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  • Writer's pictureThuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

How To Spark Academic Interests and Motivation Within Special Needs Students (Post-Pandemic)

| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 7/21/2021|

A recent global parent survey has suggested that academic motivation within students with learning differences has waned after a year of educational disruption due to the pandemic. Although the pandemic has slowly receded in our imagination as parents try to move their child positively toward the next educational milestone, the residual impact of COVID-19 on student motivation is still unraveling. Because the new school year is just around the corner, it is the perfect time to re-spark student motivation for school performance. The academic tips below will show parents how to transition your student the positive way forward.

1. Listen Deeply

The best way to instantly boost a child's mood and motivation is deep listening. You want to listen to what makes them come alive, get a feel for their personality and how they see the world. I believe every student has an academic personality. That is, how they learn, how they like to learn, and how they see learning. But it is so much more than just what they like to learn, it is deeply embedded into their personal identity and the academic energy that they bring. Once you tap into their academic personality, you will get an inkling on how to motivate them. For example, if they say they like fantasy stories, then you can incorporate that into the academic objective at hand as appropriate. The key is sincerity because students are natural falsehood detectors. Be creative and playful, but steer the student towards the wonder and joy of learning. They will follow your lead.

2. Link Interests

Children and adolescents alike are innately playful and imaginative with their natural endowments of curiosity. Whenever relevant, always immerse a student's interests in their academic quest. The quickest way to fan the flame of academic excitement is making the child's interests part of the learning. If they like cartoons, then have them create a comic book after reading a story for class. You will see their eyes open up and their ears lean in to listen. Or the best transformation, you will see them welcoming academic challenges with open arms. Activating children's interests will disarm students with learning differences of any fears of being wrong and insecurities they may have. They will become enthusiastic, natural learners when the lesson includes something that rhymes with their genuine interests. Caveat: do balance their interests with academic objectives. If their interests solely become the heart of the lesson, then the lesson will become too easy. But if it is all about the academic rigor, then it will appear daunting. Thus, strike a delicate balance between academia and novelty.

3. Build Confidence

In the initial phase of learning a new skill, have a small activity to build up the student's confidence. With online learning during the pandemic, many students fell behind because they could not keep up with the pace of the one-curriculum-for all approach. Therefore, it is vitally important that students' confidence gets a natural boost before delving deeper into the core competencies you would like them to learn. Confidence and fun often follow each other like twin reflections, so you can do a brain teaser or warm up to capture their attention. There are many ways to tailor activities to match what the child can handle. Get a feel for your student and follow your intuition about the student's disposition, pick something that you know they will excel in. Trust it!

Neurodiverse students often benefit from a personalized curriculum to quench their thirst for novelty while matching the academic rigor that suits their needs. But at the end of the day, these students also have the same fundamental needs as regular students. They need to feel confident, curious, and joyful to learn successfully. If you want your student to love learning, you have to show them what that love is like. It is my hope that the strategies above will speak to the souls of many leaners at different stages in their school career and return to post-pandemic learning confidently.


Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

I am a licensed professional educator, executive function expert, former tenured high school teacher and college instructor with 16 years experience. I am also a student success designer. I enjoy recognizing the missing puzzle in the student's learning and personalizing that solution in a language that is unique to that student. I love the creative challenge of inventing a new language for every child.

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