What To Do When A Student Shuts Down

Easily Discouraged Asperger’s Student

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Have you ever seen a student or two just shut down and give up in the middle of class? Perhaps you gave a writing assignment, silent reading time, or pair/group work. Maybe they didn’t understand your directions, or maybe they feel overwhelmed by the task.

There could be an underlying behavioral or learning disability that can account for the behavior, or maybe they could be in a bad mood from something that happened earlier.

So, what can you do when  a student shuts down?

I found an article on We Are Teachers that addresses this very issue. It give nine quick tips from other educators about how they do it. Their suggestions are helpful and may work. If they don’t, then you can find a way that helps you and your student(s) achieve their best!

Here they are:

  1. Start by talking with the student. Checking in, even just briefly, can help kickstart a reluctant student. “If I notice a student hasn’t started working after I give directions, I’ll go over and ask if he has any questions. Sometimes they do and sometimes it’s the reminder they need to get going.”  Erin F.
  2. Grade accordingly. Whether it’s a lower participation grade or simply an incomplete for the assignment, the student’s grade should reflect the level of effort. “I have a student like this, and I’ve just been grading her work as is. I had some pushback from the parents who were making excuses, claiming she didn’t understand the material, but her test scores prove otherwise!” —Jacqueline T.
  3. Make up the time. “I always tell my kids that if they don’t work during work time, then they have to work during play time, and they miss recess. Of course, even then sometimes the work doesn’t get done, but at least there were consequences to help them understand.” —Doreen G.“The time they just shut down could be considered their ‘recess’ since they’re taking a break from your instructional time. Maybe tell that to the student beforehand.” —Jackie S.
  4. Find a quiet spot. “Can you create a special spot for that student to work? Some of my students shut down because they become distracted, and they each have a spot somewhere else in the classroom they move to in order to focus and do their work.” —Chelsea E.
  5. Don’t nag. It’s ineffective and will zap all of your energy. “I quietly go to students like this and let them know their options: do work now, or lose a privilege. Then I walk away and let them make their choices. I don’t nag. They almost always make the right choice, and I applaud them for it and make sure they know they’ve done the right thing.” —Jennifer G.
  6. Consider the level. “It may be that he’s lacking the skills needed to complete the task. Give him a more basic assignment, and see how he does with that.” —Jo Marie S.
  7. Break up the work. It might be the totality of the assignment that’s weighing the student down. “Break up the task into two or three parts and give them to him one by one. That might help him feel less overwhelmed.” —Tiffany S. “Chunk the assignment and say something like, ‘I’ll be back in ten minutes to check numbers one through five.’” —Samantha B.
  8. Set goals. “Use a goal sheet and have the student set a goal of a specific number of problems they can get done in the amount of time given to the kids to work. Five minutes before the rest of the class’s time is up, check back in with the student and discuss the goal. Readjust until the student can start to set higher goals. The goal is not to make students do the most work; the goal is to have the students show improvements and make learning happen at each student’s level. I do this, and it works!”  —Leslie G.
  9. Understand your limitations. At the end of the day, you can’t make a student do anything that he or she refuses to do. If you try every strategy and nothing’s working, “[d]ocument what’s happening, and move on.” —Frankie C.


Keep these tips in mind and also keep encouraging your students!


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Filed under Behavior Management, Education, EFL, ELL, ESL, Korea, learning, Students, Teaching

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