Like most secondary schools, as we approach the mock exams and then the summer exams, we are spending a great deal of time thinking about and talking about Y11. As we do, one questions seems to make an annual appearance – what are we going to do about the lazy boys?
A quick google search of ‘lazy teenage brain’ throws up a number of articles and TED talks about the differences between the teenage brain and the adult brain (as shown by MRI scans), and how these differences explain the ‘lazy teenager syndrome’. Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore presents a convincing case in her TED talk, ‘The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain‘. These ideas are also explained in this article in The Telegraph. So does this mean that they really can’t help it and that we should just accept their laziness? American psychologist Dr Robert Epstein suggests not. In his paper ‘The myth of the teen brain’ he suggests that these snapshots of brain activity are not enough to draw such big conclusions from, and that other factors such as culture, social expectations and nutrition are more likely to be responsible for teenage behaviour.
In reality, the cause of teenage behaviour is likely to be a combination of a wide range of factors e.g. brain activity, hormones, culture, social expectations, nutrition, friendship groups, parenting etc, many of which we can’t control in school. So, as we always do, we should look at the factors that we can control.
At Durrington, Y11 have just had their ‘Tracking Point’ report. One of the things our teachers report on is the ‘effort’ of each students. Having identified a group of ‘Y11 lazy boys’ I had a look at their reports, and identified the teachers who have given each of these students a ‘consistent’ or better effort score in their subject.
I then asked these teachers, what they do to keep these boys focused and working hard. Here is a summary of their responses – these are real teachers, talking about real ‘lazy boys’ that they are currently teaching and having success with:
- Make sure they know I want the absolute best for them.
- Highlight them on my seating plan as a constant reminder to me. Include on here their most recent assessment grade, so I can show them (when there is progress) that effort = good grades.
- Sit him near the front where I can keep an eye on how he is working.
- Sit him next to a hard working role model.
- Expect him to perform well every lesson! No let up!
- Talk to them all the time about how they are doing and where they want to be in the future.
- In corridors, say ‘Hi’ and as they leave say ‘Have a great day’ – to show them that you care about them as people.
- Never not let them do their best! If they don’t, I make sure they do it again in their own time…..and I’ll make sure I hunt them down! I am unflaggingly (if not brutally) honest with them in terms of their progress!
- Remind him that he is very capable and anything less than his best is just not acceptable.
- Draw attention to the progress he has already made.
- The minute they are looking switched off, ask them a question to re-engage them. Use stories to contextualise the content and re-engage them e.g. ‘you know when…..’ or ‘this is an awesome fact’ or ‘did you know that…..’ Just be relentlessly passionate about your subject!
- Share their successes with other members of staff e.g. tutors, company leaders, and ask them to mention it to them. Again, this shows that you care.
- Set a detention when they don’t do their homework, but also when they don’t put enough effort in to their homework.
- If need be, make sure they are on report for effort. I then sometimes surprise them by putting all ticks at the start of the lesson and saying to them ‘I just know you are going to be awesome this lesson’ (you can always change it if they are not!).
- Scaffold your questions, so the first few are straight forward – allows them to experience success and then build on this.
- Keep stating your expectations, as soon as they are at your door ‘(name) I want you sat down, 2 questions, done in 2 minutes…go, go, go!’
- Direct questions at him, and don’t allow him to opt out.
- Check his work as soon as he has finished and give him feedback – praise what he has done well and tell him how to improve it.
- Constant reminders about homework, especially the lesson before it is due to be handed in.
- Better with a physical ‘paper copy’ of the homework, rather than having to download it etc.
- Use ‘live marking’ during the lessons a great deal with him to address misconceptions and re-frame his responses.
- Talk to him about his hobby (football) when I see him outside of the lesson – helps to build rapport.
- He enjoys the element of competition, especially with his mates, so I use this to my advantage.
- Give him space – set him off on a task and then come back to check it in a few minutes. I don’t constantly nag nag him, otherwise he will switch off (but I do monitor that he is on task).
- I make sure that he completely understands the task, before he starts working on it. Then I find that he is more confident about asking for help when he gets stuck.
- I make sure that I break the task down into very clear ‘chunks’ – and then monitor that he is OK with it 5-10 minutes later.
- Praise him for good work and effort, but not just for the sake of it. Previous experience has told me that saying ‘Good, well done’ for doing something really easy, just patronises them and annoys them – rather than motivating them.
- He really appreciates a phone call home when he has worked well – he likes to please his mum!
- Parental contact is so important as it creates a ‘united front’ – we are all working in the same direction. It also gives me the opportunity to explain to them how they can support at home, with things like homework.
- When his effort wanes in class, I don’t pander to him – a few strong words seems to do the job!
- I nag them until they realise it’s not worth not working!
- Directing questions their way is very important – sometimes it seems easier to ignore their lack of effort…..I never take this approach
- He likes to be recognised as an individual and responds really well to a good sense of humour.
- I have always been brutally honest with him and his parents, when he has been underachieving.
- I specifically invite him to targeted revision sessions – I think it helped to build our relationship, by him knowing that I was prepared to go the extra mile for him. In turn, he put in more effort.
- I have taught him for 2 years, prior to Y11. This is so important, as it allows me to build a relationship with him….which is so important for these students.
- If I know they are being mentored by somebody from the pastoral/company team, I make sure that I tell them about homeworks etc, so that they can support me with this.
- Use controlled assessments to your advantage, by getting them to understand that these are ‘banked marks’.
- Draw comparisons between his work and the work of others when it has been insufficient or not reflective of what he is capable of.
- He has a tendency to be fairly quiet and slip off the radar. He knows I won’t let this happen!
- Provide interesting, visual prompts, to spark his enthusiasm.
- Show him work that he has done in previous lessons, that was better than his current work and get him to articulate the difference.
- For homework, I ensure that he knows exactly what he has to do and that he has all of the available resources to do it. This gives him the confidence to then go and do it.
For me, this from science teacher Becky Owen just sums it up:
“Letting them know that above all else you like them, are invested in them and their future and that you aren’t going away! You will continue to push them and support them, no matter how many times they don’t do the homework, task etc. This year I have been a lot more strict on routines during the lesson and made it very clear that my standards for effort are high. I’ve also stopped patronising them and telling them a sub-standard piece of work is amazing. If its not good enough I’ll tell them, then tell them how to improve it to make it better.”