Dealing with Disengaged Students
“Trainer” is an adult word for “teacher,” and from the top down, a list of the top three teacher nightmares related to disengaged students probably runs something like this: class clown, the know-it-all and Mr. or Miss “I Couldn’t Care Less.”
The first two are tough to combat. The last nightmare student, however, can be assuaged if not eliminated with a bit of work. There are a variety of teaching strategies to appeal to a wide range of learning styles, and being informed about them might prove useful, but when actively courting your students’ engaged attention in the classroom, it pays to start with the basics.
One of the most basic things to do is get to know your students — it’s easy to disengage when student and trainer have no connection and/or have not been acquainted. Refer to students by name. Listen when they engage in informal chitchat (you might learn personal details that you can use to connect).
Make notes if you have to so you can keep each students’ personal data straight. The object here is to get to know those in your class. Icebreaker exercises can be helpful to elicit and memorize names and pertinent details.
A common reason students disengage is because the trainer simply isn’t ready to teach, so be prepared. Clearly articulate the learning goals for the class at the beginning of the course to prepare your students for the tasks ahead.
Then, have your class time planned out, including group activities, and have all your accompanying handouts, audio-visual equipment and other presentation necessities ready to go before class begins to avoid distractions or nonproductive gaps when students’ attention might wander.
Another method to engage students is to assess their progress often via tests and assignments. Be flexible, though, when assigning take-home work — knowing the trainer is considerate of work-life schedules can boost assignment-completion rates.
Also, provide guidelines and instructions but consider allowing students to customize work based on their particular needs and potential technical application.
Adults are frequently disengaged from formal training opportunities because they too are technical experts, and they are skeptical or wary of their peers talking down to them. Consider using the students to help teach — what better asset for a trainer than industry practitioners who can relay some of the challenges students might experience once outside the classroom and back on the job? Take advantage of students’ existing skills, knowledge and experience.
Similarly, invite students to tender their opinions on the course content. Solicit feedback on teaching materials, homework assignments, etc. Provide prompt and frequent feedback and encourage students to share and learn from colleagues when appropriate via pair and/or group work to encourage interactivity and participation. Answer questions, offer clarifications and real-world examples and use student feedback immediately by implementing suggestions where possible.
No matter what, though, be sure to offer positive reinforcement and/or actionable criticism or suggestions for improvement.