According to an EdWeek Research Center survey of 630 teachers across the country, low student engagement is the most widespread problem teachers identified as an impediment to student success. While student engagement has long been at the forefront of conversations regarding student success, challenges in student engagement have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting upheaval in K-12 education.
The pandemic took a serious toll on morale and motivation for both teachers and students. Many students struggled to remain engaged during months of online learning. As schools have reopened, readjusting to face-to-face instruction hasn’t been easy. One of the biggest challenges facing educators at this time is how to support students during this difficult transition while also pushing them to reach grade-level achievement expectations. Understanding what student engagement is and why it’s important, the factors that affect it, and signs that students are disengaged can have a lasting impact on student outcomes.
What is student engagement?
Before addressing low student engagement, it’s important to understand what we mean by student engagement. Student engagement refers to the level of attention, curiosity, interest, passion, and optimism students experience when learning. It is a cognitive, emotional, and behavioral state of being. Engagement not only makes for more stimulating and rewarding classroom experiences, it also has a profound effect on students’ academic achievement and social development. While teachers play an important role in creating engaging learning experiences, engagement depends on a number of different factors.
Factors that affect student engagement
- First, it should be noted that it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) for a student to engage with learning if their basic needs are not being met. If they are experiencing food insecurity, an unstable home environment, or prolonged illness, they may find it difficult to stay engaged in class.
- Mental health issues like anxiety and depression can prevent even the strongest students from engaging in learning. A host of factors including social media, a volatile political climate, and certainly the stress of a global pandemic have exacerbated student mental health struggles in recent years. Many schools are attempting to provide more counselors and mental health services on campus in response to the growing crisis.
- Students who struggle academically may experience discouragement and frustration that leads to a lack of confidence and self-efficacy, and ultimately, disengagement. Conversely, students who do not feel sufficiently challenged may become disengaged as well.
- Teacher burnout is both a cause and an effect of disengagement among students. Educators have always borne a heavy load, but recent years have pushed many to the breaking point. If teachers don’t have the support they need, their students will be the ones to suffer.
- Ineffective online and distance learning models have caused a drop in student engagement. Remote learners suffer from a lack of structure and interaction with their peers and their teacher. Many students lack access to reliable technology, making online learning exceedingly difficult. That said, it is possible to create virtual learning experiences that are engaging, but teachers must be given the proper tools and training to do so.
Why is student engagement so important?
Educators have good reason to be concerned about student disengagement. Aside from the fact that it makes teaching more difficult, disengagement among students inhibits their future success. According to a recent Gallup study, increased student engagement resulted in better student outcomes, including academic performance and grades in all subjects combined as well as peer relationships and a positive outlook on the future.
Signs of student disengagement
While you may recognize disengagement most times, some of the behaviors we write off as boredom or laziness are actually symptomatic of disengagement. Signs can include:
● Appearing bored, distracted or disinterested
● Frequent absenteeism
● Not submitting assignments on time or at all
● Not contributing to class discussions or small group work
● Lack of interaction with peers or the teacher
● Avoiding eye contact, not taking notes during class
How do you solve the student disengagement crisis?
While we can’t control every factor that affects our students’ engagement levels, teachers play an important role in creating learning environments where every student can be engaged. Professional development for teachers can provide actionable strategies for engaging learning activities and how to effectively use technology to engage students in the classroom and in remote learning environments. Avanti offers a library of professional development videos and learning materials designed by and for teachers. From classroom management and assessments to ideas for engaging students and building relationships, you can expand your teaching toolkit from the comfort of your own home.