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How To Win Against A Disengaged Students Attitude

Change Disengaged Students

Disengaged students at school are unfortunate but all too common. Are you searching for a way to engage all students? In your school, do all your students run to get into the classroom every morning?  Is it hard to get them out of the classroom at break times or at the end of the day?  When you teach creatively that’s the sort of thing that can happen.

'My dad killed my mum' he announced in class

We had quite a few disengaged students at an Aussie school I was teaching at. One day, a student, lets call him Dave [that’s not his name] was placed in my class mid-year. He walks in and announces ‘Hi, my dad killed my mum.’  Dave had been expelled from other schools so his development was slow.

You can Change Disengaged Students Attitude to School
We can change disengaged students attitude

10 minutes a day strategy that works!

Dave was imprisoned in fear and anger against the world. At first he just refused to learn. Dave didn’t want to know. I decided not to push him but allowed Dave to learn at his own pace. If he didn’t want to do an activity I didn’t push him but distracted him with another activity that was linked to the main activity.

Sometimes it was just a lower year level version of the task but presented in such a way that upheld his dignity. ie Don’t give a Year 5 student a Year 2 or 3 text book. That just makes them feel dumb. We the teacher must present the task in the conversation style of the year level the student is in. That’s my opinion and it has worked over and over again.

I took time to make sure we chatted every day. I believe it only takes 10 minutes a day for a few weeks to make change happen in a students behaviour. You must, of course, show genuine care. Don’t overdo it. Just show some interest in the student even if it’s for 5 minutes per day, about their interests. Gradually the barriers went down. He couldn’t get enough of school.

Love conquers all

Love Conquers All

Dave was no longer the disengaged student that he was two months ago. He laughed these days and became well-liked by his classmates.

I happened to overhear Dave talking with his younger brother outside the classroom window. Dave’s younger brother was quizzing him “Dad’s coming out of prison so why don’t you want to leave school and go with him?” Dave replied “I want to stay because my teacher loves me!” I couldn’t believe it hardly. Next day he left . . .

That’s the kind of unconscious feedback one can get, which shows how engaged even the most difficult students can become. Average and above average students routinely outperform the Naplan standard.

Re-engaging disengaged students

I have since had more of those disengaged students in my classes who were way behind their standard for age. Haven’t we all? Teaching Creatively means that I not only assure that all basics are taught, it means a committed approach to adapting and re-adapting my materials and approaches to grab the attention of even the most disengaged students. By focusing firstly on getting my students engaged in the classroom, behaviour management for me is only needed secondarily.

Do read this article ‘What to do about disengaged students: wisdom begins in wonder’ by Chris Holmes. I think he has a good handle on it.

Of course, there will still be the exceptionally difficult student like Dave. Every student is different so I don’t have the answer for all, that’s impossible but like Holmes, I’m not going to give up. I just know that creative teaching helps one to differentiate and support learning even at that level. 

Feel free to comment below. Perhaps you have a similar experience to share.

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sylvias - avatar
About the author: 5000 Credits 10000 Credits 15000 Credits 20000 Credits PRO Badge sylvias Visit My Stall
I am a K-12 Australian Teacher, with 25+ years of teaching experience. My Honours research investigated how teachers succeed in teaching English in a TEFL context. Originally from the UK, I lived and worked for 15 years in the Pacific Islands. During that time I was Principal of a school for 5 years, training teachers, teaching a class, and building a school from the ground up. I'm now back in Australia teaching and having fun!
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