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What to Do When With a Student Refusing to Work

Tips for how to get students to do their work, student task initiation and stop the dreaded, "No!"

We've all been there:


You just passed out a piece of paper or a worksheet, you've given instructions and all of the kids know what to do, but there's that ONE kid that says, "no!"


Maybe they're ripping up the worksheet, maybe they're crumpling it, or maybe they're hiding it in their desk. Perhaps their head is down and they refuse to talk to you.


Whatever the scenario specifics, this kid is refusing to do their work. So while it might be really annoying and frustrating, it's up to us to figure out a way around it!


This means that we have to get creative we need to figure out a couple of things and we need to ask the right question.


I used to ask the question, "why is this kid refusing to do the work?" Now I ask the question "why can't this kid do this work?" Changing that question changes the way we program for the the student and ultimately changes the success we have in getting greater engagement!


So once we've asked the right question, we can start thinking about strategies that we can use. I'm going to give you some tips below that you can use when your student is engaging in work refusal.


Tip #1 - Don't engage in a power struggle


As difficult, frustrating and annoying student work refusal is...


We can't get engaged in the back and forth power struggle. A power struggle does one thing and one thing only: exacerbates the problem.


It stresses everybody out and you usually don't end up getting any more compliance or buy-in. If we really want students to complete the assignment, don't go back and forth with them about it.


Instead, give the directive and offer supports for how to finish it (see below).


Most importantly, keep asking the question, "why can't this student do the assignment?"


Keep your interactions with the student respectful and supportive. Even when students are engaging in refusal, we want to model how they should be interacting with us, so we need to keep that standard.


Tip #2 - Give the kid choices


Now this could be a really easy thing to do, or a really tough thing depending on how many students you have and what kind of an assignment it is, or if you're used to providing choices, but here are some easy areas you can offer choice in.


Provide a choice of where to do the assignment. Maybe the student wants to complete this assignment on the floor lying down, sitting under their desk, in the corner of the classroom, at the back table.


It doesn't matter where the student does the assignment just that they're engaging in it.


Another option is to give the students the choice of what materials to use.


Maybe you have a fancy pen they want to use.

Maybe they want to do it and highlighter or maybe they want to use different manipulatives.



Give the student refusing to do work, the option of using different materials to engage in the assignment.


Another really easy choice that you can give the student is doing the assignment with a partner or alone. They may also want to do a couple problems with you to start you to build that momentum!


The key here is giving the student a greater sense of control.


P.S. If you have students that can't make choices easily, I LOVE to use spinners in my classroom. They're a super engaging way to help students with work avoidance and anxiety make difficult choices. I explain how I use this intervention and provide templates inside The Intervention Vault.


Tip #3 - Getting to heart of the refusal


The last piece of the puzzle is looking at why the student is refusing to do their work in the first place.


This means looking at the function of the behavior and finding out what skills they're lacking. Most of the time when students don't feel capable of doing an assignment, there's a lagging skill behind it.


These lagging skills could be executive function skills, academic pre-requisite skills, self-help skills, or social-emotional skills.


They might think the assignment is too difficult for them, or they might have anxiety about not being able to finish it in time.


If we get clear on where the gaps are, we can fill them in! Then, refusing to do work becomes a thing of the past.


Building Momentum

Motivating students who refuse to work is a slow burn, not a bonfire.


If we want to see change, we have to be willing to keep showing up, addressing the root cause, and providing supports along the way.


Now, I have a some great interventions that I'm going to be reviewing in an upcoming class showing you all about how we intervene for those students that refuse to do the work.


Join me with the class link below and register!

Click here to register for: How to get your students to stop saying, "no!"



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