There will always be one or two, if not more, students sitting in your classroom but not really there. They might be looking at the ceiling, shuffling through their books or backpack, or staring out the window or trying to make eye contact with a pal across the aisle. These students are often the thorn in a teacher’s side, the hardest ones to work with. They can be very bright, but stay uninvolved.
How can teachers help these students? Balancing the desire to pull in the uninterested student while continuing to meet the needs of the rest of the class can be a challenge. Here are a few ideas that can help:
Begin by identifying possible causes of the student’s lack of interest. Then adopt a strategy that will help solve the cause of their behavior.
Causes of Lack of Interest
|Difficulties at home. Is the student distracted, uninterested, or possibly even depressed due to pressures outside of school (rocky relationships at home, financial difficulties, etc.)?||If you know of specific circumstances that could be affecting the student’s behavior, meet with him and/or his parents to discuss the way circumstances at home are influencing his success at school. Be sympathetic and understanding, and encourage the student as much as possible to try to separate their home worries from school.Give students strategies to help them identify and relieve their stress.|
|Lifestyle. Is the student disengaged because he’s staying up too late, not eating enough, or not leading a balanced lifestyle in some other way?||If the student seems tired or famished, ask them if they are getting enough sleep and food. Discuss elements of a healthy lifestyle and encourage the student to make necessary adjustments. Explain that changing his habits will not only help him succeed more in school, but will also improve his health, energy level, etc. across the board.|
|Peer pressure. Is a student acting uninterested to be “cool”? Sometimes students that would otherwise be actively engaged in the learning process hang back due to fear of rejection by another student or group of students.||Talk to the student about true friendship. Are the friends he has chosen supporting him or making it harder for him to succeed? Are they really friends that care about him if they are preventing him from succeeding?Give this student the opportunity to make new friends that can have a positive influence on him. Divide the class into groups and place in him a group of students that can form a productive relationship with him. In the worst case scenario, if pressures from classmates seems to be the #1 reason for a student’s failure, you could request for him to be transferred to another classroom.|
|Bullying. Is your student being bullied? Bullying and rejection often causes students to retreat within themselves, ceasing participation.||Address the problems caused by bullying with the class as a whole. Follow any school procedures set in place for specific incidents of bullying.Help the student increase in self-confidence.
Give the students opportunity to develop constructive friendships with other students.
|Lack of interest in your subject. Talk to other teachers; if the student behaves the same way in all subjects, this wouldn’t be the cause, but if the behavior is unique to your class, it’s a possibility.||Observe and/or talk to your student to find out what he IS interested in. Try to show him how your subject either relates to what he is interested in, or will help him develop different skills and understandings required for his future goals. Give him a reason that he relates to, to be in your class.|
|Different learning style. Think about how you direct your class. Do you regularly use certain teaching techniques, or do you include a range of instructional methods that appeal to a variety of learning styles.||Experiment with different learning styles in the classroom and see if your student seems to get more engaged in one than another.Ask your student (or the whole class) to complete a learning style inventory so you find out their learning preferences.
Incorporate more musical, kinesthetic and naturalistic methods in your instruction – these are the styles that most easily get overlooked.
|Ability level. Students that are completely bored or way behind tend to zone out.||Try using differentiated materials in your classroom. Does the student get more engaged if you present him with more challenging material? Or if you present him with simpler material?Consider whether the student has any signs of a possible learning disability. If so recommend that the child be tested for such a disability, following your school’s policies for such cases.|
|Attitude. Some students just don’t want to be in school. They are forced to go, which fosters animosity, reflected in the classroom as lethargy, distraction or disruption.||Unfortunately, this is the hardest cause to address, because it requires an internal change on the part of the student; it can’t be solved by altering external circumstances. Showing the student that you care despite their apathy and developing a respectful, but positive, rapport can sometimes help the student change their mentality about studying. When the student still doesn’t respond remember that it’s only one student. Keep the door open and make it clear that you’re always willing to help, and then focus on rest of the class that is engaged and willing to learn.|
None of these methods guarantee that the student will become actively engaged in the learning process, but they do ensure that you, as a teacher, have done everything possible to clear potential obstacles and empower the student to succeed and even enjoy learning.