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A lot of things have gone well in the classroom this year (see Nine New Teaching Moves That Have Gone Well For Students & Me This Year – So Far).

But one thing has not, and has been an ongoing challenge for me and, I’m sure, for many other teachers: How to connect with the tiny handful of students who seem to have so much potential AND so many motivational and other issues shortchanging that potential?

I’m very good at connecting with students and, for much of my career, students (particularly male ones) who other teachers had trouble “managing” were routinely transferred to my class, where they often were very successful.

However, there were, and continue to be, a few students who even I am unable to reach.

In these situations, I have tried everything possible: building relationships, extreme differentiated instruction, one-on-one peer tutoring (in my ELL classes), connecting what they are learning to any future dreams they might have (often, in these cases, they say they have none), even bribery (buy books and snacks of their choice, says the author of four books on creating classroom conditions for student intrinsic motivation).

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes none of those actions work.

Now and then, what may work is my explaining to the student what we’re doing, my expectations of what I want done in ten minutes (or some time period), and saying that I will return at that time to see if it’s completed. I’ll sometimes tell them that if it’s done at that time, they can take a walk outside for a couple of minutes. This strategy is inconsistently successful, and it’s extremely difficult for me to remember to return in the midst of the organized learning chaos of my class (interestingly, this particular strategy is similar to how an author in a recent Slate podcast describes what works with their child who has ADHD – you can also read the transcript here).

My last resort is typically arranging for one of my former students who might now be a senior, and who shared some of these same challenges when he was younger (and who now has “come around”), to spend a substantial amount of time mentoring him (it’s typically a male, though occasionally a young woman).  That sometimes works, though often does not.  It’s also very challenging to arrange logistically.

Most teachers have faced this challenge.  What have you tried that works?