But, you're more than halfway through the year. Spring is almost right around the corner. It's a good time to refocus, and one place to focus can be on student engagement.
There are many ways to do this, but Jackson & Zmuda (2014) write about four keys to engagement that teachers can control and consider when planning instruction.
First is clarity. From a student perspective, clarity means students can answer the question what am I aiming for? It can be hard to stay focused on the larger purpose, both as students and as teachers, especially at this point in an academic year. It's important for students to know why something is important, as well as what success looks like. This is more than just posting a learning target on the board. While helpful, students really need to understand the goal and refer to and use the learning target throughout the lesson. When learning targets not only refer to what students will learn but also what they will do (and are the criteria for success) so students know how to show that they've met the target (Brookhart & Moss, 2014).
The next key goes hand-in-hand with clarity, Teachers can focus on providing a relevant context for the lesson / learning target. This allows students to answer why should I care? Related to the idea of "starting with why," teachers should be able to answer "why do I need to know this" easily for students. Teachers can provide the importance and relevance of a new topic, and students can help fill in the real-world applications. Students should have a sense of why they need to understand something, both for current and future educational goals.
Another key to this work is to provide a supportive classroom culture for students. This helps students answer who is invested in my success and for teachers to answer how can I show students my support? This relates to students' self-efficacy, Students need to believe in themselves, certainly, but they also need to believe there is support from others in the hard work. Teachers show their support by anticipating confusion. explicitly identifying red flags and helping students understand how to avoid them, and providing interventions along the way based on formative assessment collected as students are learning something new. One way to do this is to allow for revisions, rather than just assigning a grade and moving on. Creating a climate that learns from mistakes, rather than just moving on, can be an essential way teachers support students.
Finally, in planning instruction to support student engagement, teachers can make sure they are providing appropriate challenges. This means students know how to respond to the question how is it working for me? Finding the right balance between challenge and skill, assignments that are meaningful and relevant, that require high-levels of thinking, that aren't "google-able" is a real challenge for teachers. When teachers can boil down to the essential ideas, and focus assignments on that, students will have a likelier chance of understanding the reason for the assignment and feel supported in completing the work. You want students to persist in times of struggle, and when an assignment seems relevant and do-able, they are more likely to stick with it.
Student engagement is such a complex component of teaching. It moves beyond student compliance, and focuses on purpose and support. With these keys, teachers can provide the context for learning that can lead to student engagement.