5 ways to get disengaged students excited about learning

How you can support disengaged students to get back on track.

Overcoming disengagement in the classroom is a challenge all teachers are familiar with. In this blog we’ll explore how you can get disengaged students back on track.

Picture the perfect classroom — it’s buzzing with enthusiasm from curious students who are  genuinely interested in the content they’re working on. They’re learning, they’re working together, they’re asking questions. 

What makes this classroom so perfect? It’s the fact that every student in it is engaged. Because as teachers, we know that students who are engaged will learn more and we want to see every one of them grow. 

Many of us won’t have this dream classroom as our reality. We probably have at least one student that’s just not engaged in their learning.  This can happen for a number of reasons — the content might be too hard or too easy; the teaching method might not work for them; they might find it difficult to remain focused; or perhaps they just don’t enjoy the subject.

Regardless of the reason why, our job as teachers is to find strategies that re-engage students and support them to learn and grow. 

To help you in your classroom, we’ve put together our top 5 strategies to get disengaged students back on track. 

1. Implement sprints and brain breaks

Structuring your lessons with sprints and breaks is a great way to keep students engaged. It’s also really effective for learning as it allows students to focus on individual work for a sprint (around 20 mins), followed by a brain break to re-energise and re-focus. 

Think about yourself. When you write your reports, do you sit at your desk and write for 100 minutes straight? Or do you break your time up into shorter bursts? 

Frequent breaks help us to restore our focus, mood, attention and memory so that we can do our best when we work on sprints. 

Break your lessons into sprints of 15-20 minutes of individual student work, followed by a 5-10 minute brain break. This could be an energiser that gets students out of the seats and working together. Once time is up, another sprint takes place.

This approach also means that you are incorporating a range of learning modes and encouraging collaboration. Plus, the energisers are designed to be fun, so your students have the opportunity to experience maths in a fun way. 

You can use the energisers below to get started. 

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2. Meet students at every level with Rich Learning

Disengagement with particular subjects can happen when a student is behind in their learning and doesn’t understand the content or when they are bored and not challenged by what they are learning. In maths, this happens a lot.

One really effective way to engage your whole class in maths is through Rich Learning. Rich tasks have low floors and high ceilings, so you can reach students on a range of different levels with the same activity. It involves bringing the whole class together to work on an open-ended question with multiple entry and exit points. Students at the top end of the class are challenged and those who struggle can work on their problem solving skills.

Rich tasks are also a lot of fun. So often students who don’t usually like maths will have the opportunity to explore concepts in an enjoyable way. 

Check out some of our Rich tasks with free lesson plans here.

3. Get to the why

Many students become disengaged because they can’t see the practical relevance of what they’re learning. How many times have we heard students in maths class make the comment “I will never use this in real life”. As teachers, it’s our job to show them that they will. 

Use real life examples to show disengaged students how maths can be applied to a broad range of situations. By selecting unexpected contexts or even examples that incorporate their own interests, students will see the relevance of what they’re being taught and become more interested in it. 

4. Peer-to-peer engagement

Whole class activities (like Rich tasks) or small group work (like mini-lessons) can be a great way to encourage engagement. Students often feel more comfortable working with their peers and the social aspect of this type of work means that through their interactions, students learn from each other. They will often engage with topics on a deeper level and spend more time exploring ideas than they would in a teacher led environment. 

Working with others can also help students to change their attitude about learning. Seeing their peers interested in the content can spark curiosity with disengaged students and show them that learning doesn’t have to be boring. 

Introduce some group work in your class and allow students to collaborate more often, it will benefit your whole class.

5. Deliver students the content that they’re ready for

As mentioned earlier, when students are given content that’s too hard or too easy they can disengaged. That’s why it’s so important to know the level each student is at and to provide them with the relevant content.  Students can also experience success and become more confident in their mathematical abilities, when they have the right content, leading to more interest in maths..

This ‘goldilocks’ content — not too hard, but not too easy —  means that students are challenged and engaged by a problem, but they must also have the foundation knowledge to be capable of solving it. Top achieving students can move beyond the restrictions of aged-based content and students who have previously struggled can master the maths they’re ready for.

Hitting this point of need can be difficult to do alone. Especially if you don’t have the data to see the gaps and competencies of each student. Our Learning and Teaching model is helping teachers with this problem so they can provide truly differentiated learning, without the additional admin.

The model uses advanced diagnostics and ongoing formative assessments to provide granular data on each student’s gaps and competencies. By identifying each students’ learning profile — what they have mastered, what they are ready to learn next, and what gaps may exist — Maths Pathway gives students the curriculum mapped content they are ready to learn. 

In addition to the above 5 strategies, you should also make sure you’re promoting a growth mindset in your classroom. When students repeatedly struggle to get the answer to a maths problem or are told they are performing poorly in maths they are more likely to become disengaged. We want all students to believe that they can be successful in mathematics, because they can be. There really is no such thing as a ‘maths person’. Check out this video on why growth mindset is so important.

Overcoming student disengagement can be hard. Both how we teach and what we teach are equally important in overcoming this challenge in the classroom. By implementing one or more of the above strategies, you will be giving disengaged students the opportunity to reconnect with their class and enjoy maths again. More importantly, you’ll be supporting them to grow, because as teachers that’s what we really want for our students.


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Maths Pathway combines evidence-based practices in a holistic model that supports teachers to deliver differentiated teaching and achieve greater student growth in the classroom.

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