Disconnected in an Increasingly Connected World

Students and Staff Reflect on Engagement Levels in the Classroom


Ava Marini

Students take frequent breaks while studying due to disconnectivity in education.

Zoning out for a few minutes, doodling on your paper, whispering to your friend. We’ve all done it before, whether we meant to or not. Students are prone to losing focus in school; they’re human, and humans don’t have the best attention spans.

However, over the past few years, teachers and students have noticed a drastic increase in disengagement during class, which could be a byproduct of many factors.

The most recent issue causing a lack of focus in class is the pandemic. Teachers have realized that students are accustomed to the online learning environment, which includes staring at a screen for six hours, no face-to-face interactions, and fighting against the urge to grab the phone and disengage.

“When you go into a pandemic, and you’re in an at home or hybrid model, you have access to things at your fingertips, like your phone, and it’s so easy to disconnect, shut off your screen, shut off your mic and just wander into some things,” Adam Laliberte, the newest Spanish teacher at Wilton High School, said.

Students developed the habit of stepping back from their studies due to how easy Zoom made it for them. At the click of a button, cameras would be shut off and students would disconnect with their learning.

“It’s a difficult habit to break when you’ve been in it for 18 months,” Laliberte said.

The jump back into a full-time, in-person environment shocked many students, forcing them to adjust back to pre-pandemic conditions. For most, the switch didn’t come easily. Kathryn Lynch, an AP Environmental Science teachers at Wilton High School, identifies a barrier when returning to normal tests.

“Coming back into a class where you have big stakes tests, that are long and cover an entire unit, I knew was going to be a challenge,” Lynch said. “I, as a teacher, made the decision that we needed to maintain the big assessments and we have to keep students prepared.”

Along with Lynch, many teachers tried to return to the pre-pandemic teaching styles to keep students prepared for the future. However, some teachers weren’t as successful as Lynch, causing students to be disengaged. 

“So many of my teachers think it’s sufficient to just spend the whole 90 minutes lecturing to the class; 10 minutes in, and I am completely disengaged,” high school senior, Aki Lasher, said about her classroom experiences this year. 

Despite feedback from students, the shift from virtual to in-person learning, and the long 85-minute block, teachers still think that a traditional learning style is the most beneficial, which is when most students disengage the most.

“I think it’s our job as teachers to reflect and reevaluate our teaching styles and if we are meeting the needs of the students,” Lynch said.

Students have vocalized their desire for the content to be presented in a more connecting way. Senior Annie Caldwell comments on her opinion about this issue.

“Teachers who implement a variety of different mediums will keep students engaged,” Caldwell said. “Variety will help keep students interested in class, so teachers should focus on finding ways to reduce the predictability of their classes.”

Many teachers have observed this change and made the effort to change up their teaching styles. 

“I’m looking to all the other teachers to mix up methods and strategies,” English teacher at Wilton High School, Michael Walsh, said. “I’ve had students submit a TikTok. Mixing it up like that allows for different modes of expressions and therefore assessment.”

Giving students the ability to express themselves in different methods definitely increases engagement, as well as overall interest, in the classroom. Lasher has a strong opinion about this.

“I prefer more fun projects that are done in a way that stimulates the students’ creativity,” Lasher said. “I always end up prioritizing the most fun project, even if it’s due in two weeks.”

Along with creativity, students find themselves more engaged when teachers seem passionate about what they are teaching, energizing the students and making them want to learn.

“It doesn’t matter whether the topic is boring or unentertaining, if the teacher standing in front of the class provides energy and enthusiasm, I will instantly be able to retain my focus,” Connor Smith, a junior at Wilton High School, said.

Smith highlighted that the class he was most engaged in was his Expository Writing class because his teacher, Kristina Harvey, always has so much enthusiasm, even in the early hours of the morning.

“I find it fascinating how much energy she can have at 8:20 in the morning, especially when all of her students look like they haven’t slept a day in their life,” Smith said.

Along with teaching styles and the pandemic, both students and teachers find that living in a digital age has not helped a student’s engagement in the classroom.

“How entertaining they are and the variety they offer makes it difficult for students to concentrate on text, for say, 45 minutes,” Walsh said about his experience teaching English. 

Boredom is a common symptom among high school students. Thus, when students need a quick boost of entertainment, they turn to technology. 

Students are not used to holding their attention span for long periods of time, and with the rising popularity of social media platforms like TikTok, they are having an increasingly difficult time staying focused.

“You can get lost in TikTok for hours, but you are getting it in short bursts, and classes aren’t designed to be that way,” Laliberte said.

Others have commented on the disengagement in school being a cause of fear of missing out, or more commonly known as FOMO.

“Our desire for connection is strong, and when this is not fulfilled by our teachers, we rely on technology to provide this connection and engagement,” Caldwell said.

Even teachers see students’ urge to be connected, so much so that when teachers give breaks in class, the first thing students do is grab their phones.

“If everything is connected with your friends in the various apps, and you used to have to wait until passing time to see them, why would you put it away? You want to know what your friends think,” Walsh said. 

Despite the mountain of factors that cause students to disconnect from their academics, many students have vocalized their opinions about what teachers need to adjust in the classroom, and teachers are responding to the feedback.

A common tactic of giving students the opportunity to present feedback is a Google Form check-in, once every quarter or so.

“I try to evaluate each class,” Lynch said. “I get a sense of strengths and weaknesses of each class, which gives me ideas on how to teach the class.”

Students have also expressed a desire to connect more with their teachers, believing that their passion about the subject will keep them more focused and engaged in class.

“By giving out constant positivity and excitement, teachers will be able to improve their students’ engagement and connection to their academics,” Smith said about his relationships with his teachers.

As the year goes on, students and teachers continue to find ways to connect with academics and each other, hoping to find a bit of connection after being disconnected for so long.