How To Respond After An Apathetic, Inattentive Lesson

Smart Classroom Management: How To Respond After An Apathetic, Inattentive LessonIt’s demoralizing.

You plan a great lesson. You give it your enthusiastic best.

But your students don’t respond well.

At all.

They’re distracted and sleepy. They’re bored and slouched in their seats.

They’re uninspired and blase’ about what you have to teach them.

When you finally send them off for independent or group work, they show little urgency.

You push through and get the job done, but the period feels like a waste.

You’re rightfully concerned that the next lesson or next day will bring about more of the same.

So what should you do?

Should you give an impassioned speech and remind your class of their purpose?

Should you reteach your expectations? Should you lighten the mood and bring some fun to the next lesson?

While these methods can be effective, there is a strategy that has a way of setting fire under even the laziest group of students. It’s a strategy that may seem counterintuitive, but never fails to send a jolt of energy through the entire class.

You see, the chief reason students become apathetic is because your lessons have remained at the same level of challenge. In other words, they’ve fallen into a comfortable groove and now all feel about the same.

So the solution, the antidote, is to raise the bar. It’s to increase the difficulty by asking more of your students.

How this looks in some ways depends on your grade level, but a few things remain universal.

I recommend the following:

1. Get them working sooner.

Shorten the directed teaching portion of your lesson by at least half, and then quickly shift responsibility to your students.

Get them up and working on a project within just a few minutes of the start of the period.

2. Increase the pace.

Create urgency by allowing substantially less time than normal to complete work, say 20 minutes rather than the normal 35.

And let them know before giving your instruction, which will not only heighten listening and concentration, but also make things more interesting.

3. Allow some frustration.

Add an additional step or two (or three). Make the lesson, or whatever is required of your students, more complex and challenging.

Allow your students to struggle—because a bit of frustration, along with the prospect of failure, is good. It renews their spirit and awakens their desire to care.

Ask A Lot More

Make sure that, whatever you do, it’s a distinct change.

In other words, your students should be taken aback by what you expect, which may mean asking for double their output, level of focus, number of students in a group, etc.

Read and summarize two chapters instead of the usual one. Do a project in a day that normally takes a week. Require all students to speak for their group rather than just one.

The effect can be dramatic. They’ll often do more and perform better than you ever thought possible.

Now, it’s important to point out that increasing the intensity and workload isn’t a punishment. It’s merely a way to shock them out of their malaise.

This doesn’t mean that you now have to do every lesson this way. Every once in a while, however, can be just the thing your students need.

Still, it may very well show you, prove to you, that you can ask more of them than you have in the past.

It can be a revelatory experience.

When you first announce that they’ll be solving ten problems instead of five, if they grumble and sigh or their jaws drop, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

Just smile and carry on. Tighten the screws, up the ante, turn up the heat.

It does a class good.

PS – Enrollment for the summer online course The Classroom Management Makeover will now open earlier than we first anticipated. The new date is May 16th. It will stay open until June 6th.

Once enrolled, you may access the course whenever you like and for as long as you wish. We’ll be sure and email more information to all subscribers, as well as provide a link to the course, over the next couple of weeks.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.

, ,

24 Responses to How To Respond After An Apathetic, Inattentive Lesson

  1. Ashlee Brown May 6, 2017 at 7:56 am #

    Your post always inspire me. Thank you for this.

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      You’re welcome, Ashlee!


  2. Mark E May 6, 2017 at 8:11 am #

    Thanks Michael.

    This is just part of human nature. Sometimes you just have to “embrace the suck” as they say in the military. We should be learning all the time just like the students.

    Appreciate the weekly advice!

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

      You’re welcome, Mark. It’s always good to hear from you.


  3. chile May 6, 2017 at 8:58 am #

    Love this.

    I usually follow your articles.

    Keep it up.

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

      Will do, Chile. I’m glad you like the article.


  4. cherie May 6, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    I do this sometimes with classes that want to just socialize not only in my class day but in other classes, as well (oftentimes classes that are getting ready to graduate that year, have a number of class clowns, etc.). Greatly shortening the amount of time, even to 15 minutes, and then on to something else: presto chango! They do rise to to the occasion and it does invigorate them!

  5. cherie May 6, 2017 at 9:17 am #

    To add to my previous comment: I tell them this is how it is in the real world if some complain initially before they catch on. I’ve had bosses in jobs outside of education that would want a major presentation in an hour that they needed for their boss. So, I’m doing them a favor by helping them dive in and get focused!

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

      Thanks for sharing, Cherie.


  6. Renee May 6, 2017 at 10:51 am #

    I have tried this and it works. I have found merely changing the order of subjects I teach keeps them alert and guessing.

  7. Eloísa Molina May 6, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

    Thanks for your help. We share your usefull information with our teachers at school in México, toddlers to high school. Thanks again.

    Eloísa Molina, Academic Director Colegio El Roble.

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2017 at 6:53 pm #

      You’re welcome, Eloísa! Great to hear.


  8. Jyoti May 6, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

    I like your articles. Hope they will help me when I will start teaching in Australian schools.
    Thank you

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

      You’re welcome, Jyoti.


  9. Bradley May 6, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    Hi Michael.
    Thanks for yet more sage advice. I’m so glad I found your blog. Your teaching philosophy and advice has helped me create great learning experiences for my kids and sustain a healthy classroom culture. Would have walked away otherwise. Appreciate you so much.

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

      Thanks Bradley. I’m so glad the blog has been helpful.


  10. Charu May 6, 2017 at 10:44 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Great lessons for teachers to learn. Thank you so much. Keep up the super work you are doing.
    Thank you again


    • Michael Linsin May 7, 2017 at 7:47 am #

      Thanks Charu. I’ll do my best.


  11. Rachel May 7, 2017 at 3:04 am #

    Great advice! We have all been there! As students, young and mature, and teachers, experienced or newly qualified. This is one aspect of human nature we have to deal with, in teaching as well as in learning. So that’s very helpful advice, thank you.

    • Michael Linsin May 7, 2017 at 7:48 am #

      Thanks Rachel.


  12. Emily May 7, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

    10 of my 29 students this year are diagnosed with ADHD. I wound up doing this out of sheer survival but found it works wonders for the other students as well.

  13. Sheryl Cullen May 8, 2017 at 7:40 am #

    Hi Michael,

    Is the information for the summer online course The Classroom Management Makeover available yet? There is a group of us that are specialist teachers (art, music, p.e., spanish, library/media, innovation lab) at an independent school in MN, and we are very interested in taking some classroom management p.d. together so that we can come back stronger and more unified in the fall. We have been struggling this year! I recommended your book for specialist teachers after seeing your presentation at The Art of Ed conference, and three of us have it, but we didn’t get very far in our implementation. I think we kept waiting for some additional direction around discipline and consequences from our administration, but we never received it. I finally took your sage advice and over the last three weeks have implemented the four consequences you outlined — the change has been a relief for me and the students, and I’m looking forward to having this plan completely in place when we begin again in the fall. Thank you, Michael!

    • Michael Linsin May 8, 2017 at 8:05 am #

      Hi Sheryl,

      The course will open for enrollment on May 16th, and then you’ll be able to access it at any time and for as long as you like. I’ll email the sign up link to all subscribers as well as make it a prominent feature on the website.


  14. neera May 15, 2017 at 7:49 am #

    Your articles always provide very helpful and valuable tips for classroom management.