How to Engage a Disengaged Student

Learning how to contend with a disengaged student is part and parcel of the teaching journey, especially in primary and secondary school environments.

There is a multitude of reasons why a student is disengaged in the classroom. It could be due to a simple lack of interest in the subject, difficulty relating to the lesson, relationships with peers and/or teachers, as well as other issues at home.

Often, diagnosing the cause is far from simple and while working out the ‘why’ will help engage students, focusing a disproportionate amount of time on one student can soon result in others falling behind.

So, what is a teacher to do?

Does Your Lesson Plan Cater to All Learning Styles?

You will never have a class of students that learn the same way, so any lesson plan must cater to each of the four different learning styles. If your sessions only cater to reading/writing learners, this could be a reason why a student is disengaged in your lessons.

For example, if your session is based on reading from a textbook there is a good chance that any kinaesthetic learners will struggle and, as a result, disengage from the lesson. Once a student is no longer engaged, it is difficult to pull them back in and the risk is that they will distract other students.

Mixing things up helps to cater to all the different learning styles and energises the class. Getting stuck in a rut of delivering the same session time after time will soon become boring for your students, especially those at the younger end of the spectrum.

Find Out What Motivates Them

Whether it is in school, the workplace or anywhere else, finding what makes someone tick is the best way of getting them to do what you want them to. A low-energy student is one without any real motivation to push themselves to perform – and no, for many students, the threat of poor grades isn’t the motivator that many teachers wish that it was.

To find out what motivates your students means communicating with them. You don’t need their life story, but it does help to show an interest in who they are as people away from the classroom. Striking up a good relationship with students can help to engage a student as they will have positive associations with your lesson.

Consider asking some simple questions to your students. You receive better results by doing so in a more discreet manner than in the usual public forum classroom discussions take place. Creating a questionnaire that students can answer and hand back, without the need for conversing with their peers, can soon provide good insight into their motivations.

Some questions you can include could be:

  • What are your hobbies outside of school?
  • What would you change about the lesson?
  • What is something that makes you happy?
  • What are the three most important things to you?

Depending on the age of the students in your class, the questions (and the way they are asked) will have to be tailored accordingly.

Causes of Student Disengagement

If you have been responsible for a class for a considerable period, then you should be accustomed to each student’s usual behaviour. You will know who the quieter ones in the class are, who is most likely to raise their hand and whose name you will probably be repeating more than anyone else’s.

A once highly engaged student may soon begin to drift the other way over time, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to pick up on this. Not just to keep their education on track, but also from a safeguarding perspective – a change of behaviour could be a red flag for something else that may require intervention.

Changes to a student’s personal life, such as a death in the family or parents separating, are highly likely to impact their behaviour and cause disengagement from education. Anyone who has a concern over the welfare of any student should follow the facility’s safeguarding protocol.

Rewarding Students

Positivity breeds positivity and, thus, a teacher (or anyone leading a session) must adopt such an approach. Shouting and moaning at your students isn’t going to get you very far and all it is going to do is push disengaged students further away, likely to the point where they outright don’t turn up for class.

Rewarding the efforts of students is a great way of motivating pupils, both those receiving a reward and their peers. The student being recognised received positive affirmation that what they are doing is right, leading them to want to do it again, while those around them will want to receive the same recognition and want to work to achieve it.

How the teacher goes about rewarding students is up to them. Some choose to give school trophies to students that they can keep on their desk or take home, others like stickers (best for younger students) and some give verbal and/or written praise to their pupils in recognition of a job well done.

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