How Can We Engage Our Students in the Classroom? Part 1.

There is an epidemic of disengagement in Australian classrooms.

And our students’ education is suffering as a result.

Research from the Grattan Institute has shown that around 40 per cent of school students are regularly unproductive, bored, or struggling to keep up with the curriculum. 

This ‘passive disengagement’ can result in students being up to two years behind their engaged peers in the academic setting.

But who or what is to blame?

The report suggests constant minor disruptions play a large role, such as students avoiding work, talking out of turn, turning up late to class, or being ‘rowdy.’

And even for the students who aren’t participating in the disruptive behaviour, one in five were reported as being ‘compliant but quietly disengaged.’ 

But the overarching problem is not the students as much as their teachers inability to manage the classrooms. 

And the problem isn’t teacher incompetency, but rather a lack of teacher training and support.

‘When a student switches off, there is a risk of a downward spiral’, says Pete Goss, school education program officer for the Grattan Institute.

‘If the teacher responds badly, more students can become distracted and the momentum of the class can be lost.’ 

But half of the new teachers cited in the report said their training was not helpful in knowing how to deal with these issues…

And old-fashioned discipline simply doesn’t seem to work anymore.

Even experienced teachers are struggling to cope, with 30 per cent saying they felt very stressed managing student behaviour (with an increase to 40 per cent in SES schools).

So what can be done to help teachers in dealing with a disruptive classroom, and reengaging our students?

The report has made a number of recommendations for both preventative and responsive approaches.

Preventative approaches include suggesting that teachers should have higher expectations of their students, and that they should work towards stronger student-teacher relationships, based on mutual respect.

Encouraging ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’ learning is also said to be a key to engagement, and although rowdiness and excessive chatter are disruptive, the ‘goal is learning, not silence’.

Responsive approaches to addressing disengaged students suggests teachers should encourage and praise student’s behaviour, and take a sharp turn away from traditional methods of discipline.

These approaches will undoubtedly benefit the cohesion and productivity of a classroom, but with up to 25 students per class, how can teachers create such a personalised approach to their curriculum? 

Increased and improved teacher training and support is in order, and the report ultimately strongly recommends a policy reform in these areas.

Better induction programs, specific classroom management training, and regular feedback for teachers — particularly when it comes to how they handle stress in the classroom. 

‘We owe it to future generations of Australian students to make these reforms now’, says Goss.

‘If we get it right, we will help create a virtuous circle in which students are more engaged, teachers are less stressed, classes become more compelling and students learn more.’ 

While of course this is something we can all get behind, we’re left to wonder what we can do to support our current students.

And when it could take years to institute these improved approaches to the classroom, maybe the answer lies at home… 

In part 2 of this story, we’ll be looking into the problems that are said to contribute to student disengagement, and have our psychologists weigh in on how you can help your child to combat them and reengage with their studies.

Stay tuned! 


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