Yesterday, I shared my students’ reasons for why they become disengaged, yet sometimes it is hard to figure out the why for longterm change. It is easy for us to blame curriculum or things outside of our control, yet often, disengagement is happening because of a few simple things in our classrooms. Therefore, I offer you up the three areas to evaluate as you try to engage your students.
Evaluate yourself. Are you the reason they are off-task? Did you speak too long or did you not make sense? Do they like you? This is huge. If students do not like you, they are much more likely to be off task and the more we hammer down our authority, the more they will battle us. So if you are not creating real relationships with students, then off task behavior will often turn into disruptive behavior.
Evaluate the content. Does it make sense? Is it engaging? If it is something that you need to “get through” then students will treat it as such. I often tell students that we are working on creating a foundation of knowledge that we can use to try new things, I try to steer clear of saying we have to just “get through” anything. Also, does the content allow for them to speak to others, to move around, to use the information or are they listening to you deliver the content and then working silently with it? Try to think about how much we ask students to work in silence all day, and then we wonder why students lose their voice? Student choice and voice is a huge part of this.
Evaluate the time and place. My third hour class (after study hall) and my sixth hour class (after lunch) are loud and take a lot more to become engaged. They are wired with energy and need ways to work that off. Their work often looks different that that of other classes because I need to tap into their energy. I may play soft music when they come in, speak in a calm tone, and also have them reflect quietly for a few minutes after their independent reading time, all so they can get back in the zone of what we need to do. My first class and my last class of the day needs energy. They are tired. They have either just woken up or have been sitting most of the day. So I play fast music, get very animated and I create opportunities for them to get up and move around the room focusing more on group learning to get their energy up. Are you adapting your teaching style to the time and place of the day?
While there are many sub areas we should also be evaluating, I have found that most of the time the answers lies within one of these. And if in doubt, ask your students. I know I sound like a broken record but sometimes I spend hours thinking about why something is happening where I should have just asked the people it involved. Yes, some times students will tell us things that are hard to hear, but I would rather hear the truth so that I may change, than pretend that I have it all figured out.
PS: Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, the final part is all about the small changes we can make.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!