Breaking the Cycle of Disengagement

Four ways to break the cycle of disengagement and keep students working. The 2nd one was a life saver for me!
We have all had a moment in which we just can't continue doing a task. Our students face these moments every day. It can be frustrating for both them and their teacher, because disengagement means that we can't move on to some of the stuff we want to do until we get through the stuff we have to do. This can often lead to a cycle of complete disengagement, because the same student(s) never seem to get through the have to, in order to do the want to.

Instead of watching a student struggle, become disengaged, and slowly float further and further into the atmosphere to seemingly never come back I liked to try these four tactics to break the cycle, and re-engage the student in their task.

Restructure the Task

Change up the task just enough to make it seem new. This might mean breaking down the task into smaller assignments, changing the order of the assignment, or finding an alternate assignment. 

This might sounds something like-
"Why don't you do all the odd numbered problems?"
"Have you tried the problems on the back yet?"
"Which problem would you like to start with?"
"Would you prefer to work on a whiteboard instead of with a pencil?"

These options give students a bit of choice, but still has them completing the assignment. 


Sometimes we get ourselves into a spot mentally that we just can't seem to get back out of. Our students don't know how to get past these moments without a little help from us. By simply restarting an assignment it can give students a chance to restart their mindset as well. 

This might look like-
Handing the student a new assignment.
Providing the student with a change in scenery. This might be a different spot in the room or a complete change in venue. 
Offering the student an alternate task with the same concept. 
Changing the expectation for the assignment by asking for a different outcome. 

Non-Verbal Cues

Four ways to break the cycle of disengagement and keep students working. The 2nd one was a life saver for me!Students who have a habit of becoming disengaged while working sometimes just need gentle reminders. If using a verbal cue, some students may become embarrassed and dig their heels in further. This can lead to the cycle continuing. Instead, speak to the student during a private moment and brainstorm a special signal that you can use to help remind them to stay on task. 

Carol Burnett pulled her ear and I tapped my nose. Now, what my students didn't know is that I had the same special "get going" signal for several students in my class. they didn't need to know. This made my life incredibly easy when I needed my students to get working, because I would tap my nose and it would catch the attention of all those students. It worked like a charm. 

Exaggerate the Act

This one may just be my favorite, because I get to let my feelings out a bit. Now, I am not saying that you should let your frustrations out on your student, but you can take a couple of deep breathes and roll them into you acting. 

This might sound like-
"Oh no! How will we be able to do the super fun science lab if we don't finish up this vocabulary? I have been planning and planning for this afternoon's science lab, and I am worried that we just won't have time if we don't get to it."

This one comes pretty close to a guilt trip, but the trick is to motivate the student to complete their assignment while dangling a carrot of what is coming up next, not make them feel as though they are holding the class back. This is best done privately, and not with the whole class. 

Want to Know More?

These books provide excellent suggestions for working with disengaged students. (affiliate links)

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