Reaching my 'lazy' students

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What is it about a minority of pupils whose lack of effort and organisation means their learning suffers so notably? Our NQT diarist discusses how she can reach all her students, including those who appear 'lazy'.

Marking papers is like riding an emotional rollercoaster – the pride and joy of reading some pupils’ well-structured logical mathematical workings one moment, followed by the sinking realisation that at least a third of the class didn’t quite grasp bearings. 

I am pleased to say that, for the most part, the results were not as horrendous as I had at one stage feared they might be. However, there are a few key pupils who stand out as failing to make the progress they should. 

Is it my teaching that has failed them? There are some topics with which the majority of the class has struggled and I can only attribute this to my not making the subject memorable and concrete.

But there are some topics I know I taught well; factorising algebraic expressions for example. I love algebra. The pupils understood the algebra. The majority of the pupils attained 100 per cent on the algebra questions given. But there were three individuals in the class who didn’t.

What is it about these pupils that has meant that the mathematical learning has evaded them, whereas it sunk in for the others? 

On first consideration, it jumps out at me that these are the pupils I have had to chase up for more than their fair share of homework, for forgetting their equipment, and for giving up at the first whiff of challenge in lessons. Basically, the “lazy” pupils. But why this apparent lack of effort and organisation?

According to Dweck, the difference between a pupil who succeeds and one who doesn’t is largely due to mindset. A pupil who believes intelligence is malleable and that hard work will improve their understanding is more likely to put the effort in and subsequently improve themselves. A pupil who believes that intelligence is fixed might, depending on past feedback, come to believe that they are destined to be an E grade pupil, so will stick their head in the sand and face a progress block. Does this mean my failure was in not fully convincing these three pupils that hard work pays off? 

As was recently pointed out to me by a colleague, success cannot just be about effort. Clearly a child who has access to committed and well-trained teachers in well-resourced schools and with supportive parents stand more of a chance of having their efforts blossom into rewards.

Maybe I am passing the buck, but I would like to think that in all shapes and forms I try to give all of my pupils the first two things on that list, however the third is slightly beyond my remit. It is sad to say, but I have little tangible understanding of the challenges faced by individual pupils beyond the school gates. Of course I know which pupils have labels – FSM, EAL, SEND – but these do not mean a child is necessarily disadvantaged, often feel arbitrary, and do little to explain the reality of what a child faces in their home life. 

It has crossed my mind that maybe my failing actually lay in making excuses for pupils who I knew faced challenges at home. I remember feeling bad for keeping a pupil who lacked internet access at home behind to use the school PCs – why was I feeling guilty for offering a pupil the material resources to help her succeed?

What can be done about my “failing” pupils? How can I stimulate in them a desire to push themselves harder, despite any challenges they face? For now the jury is out. Next year I know I need to have a better handle on these two or three pupils in each class who are not meeting my expectations. How I will go about this is yet to be decided.

  • Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary.

NQT Special Edition
This article was published as part of SecEd's June 2013 NQT Special edition. The edition features eight pages of best practice and advisory articles aimed at supporting NQTs and trainee teachers across the UK. Download the free PDF of all eight pages here.


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