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10 Strategies for Helping Detached Students Connect

While it can often be challenging to find the spark that gets every student engaged in learning, having a variety of strategies at hand can make a world of difference.

By Lani Aquino

While this may come as a shock to some, not all students enter the classroom with an eagerness to learn. For some, this detachment can be a defense mechanism as students deal with personal or even academic issues. For others, a lack of interest or connectivity to the content and/or no feeling of personal connectivity that is found when relationships are built can be the cause. Whatever the reasoning behind this demeanor of impartiality may be, there is no surefire cure/strategy to ignite or restore engagement to the learning process. With that being said, there is also no reason to stop trying different approaches until a glimmer of interest and drive is unveiled.

Determining the crux of the issue can be very helpful in shedding some light on how to proceed. There are several paths of discovery to travel. Reviewing student records can reveal personal and academic struggles, observing student interactions with peers and teachers can be quite telling, reaching out to parents can uncover important details, and conferring with colleagues can garner some unique insight. In discussions with others, be sure to steer clear of the naysayers that may want to add a lost-cause label to any child; that is one bandwagon to tirelessly avoid.

With an understanding and empathy that is deeply embedded within those in the field of education, it’s time to move forward with a variety of strategies. Doing a little digging may reveal the best starting point based on an underlying cause of detachment, but flexibility and willingness to try an assortment of strategies may be exactly what’s needed. These 10 strategies are a perfect starting point.

  1. Positive Praise- Always, always highlight the good. Even when it’s hard to find it, shining a light on positive behavior and positive attributes of academic performance can do wonders in igniting a spark for continued successes and improvements.
  2. Set Goals- These goals can be academic, social, or behavioral. This could be a whole-class activity or an individual one as needed. Setting goals helps students take ownership, and discussing them with a teacher helps build connectivity and instill accountability.
  3. Second Chances- A second chance could come in the form of reworking a lackluster assignment or starting with a clean slate after a challenging interaction. Whatever the scenario, the opportunity to start fresh can do wonders.
  4. Build Relationships- Team building activities shouldn’t be exclusive to the beginning of the school year. By interspersing these activities throughout the year, students are given the opportunity to reestablish connections and/or make new ones.
  5. Personal Connections- While teachers may not be able to connect to the struggles a student has faced or currently faces, a teacher can make an effort to uncover common interests and/or learn more about students’ interests. Talking about a favorite musician, style choice, cultural tradition, etc. can build a rapport and trust that may pave the way for increased efforts in the classroom.
  6. Active Learning- It’s hard to stay detached when learning has students interacting with others and doing more than filling in the blanks on a worksheet. Rather than creating lessons with rote response formats, embracing active learning techniques can play a large role in engaging all students.
  7. Provide Choices- Giving students some ownership in making decisions about how they will approach learning can be a powerful motivator. While this may not always be possible, offering choices or even creating stations within the context of a lesson can give students a sense of freedom in their academic pursuits.
  8. Differentiate- When students are met at their current level and not left overwhelmed or underwhelmed by expectations, they are more likely to engage with the content. This does not mean students shouldn’t be challenged. It simply means not every students learns at the exact same rate, and this should be embraced rather than overlooked.
  9. Infuse Technology- Sometimes powering up a device can be a great way to power on an interest in a particular topic or the building of a particular skill. Today’s students are immersed in a digital world, so bringing a part of that world into their academic one can help them feel connected.
  10. Never Give Up- When it seems that every possible effort has been exhausted, try, try again. Students may not acknowledge the efforts, but seeing them made will have an impact.

One of the greatest parts of teaching is the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of learners. It should come as no surprise that due to these diverse backgrounds and personalities, not every student will enter the classroom with a mindset focused on learning. By making an effort and incorporating a variety of strategies for learning, teachers are more likely to uncover the sparks needed to reach all students. 

If you enjoyed the thoughts and ideas shared here, check out the trainings and tools (for teachers and for families) that we offer.

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