We recently wrote about new research that shows that up to 40 per cent of Australian students are bored or disengaged at school.
And this disengagement is having wide-ranging implications on academic performance.
Not only does it inhibit a school teacher’s ability to control a classroom, the disengagement of some students has a trickle down effect to other students too…
It’s what has been called the ‘hidden issue’ in Australian schools.
Perhaps this is part of the reason why private tutoring is booming at the moment…
And according to the research conducted by the Grattan Institute, the relationship between teachers and their students may be playing a large part in this disengagement.
In an article on our blog about our children’s educational needs, we discussed what our children should ideally be getting out of their schooling…
And the Institute echoes these sentiments: that a good rapport and interpersonal relationship between teacher and student play key roles in supporting academic success.
The Institute has encouraged policy reform to help support the engagement of future students.
But what can be done now for current students?
The main roadblocks to classroom engagement were identified as boredom, finding the work too difficult, finding the work not challenging enough, poor-quality teaching or problems at home…
So our psychologists have weighed in on how we can get to the root of these issues at home, and try to nip them in the bud before they make it to the classroom.
‘You can’t force motivation’, insists our staff psychologist Dani Kaufman.
But you can help them and guide them towards finding some.
Try finding some new, non-academic ways to make the content in class exciting and relevant for your kids.
‘There’s a life skill in everything,’ says our psychologist Christina Rigoli.
‘People need things to be relevant to them in order to see the value in it. So helping children see the relevance in things will help them to become motivated. Don’t expect them to just want to be excited about everything they do.’
Is your child interested in travelling around the world?
Teach them how geography and history will illuminate their experiences and appreciation of travel when the time comes.
Are they saving up to buy something special?
Teach them how maths will help them to make budgets, calculate costs and make smart financial decisions.
Even sport can be related back to theory subjects — prominent golfers have said how Pythagoras thereom helped them play their best rounds on the golf course!
Encouraging a love of learning also sets your child up with an incredible life skill that will benefit them in the classroom and beyond.
Place your focus and praise on the act of learning, rather than on assessments and results.
And encourage your kids to pick subjects that interest them, rather than those that they will easily succeed in.
2. Finding the work too difficult.
We’ve discussed this issue on the blog in relation to private tutoring.
The most important thing is to find the root of the problem, and discover which areas in particular your child is struggling with and why.
Talk to your children to try to ascertain if social, emotional or other non-educational issues are getting in the way of their studies.
And some private tutoring sessions can be great to identify any gaps in knowledge, learning or ability.
3. Finding the work not challenging enough.
This may sound like a preferable problem…
But if left unaddressed, it can pose as much of a disruption to learning as any of the other contributing factors.
Talking to teachers can help, and they may be able to provide extended learning programs or extracurricular activities.
But teachers are limited in their options for personalising each student’s learning.
‘If the majority of the class is in the middle, that’s where the teacher has to focus their activities’, explains Dani.
So make this a good opportunity to encourage self-learning from your children.
‘Students need to take some ownership over their learning’, says Christina.
‘They have huge textbooks, and often they aren’t required to read the whole thing.’
So encourage them to delve deep into the materials they already have but aren’t utilising in class.
If your child is already excelling in primary school, Christina recommends factoring this into their secondary school choice.
‘Don’t just pick a school because it’s in the next street. If you know that your child has always accelerated, pick a school that has accelerated programs.’
4. Poor quality teaching.
Dani and Christina are very reluctant to put the blame solely on teachers.
As we addressed in part 1 of this post, training and support programs for teachers have proven to be insufficient in dealing with the many challenges of the classroom.
And it’s important to address the other possible causes of your child’s disengagement before attributing it to the quality of teaching.
Once you’ve done this, approach your child’s teacher, but frame your concerns constructively, not critically.
‘Most teachers are pretty flexible’, assures Christina.
‘But if you think your child has a teacher who isn’t compatible with the way your child learns, and there’s practical strategies to improve this that they can accomodate, then go to the teacher or year coordinator to discuss your options.’
The problem could have an easy fix, such as a teacher who dictates writing more on the board for a child with some auditory processing issues.
5. Problems at home.
If there’s issues at home, they don’t often stay in the home.
Kids carry these things with them, and they can very often be the source of their distraction in the classroom.
Problems at home could include fighting, a lack of discipline, or any number of things that will play on a kid’s mind for one reason or another.
‘It could be the fact that you’re not sleeping well at night because there’s fighting, or that they’re on social media all night because there’s no rules in the house’, says Christina.
‘Routine is so important for learning. And it needs to be framed not in terms of rules, but it terms of how it will benefit and be relevant to your child. You need to give the routine meaning. And you need to bring up your concerns with them and explain why things are going to change.’
It can be difficult to know how to help kids deal with problems at home that parents are working on dealing with themselves…
In such cases, counselling can be a great option, and give kids an outlet and impartial support outside of the family setting.
Although researchers and media outlets are emphasising the ‘hidden issue’ of a disengagement epidemic in our schools, it’s clear that there are options for reengaging your children, and helping them overcome these challenges.
And as long as these issues keep being reported, we’ll keep responding to them, and try to help you and your children to get the most out of their education.
And if you’re in Melbourne and want expert advice about your child’s learning?
Click the button below to book your initial parent consultation and get the right advice for your child’s needs.