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Monday / June 25

Waking Up the Hibernating Student

Student Voice

Contributed by Dave Nagel

Part 2 of an 8 part series

 In my blog post Identifying the Hibernating Student, we talked about how to identify the students who have neither a dream or goal to work towards, nor are they putting any actions or efforts into their daily efforts. Using Dr. Russ Qualia and Michael Corso’s Student Aspirations Framework™, these students are considered to be hibernating. We can envision the sleeping/drooling student in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in Ben Stein’s classroom, who is awoken by the screech of the chalk on board. That leads us to today’s installment question—Once we have identified these students, whether they are sleeping on the desk or drifting through their educational careers, we have one purpose: How do we wake these kids up?

Student Aspirations Quadrants

What doesn’t work? Telling them to just work harder!

The one thing that Qualia and Corso’s work tells us not to do (as does common sense) is to simply tell hibernating students to work harder! Students who are (or have been) in hibernation for some period of time often are behind in work, assignments, etc. Quite often what drove students to a state of hibernation is being asked to put forth (at least in their minds) arduous effort towards doing work that either they had little understanding of how to do it, why they were doing it, or often both. Telling them to simply put forth more effort that isn’t linked to something long-term is far from effective. Asking them just to perspire and buckle down and complete assignments or tasks they cannot connect any short or long term goals with in their minds will only breed more aimlessness. This may actually push them even further away from developing aspirations. It is much more effective to get students to connect to a dream or desired state first—and then help lead them to understanding the connection to current actions and work second.

Engage Me or Enrage Me!

“Waking a student out of hibernation does not require a profound transformation; rather it requires the student to feel some connection and interest in learning (Quaglia & Corso, p. 16, 2014). Telling students to simply work harder doesn’t work, so what does? What does is increasing engagement! The hibernating student could very likely have a history of coasting through classes and lessons—maybe even with high grades. They may have done so all the way into high school and now are, above all else, bored.

Hibernating students often exude lethargy and indifference to learning. This either frustrates us beyond belief or misses our radar completely because these students are successful in not causing us any real challenges or problems. Either because of the need to create a better learning environment for them and for other students or for the moral imperative—we cannot allow them to continue in this sleeping state. 

 Students show higher levels of engagement when they have more freedom to express their ideas on topics (2010, p. 22). They recommended the ‘five C’s’ to stimulate learning in place of boredom: control, choice, challenge, complexity, and caring (p.22). All five are an inroad to helping kids wake from slumber—and often they are connected. Let’s focus on 2: Choice and Challenge.

Eradicating Boredom Through Choices and Challenges

But what do I need to do—Stand on my head? These kids need to own their own learning!” I have heard this statement in one form or another over the years and I first and foremost sympathize with the teacher. Many well intended and strong efforts at waking students up and pushing them into engagement have failed not because the teacher hasn’t cared or tried diligently. But I have to ask the question: Can students own their own learning if they have to do so with only your specific assignment or task? Teachers can minimize apathy and increase engagement by providing students with choices and including multiple options for students for certain assignments in the weekly lesson and unit planning.

Challenge Me…PLEASE!
Student Voice

Teachers can minimize apathy and increase engagement by providing students with choices.

Hibernating students are rarely challenged to go above and beyond where they feel they can be. Some of this IS related to their slumber and demonstration of apathy….Some might be the by-product of our lowering expectations and not providing them with challenges to meet. When students are able to set challenging goals and have input in their creations, they are more likely to connect ownership of the learning back to themselves. They seek and receive feedback in a way that increases their chances for maintaining engagement and increasing their learning. Student commitment to challenges they help create and own allows feedback to trigger internal appraisal, thus improving reaction to feedback (Van-Dijk and Kluger, 2001).

Classroom Tool—Selection Syllabus

A practical example teachers can use that combines both choice and challenges is the creation of a selection syllabus. Teachers let students know the value of all assignments, assessments, and tasks at the start of the semester. In addition, a well created selection syllabus provides students with multiple options for choices for certain topics and assignments, as well as opportunities to go deeper with more challenging and rigorous work they are interested in.

At the end of the day, we can keep it simple: Schools and classroom teachers can help students lift their head up, wipe the drool off their cheek and desk by shocking them with something that hasn’t happened in many of their previous classroom experiences—letting them have a great deal of choice in their learning.

Kanevsky, L., & Keighley, T. (2003). To produce or not to produce: Understanding boredom and the honor of underachievement. Roeper Review, 26, 20-28.

Nagel, D. (2015). Meaningful grading practices for secondary teachers: Practical strategies to prevent failure, recover credits, and ensure standards-based grading. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Van-Dijk, D., & Kluger, A.N. (2001). Goal orientation versus self-regulation: Different labels or different constructs? Paper presented at the 16th annual convention of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Diego, CA.


Dave Nagel

Dave Nagel has over 18 years of successful experience helping schools grow and develop their staffs to best meet student needs. For over a decade, he has served as a middle and high school biology teacher and building level administrator. He has also worked as a professional developer, coach, and keynoter for the past twelve years. Schedule an on-site or virtual consultation, seminar, or workshop with Dave Nagel today!



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