Students are reluctant to engage in instruction for a multitude of reasons. While teachers should strive to have all students engaged in instructional activities, teachers have more direct ownership of some of these reasons for students not being engaged. The key to increasing student engagement is to invest in key areas. These key areas can be viewed like low-hanging fruit. By investing in these areas, educators are likely to reap a harvest that leads to increased student learning outcomes.

Why Some Students May be Reluctant to Engage

Identifying reasons for a lack of student engagement in a traditional classroom setting can be simpler than identifying why students are not engaged in an online classroom. Yet, many of the same principles apply to both instructional settings.

For a student to be engaged, instruction must be relevant, purposeful, and authentic. The curriculum must be presented in such a way that makes the standards come alive. Assignments need to have connections to prior learning and real life. Further, the instructional methodology needs to be exciting, upbeat, and believable. That is, students need to feel your excitement and the belief that learning these skills carries great benefits.

In addition, online classrooms need to be streamlined and organized. Approved district-level templates go a long way in helping alleviate this cause of a lack of engagement. Students, and parents alike, become frustrated and are likely to be less engaged when each class has a different format and lacks organization.

Also, it is crucial that each assignment has purpose in an online environment. Limit activities to those that are necessary to ensure student mastery. There is no room for busy work in any classroom, but this is especially true in an online classroom. Students are likely to give up when they see 15 assignments posted on a Monday with many assignments covering the same skills. A solid question for a teacher to ask himself or herself is “Would I want to be a student in my own online class?” Most teachers who enter graduate programs only see two or three assignments a week. This narrowed approach allows for more engagement with key assignments.

A concluding reason for why students are reluctant to engage in online instruction is due to a lack of teacher engagement in their own online classroom. When teachers simply post assignments and do not connect with students or give substantive feedback, students are not going to engage either.

Educators must invest and have high expectations. Students will normally rise to meet those expectations. To foster engagement, teachers must post instructional videos, offer live meetings, continue making student/parent contact calls, and offer substantive feedback on student assignments. These actions are investments.

Strategies to Connect with Reluctant Students

Build Meaningful, Authentic Relationships

To increase student engagement, teachers must invest in building meaningful relationships among stakeholder groups. Students need to know the teacher cares. Likewise, parents and guardians need to know the teachers care as well. When a meaningful connection is established, it becomes harder to retreat from classroom engagement.

Once students know the teacher wants what is best and cares about them as individuals, students are more likely to become engaged in the classroom. Teachers can build meaningful relationships through a variety of activities such as giving detailed and personalized feedback on assignments, attending extra-curricular events, and making phone calls to discuss student progress.

Creating Authentic and Relevant Assignments

When designing online instruction, teachers need to be aware of the amount of time required to complete assignments. Too often, teachers build a daily lesson with 5-10 bullet items to complete. Considering the amount of classes students take and the days in a week, this method can easily lead to students becoming overwhelmed and shutting down. The result is that reluctant learners are unlikely to engage in the class.

On the contrary, when teachers take a streamlined approach, more students are likely to engage in the classroom. Teachers should limit assignments to two to three meaningful daily assignments. These assignments are best when they are relevant and authentic. By connecting to prior learning and bridging the curriculum to the students’ lives, the assignments are more meaningful.

Further, project-based learning is an excellent addition to an online classroom. Assignments can build or scaffold as the weeks progress. With this approach, the assignment can become more authentic and lead to higher levels of thinking.

Utilize Student Interest and Choice

Using student interest and choice can certainly increase engagement of reluctant learners in online classes. Student choice allows the student ownership over his or her learning, and student interest helps the student want to complete the assignment. Most humans are more likely to read about a topic or complete a project that is of interest. In addition, incorporating student interest shows the students that the teacher cares about them. Student choice allows the student to pick a presentation method that aligns with his or her learning style.

Bring Excitement to Your Online Classroom

Excitement is important to any classroom whether in-person or online. When learning is exciting, students are more likely to become engaged. Further, students will want to learn material if it looks like the teacher believes the skill is exciting and important. Crucial pieces of teaching include performance and presentation. Educators must embrace this fact. Teachers must be having fun for students to become significantly engaged in the content.

Many traditional classes have morning routines that include content songs, brain breaks, and transitional activities. Being present in the online environment is essential. Educators can record the morning routine so that students can still feel connected to the classroom. In addition, teachers can post instructional videos that are exciting.