Why Your Students Aren’t Engaged In Your Lessons

Why students aren’t engaged in your classroom
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Imagine you are an architect designing a house for a client: you would listen carefully to the needs of your client and understand what success looks like to them. Designing learning is much the same. If teachers approach curriculum planning and development with a set of core learning design principles, they will address student and teacher agency and ensure that they are not focused on transactional processes, but instead thinking about how to engage and help their students
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Learning Design: What does this look like in action?

One teaching model I employ in my classroom because of its flexibility, iterative, ambitious and active nature is shown below:

One teaching model I employ in my classroom because of its flexibility, iterative, ambitious and active nature is shown here

Topic: Democracy

What are the goals of the course?

learning design goals
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  1. Students will develop their knowledge and understanding of the origins and meaning of democracy.
  2. Students will understand the differences and similarities between direct and representative democracy.
  3. Students will practise their research skills to identify global political systems that use either or both of these branches of democracy.
  4. Students will be able to compare and evaluate the concept of democracy in two countries.

How will students be challenged?

How to challenge students in the classroom
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  1. Teachers will model sorting and ranking strategies to support students in their analysis and comparison of current political systems that are considered to be democracies. They will be faced with the challenge of creating their own comparison categories and assigning a score based on specific criteria. They will use their communication skills to discuss their analyses with their peers and justify their views. They will use the Project Zero Ladder of Feedback to scaffold such discussions so they can develop their understanding of ‘accountable talk’ and respect for others.
  2. Students will access the Democracy Index online to understand how countries are ranked according to levels of democracy (full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes). This will allow students to understand that democracy can be nuanced.
  3. Students will also be challenged by practising new research skills such as being able to remove invasive results from an Internet search and use a hyphen to exclude words, using Google Books to locate relevant information and understanding and placing a high value on academic honesty.

How does this course offer thematic coherence?

Context will be explicit in the teaching of the core content:
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  1. The teacher will explore the context of Brexit and the Scottish Independence Referendum to facilitate students’ understanding of direct democracy.
  2. The teacher will draw upon students’ prior knowledge of the most recent UK general election. This will be prompted by a flipped classroom scenario of a 3 minute video outlining the process of voting in UK general elections from UK Parliament TV on YouTube.
  3. Using a story about Athenian democracy (video and text available), students will be able to understand the context in Greece in c.507 BC that facilitated direct democracy and then compare this context to political systems in the modern era.
  4. Students will consider how this course links with other ideas and concepts studied.
  5. Students will identify bigger picture questions that go beyond the obvious. These might be ‘To what extent is democracy the ‘best worst form of government’?

How is this course relevant?

how is what you are teaching relevant?
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  1. Students will use prior knowledge through the flipped model of learning and teaching so they can build schematic understanding of the ‘big questions’ and core concepts.
  2. Small and group discussions will be central to the learning process. During these activities, students will learn to practise active listening, accountable talk and respectful feedback. This will support the development of their communication and collaboration skills.

How will this course afford choices of action for students?

How will this course afford choices of action for students?
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  1. Students will independently select countries to study for the comparative analyses aspect of this course.
  2. Students will be able to choose the mode of presentation of their research findings.

How will feedback be provided to and by students in this course?

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  1. Students will use the Project Zero Ladder of Feedback to give and receive feedback. This will ensure respectful and accountable talk among all stakeholders.
  2. Teachers have the option to provide oral, written or video feedback to students when offering final commentary on students’ presentations.

Where are the opportunities for novelty or unpredictability in this course?

To ensure that students do not become disengaged from their learning due to predictability, students will experience a talk given by a local MP and will have the opportunity to question him about his views and stance about democracy.
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Departmental Case Study: Plotting literacy across a course

Departmental planning of this nature can be an effective strategy to manage teacher workload and keep students on track in terms of knowledge, skills and assessment performance.


Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., and Braaten, M. (2018). Ambitious Science Teaching. Boston, MA, USA: Harvard Education Press.



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Hannah Young

Hannah Young

I write about education, wellbeing, digital content creation & marketing www.hexis21.com