10 Reasons for a Lack of Student Engagement in the Classroom

how to improve engagement in the classroom for students who are unengaged

Published: February 15th, 2023

Student engagement is a crucial factor for a student’s educational success. When students are disengaged in the classroom, they may struggle to focus. This will affect their ability to make progress in their learning.

There are various reasons students may become disengaged, which can be divided into two main categories: school-related factors and family and community factors. Additionally, learning disabilities and classroom management can have an impact on engagement.

In this article, we’ll explore the various risk factors and why students can lack engagement in the classroom. We will also share some techniques for implementing student engagement strategies. But if you want a deeper dive into the basics of student engagement, we have just the blog for you answering just that question – what is student engagement? 

Signs of a lack of student engagement

Several signs indicate students’ disengagement in the classroom. You can usually spot disengaged students through the following signs:

  • Inattentiveness or lack of focus during class
  • Disinterest in class activities or assignments
  • Avoiding class or not completing homework
  • Difficulty participating in class
  • Difficulty staying on task or staying organised
  • Looking around or engaging in distractions.

Recognising a lack of student engagement isn’t always easy. Students may not always show clear signs, or the reasons for their disengagement may not be obvious. Therefore, teachers need to check in with their students regularly.

10 reasons for a lack of student engagement

Classroom teachers play an important role in keeping students motivated and engaged. Not only do they need to know how to recognise disengagement, but they also need to know the right ways to intervene and implement changes when students need it.

Below, we unpack a variety of reasons students feel disengaged in the classroom. This list includes school-related factors, family and community-related factors, and personal factors.

1. Repetitive content

Students may feel disengaged when the content they are learning is too familiar or repetitive. This can lead to boredom and apathy.

Avoiding repetitive content altogether is not the solution here. Repetition is actually a well-known strategy for learning and retention. The trick is knowing how to make repetitive information fun and engaging. 

A few ways to do this could include: varying teaching methods, introducing classroom games and relating material to current events.

2. No relevance to real-world situations

Students may struggle to see how their learning is relevant to their daily lives. When the material doesn’t link to real-world situations, it can be more challenging for students to engage.

Humans naturally want to find meaning in what they do. So naturally, students want to find meaning in what they learn. Students may not want to engage in maths class if they don’t see how it can help them in real-life scenarios.

Try to incorporate real-life scenarios into tasks and case studies to engage students.

3. Lack of motivation

Students often lack the motivation to engage in class if they aren’t interested in their learning. This also means that they lack the drive to achieve good results. These are the students that lack intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is driven by personal interest or enjoyment. Teachers can promote this intrinsic motivation in their students by making activities and tasks more exciting and relevant. This will spark curiosity and bring value to the information.

You also get students who lack extrinsic motivation. This refers to motivation from reward or punishment issued by someone other than themselves.

One way to encourage extrinsic motivation is to introduce a star chart for good behaviour and work. This will provide a visual representation of improvement and progress towards a goal. Getting stars on the chart can create a sense of accomplishment. In turn, this can increase motivation and engagement.

4. Lack of autonomy in learning

Most students like knowing they have some control over their own learning process. This can include setting goals, choosing how to learn, and evaluating progress. Giving students autonomy in their learning can lead to increased motivation and better learning outcomes.

Contrarily, a lack of autonomy in learning can lead to feelings of disengagement. When teachers are always in charge, leaving little room for students’ participation, students can feel undervalued and become resistant to learning.

Teachers can give students more autonomy in their learning by allowing them to explore and express their ideas in class. Another idea would be to let students choose their project topic or how they would like to present their work to the class.

5. No variety of media types

Varying the types of media you use in the classroom can help to appeal to students with different learning styles. It can also help keep students engaged and prevent boredom.

Some students may be visual learners and respond well to videos, images, or diagrams. While others may be auditory learners and respond well to lectures or audio recordings. This is why using various media gives all students a fair chance to understand and engage with the material in their own way.

There are a few ways teachers can incorporate various types of media. Some ideas include showing the class Youtube videos to provide visual and auditory explanations of concepts, using interactive tools such as online quizzes, or letting students listen to a podcast on the topic of discussion.

6. Learning difficulties

Learning difficulties can create student disengagement in a variety of ways. Students who struggle with learning for whatever reason require a personalised approach to learning. Teachers should be able to adapt their teaching style to accommodate them by providing suitable adjustments and encouraging experiential learning.

This could include allowing extra time on tests, assistive technology, or access to different materials. They can also collaborate with teachers specialising in special educational needs to provide additional support and interventions as needed.

7. Lack of meaningful feedback

Students may feel disengaged if they don’t receive meaningful feedback on their work. This can make it difficult for students to understand their strengths and weaknesses. It also doesn’t give them a chance to progress in their learning.

Meaningful feedback provides students with a sense of accomplishment and progress. Positive feedback makes students feel good about themselves and their abilities, thus enhancing emotional engagement.

Constructive feedback is also important for their growth mindset. It can help build their confidence and self-esteem, leading to increased engagement in the learning process.

Teachers can provide meaningful feedback that is specific, timely and actionable. Students are more likely to be engaged if they know exactly where and how to improve their recent work.

8. Disconnection from peers and teachers

Students may struggle to engage with the material if they do not feel connected to their peers or teacher. Feeling disconnected makes it hard for students to form relationships, making them uncomfortable in the classroom.

Teachers can connect with students by creating a positive and inclusive classroom environment. Students need to feel safe and comfortable in the classroom and should feel that their teacher believes in them. Emotional engagement is closely related to cognitive engagement. Without personal investment, students begin to disengage and lose motivation.

Actively listening and valuing their ideas and perspectives, building personal relationships, and being approachable and supportive are great ways for a teacher to connect with students.

9. Limited opportunities for participation

Students may feel disengaged if they have little opportunity to participate in class. This makes it difficult for students to feel invested in the material. It also makes it hard for them to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Teachers can get all students to participate through various methods. They can call on quieter students to speak up, or they can use a technique known as “think-pair-share.” This is when students think about a task independently before pairing with a partner to discuss their thoughts. Then, after the discussion, they share their answers with the whole class.

There are a number of methods to maximise engagement that teachers can draw upon – it’s all about getting creative.

ClassFlow software from Promethean allows teachers to increase student participation with instant polls, activities, and assessments sent to student devices. Quizzes can be built quickly to gauge student progress and badges can be given out to award achievement. 

10. External stressors

Students may struggle to engage in class if they are dealing with external stressors. This can include personal factors, such as mental health challenges or family and community factors, such as financial instability.

These stressors can make it difficult for students to focus and feel motivated. Some risk factors include low socio-economic status, low academic achievement, poor attendance, low aspirations, and a lack of engagement with parents. Students may experience multiple risk factors, which would call for a teacher to intervene.

Teachers can work with school counsellors and other staff members to support students experiencing external stressors. They can also connect with counselling services, health clinics, and social services if necessary to help students and their families.

Engage students with interactive displays and whiteboards

Interactive displays are a great way of engaging the whole classroom in their work. This is becoming increasingly popular in today’s digital age, and will allow teachers to maximise student engagement by using technology – something with which the majority of today’s youngsters are more than comfortable using.

Interactive displays are great for collaboration and interactivity. It’s also an easy way to incorporate fun into lessons and enhance the engagement level of students.

Request a demo with a Promethean Education Consultant to learn more about how an interactive display can help engage students in the classroom.

FAQs about the reasons for a lack of student engagement in the classroom

What causes student disengagement in the classroom?

There are many potential causes of student disengagement, including a lack of interest in the material, lack of personal relevance, lack of motivation, poor classroom management, and lack of support from teachers and peers.

How do you know if a student is disengaged?

Signs of disengagement can include low participation in class, low test scores, poor attendance, lack of homework completion, and disruptive behaviour.

How can you motivate disengaged students?

Teachers can motivate their students in various ways by addressing their individual needs and interests. They can also provide opportunities for autonomous learning. Lastly, they can work to build positive relationships with students.

For a deeper insight, take a look at our other blog, all about how to engage disengaged students.

How can technology be used to increase student engagement?

Teachers can use educational apps and interactive whiteboards to help students feel engaged. This will provide opportunities for interactive learning, collaboration, and personalised learning.

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