Motivating disengaged students is important for learning and achievement. Students who are motivated to learn persist longer, learn more deeply, produce higher quality effort, and perform better 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. He hated school.
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.
I didn’t set out thinking I’m motivating disengaged students by doing x, y, z . . . 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.
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.
Dave was no longer the disengaged student that he was two months ago. He laughed these days and became well-liked by his classmates. Motivating disengaged students with love works?
I happened to overhear Dave talking with his younger brother outside the classroom window. They didn’t know I could hear them talking. 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. 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.
I have since had more students who were way behind their standard for age. Haven’t we all? Motivating disengaged students 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 student.
By focusing firstly on getting my students engaged in the classroom, behaviour management for me is secondary. It doesn’t always work. Like everything we have to trial and error. I’ve found nine social skills activities helpful in motivating disengaged students.
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.
Feel free to comment below. Perhaps you have a similar experience to share.