My father told me when I was young to turn every complain into a request. He was right because we should put are energy into solving a problem rather than complaining about it in the teachers lounge. So let's try that here, we complain about students lack of engagement, so are request is we want students engaged in the lesson. Now that we know what we want, we need to identify strategies to change it.
We often think about numerous strategies we can do to engage more students. Videos for every lesson hook, games for practice, or the coolest online activity, but I think often we make the solutions more complicated then they need to be. There are two reasons that a student is not participating in a lesson. The first is they do not understand or know how to do the work. The second is that the student is apathetic towards the class. I think a lot of times we assume it is always scenario #2, when really more often than not, it is scenario #1. Sometimes we fall into this trap of trying to create an engaging, fun lesson but forget the real objective and the information we are trying to convey. Students may be listening but not learning what you want them to learn. Other times a lesson is not as effective for various instructional areas that impact the students understanding.
It is important though to understand not every student just doesn’t care. I hear teachers saying this a lot and it is not fair to say that about our students. Of course you have a few that do not, but I have seen firsthand many students whose behavior and performance in my class improved once I put in checks for understanding that targeted ALL students or had more explicit directions. I figured out how to teach them better so they could learn, and as a result that were more engaged.
Getting students excited about your class so they want to work hard is HUGE and necessary part of creating a successful classroom. To do that though we need to be honest with ourselves and reflect on our own practices. We need to answer the question, why are students not engaged? Just like in medicine, different diagnosis have different treatments, that same rule applies here. More importantly we need to realize as a teacher we can make a difference. If we stop just blaming our students and start realizing they are capable of growing as students we can make a difference. When teachers are caught up in the mindset that “my students don’t care”, or “my students can’t do that”, they are giving up on their students. Similarly if we are not reflecting on our teaching practices and wondering what we can do as teachers to grow our students, we are giving up on them. So much of our student success stems off of our beliefs in their ability. If we do not believe in them, how can we expect others, or even themselves to believe in their ability? Change in a classroom has to start with the teacher.