 and has completed over 2500 hours of private tutoring. To book Maxine as your private tutor, please call +44 (0)207 3856795 or email

My daughter was my inspiration to become a teacher.

I was (still am) dyslexic.

I remember what it felt like to be a reluctant learner.

Those elements combined to create the perfect storm and me into the teacher I am today.

“Have a hook!” (sage advice from my first Head). Not only does this “hook” get their attention, keeping it is a different matter entirely, but it creates a spark, a subtle seed of interest from which their curiosity, fascination and enjoyment of learning can grow. The ‘hook’ comes in all shapes and sizes. It is relevant or random, expected or surprised, planned or spontaneous, but it should last a lifetime…or at least a term or two.

I am in the unique position of having taught in both Primary and Secondary education and being well versed in National Curriculum expectations across all Key Stages has its advantages. You can create hooks and links in student’s learning which helps them consolidate their studies without even realising it. A lesson on Oliver Twist can soon descend into a science lesson if you borrow a skeleton from the Art Department to create Nancy’s corpse. Classrooms become crime scenes, Picasso eases those with an aversion to maths into protractor wielding ninjas once they’ve navigated a Cubist painting. No student will ever forget where or why Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated if Lego is employed and the photographer Slinkachu is copied. Hooks everywhere; the reluctant learner doesn’t even realise they are learning until it’s too late!

This theory was tested when I became a secondary school teacher and given a class of “Band 4” (the school’s terminology, not mine) “challenging students, both academically and behaviourally”. They weren’t joking. After much soul searching, it came down to confidence, frustration and no fun. As Einstein lamented, ‘’It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.” I needed the biggest hook of my career, I needed to escape the classroom…with my reluctant students in tow.

The excitement of a class trip in Primary school is one thing, in Secondary, it becomes a whole other level. Secondary education expects the grind, the head-down, the rote, the monotony that gets results, so to escape the confines of the school walls in the middle of the day to spend time ‘learning’ in a museum or gaining work experience left my teenagers quite giddy. A trip out can-do wonders for a student’s confidence and frustrations, they are suddenly faced with the prospect of meeting ‘non-teachers’ and having these individuals put their faith in them. The sudden trust and expectation from a stranger, with no correlation to a grade, is intoxicating. It transforms the lethargic teenager into a loquacious minefield. Reluctance to learning begins to take a back seat. In addition, the physical change of scene does wonders for waking them up. Usually slouched in chairs, barely able to keep an eye open let alone write the date and underline it, students suddenly possess laser focus and a killer instinct for facts – the 5 W’s coupled with an inability to not accept the first answer is quite disarming. They thrive when inspired, blossom when trusted and their confidence soars when their self-worth is not entirely measured on a number. The reluctant learner does exactly that: learn.

Its easy to get lost in a world of exams and applications, so I continue to mentors’ older students to develop and showcase their employability skills, especially those students whose learning have lacked hooks and grade 9’s are but a distant dream. Reluctant learners thrive with work experience.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge’‘; in other words, have a hook.

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