Increasing classroom engagement during SAD season

Maintaining a consistent level of student engagement in your classroom can be difficult. After all, an educator will have many students with needs to be met. If you aren’t actively engaging your students, they can quickly become disinterested and withdraw from classroom participation.

Additionally, with the winter months upon us, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is yet another factor that may severely impact your students’ level of engagement. The Society for Human Resource Management (originally reported by the National Mental Health Association) reports that “SAD affects 10 million Americans.” It is also reported that SAD usually starts affecting people at age 20 — meaning that if you are a college professor, you will most likely come across students suffering from SAD. Student engagement is vital for any student’s success. However, during a SAD season, you may have to take extra measures in encouraging classroom participation.

How SAD affects students?

Seasonal affective disorder, according to Regis College, is “a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter.” The lack of sunlight in the winter months can reduce serotonin and melatonin levels, which disrupt our circadian rhythm and can cause problems with such symptoms as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep issues
  • Difficulty concentrating

Needless to say, these symptoms can have a negative impact on a student’s performance. A student who is not sleeping properly and is having difficulty concentrating on course material will not feel very inclined to participate in the classroom. During the SAD season, you may need to change your classroom management tactics to accommodate students affected and increase their level of engagement — allowing these students to have the best possible chance to succeed.

Increasing student engagement

Whether teaching through online classes, or in a traditional classroom setting, student engagement is critical for their success. Your classroom environment should encourage every student to participate. However, students affected by SAD may not feel up to the task. If you are to get the students enthused, you will need to come up with some engaging methods to help get students affected by SAD interested. In many cases, this is not difficult, it is just a matter of adjusting your teaching methods — making them more hands-on and interactive.

Technology in the classroom

Online educators know of the communicative abilities technology has brought to the classroom. With real-time information able to be relayed, technology and devices help learning to be more fun and students to learn at their own pace. Today’s technology simply engages students better while allowing them to understand and retain course material more easily. A student affected by SAD may not have the energy or propensity to interact with the class or course materials, however, they may be prompted to participate with a more active lesson plan.

Many students who are depressed may not want to show up to class. Technology can allow them to view course material, do homework, and talk with others through their devices at home. Furthermore, you can continually check up on how they are doing and grade their work. A student affected by SAD may not feel up to participating in a classroom setting but could feel more comfortable participating at their home. By now, any teacher should know the power and benefits technology brings. Today’s technology assists you in a variety of ways — allowing you to reach every student.

Interactive lessons

Everyday lectures can get tedious for most students. A student might find it refreshing, and easier to grasp material through a PowerPoint or video. Students who are going through SAD may not want to come to class to hear a teacher talk for hours. Many times, an educator can put together an interactive program with video to better capture their attention.

Furthermore, gamification — adding video game elements to your lesson plans — can engage a student even further. Gamification can be a fun way for students to understand how they are doing in the class. It can also liven up class information in a way that all students will become deeply engaged.

Classroom atmosphere

Any classroom atmosphere should encourage students to participate in classroom discussions and interact with course material. Whether you teach an online class, or in a physical classroom, you can deploy engagement methods to peak and maintain the interest of your students. In many instances, it is up to you to set the classroom tone and feel. It will be challenging to get students affected by SAD to participate without first allowing them an environment that offers a chance to do so.

Class tone, expectations, and even the physical organization (if not online) should not be overlooked when providing an engaging atmosphere for your students. Develop a collaborative tone by letting your students know that it’s okay to speak up — in fact, everyone should for better conversation. Establish meaningful discourse in the classroom, as well as on online channels. Make sure you express expectations such as when students will get together for meetings and other class procedures. Communicate with your students to let them know that they can come to you with their problems and that you are approachable. You can even take the chance here to tell them that you understand SAD symptoms. Overall, make an active learning environment where students can explore and communicate in a variety of ways.

As we approach these winter months, educators will need to be aware of students who are affected by SAD. Develop fun, interactive lesson plans that will break up the monotony of students staying inside all day and out of the cold weather. Give your students a reason to attend class and a chance to learn and retain meaningful knowledge.


Frankie Wallace is a freelance journalist from Boise, Idaho and contributes to a variety of blogs across the web.

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