When students refuse to attempt a written assignment, successful teachers usually begin by offering several forms of assistance, continue by offering various forms of reinforcement and, if necessary, end up reviewing expectations and consequences. If the student refuses to accept any consequences you should consider it extremely serious. You must contact the parents and/or principal for their support in dealing with the child's defiance.
Consider using some of the strategies from the following range of suggestions.
1. Start by offering to help the student. Try these options. Sit with the student, show a caring attitude, and do a few problems together. Remind the student of a previous similar assignment that he or she completed successfully. Tease the student nicely and privately to find the "start button." Ask if the student understands the assignment. Suggest that the student skip the first problem and pick another for getting started.
2. Look for possible reasons the student might be having trouble, and respond appropriately. If the work-refusal problem is recent, call the parents to ask if they know what could be upsetting their child at school. In the case of a possible learning disability, modify the assignment.
3. Offer encouragement and positive reinforcement for efforts made. Express verbal approval for any sign of beginning the assignment even if the student just picks up the pencil. Communicate high expectations of work effort. Say something like, "Rule #1 in this classroom is that everyone must participate. That's 100 percent. Can't or won't is a bad word we just do not use. At least try first and if you need help, I'll be there."
4. Give the student several choices, letting him or her know that there will be consequences for not participating in the activity. "Work now during class time, or work during lunch time, or after school, or go to the detention room or office and do the work." If the problem persists, ask the student if you should make a "hot-call" to the parents asking them to, for example, take away weekend privileges and activities.
When students refuse to work, initiate a sequence of responses that move from positive reinforcement to warning about consequences. Be sure to follow through.
From The Discipline Checklist by Ken Kosier. Copyright 1998, the National Education Association.