One of the major concerns in the world of education right now is how to engage students in the new normal of remote learning. In over eight years of teaching, I have never experienced anything like what we are facing today.
Keep Building Relationships
In the classroom, I tend to find that engagement increases as the school year presses on. Many teachers do not understand that there is a direct relationship between positive classroom relationships and student engagement.
One of the best things that I have done since remote learning began is to check-in with my students and their parents frequently. For my students, I try to touch base with them individually through school email. However, I also reach out to parents on a weekly basis, just as I would during a regular school week.
These relationships are often what help my students make the decision to try their hardest for me. They will do online lessons from home because they have a positive relationship with me. They will also do them because their parents have a positive relationship with me, and I keep them informed about what is going on in our online lessons.
Using a video platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts is a great way to deliver lessons to your students. I actually pre-record lessons using Zoom so that I can share both my screen and my face with my students as I am teaching.
Students say that they really enjoy the pre-recorded lessons because they can stop or rewind any parts they need to hear again. They also enjoy being able to do their work for my class at any point during the day. If I had scheduled live Zoom lessons, then they would be tied to a specific schedule.
One thing that does not work when it comes to remote teaching is simply assigning random work to your students. Even though the circumstances have changed, our children still need the same principles in order to achieve learning. They need to see the lesson modeled, they need practice and correction, and then they need to be tested for mastery.
In addition to formal Zoom lessons, kids need safe opportunities to talk to each other. One of the things that I have implemented lately is informal check-ins. I do these through Zoom, but they serve several purposes. First, the kids and I get to do a quick check in, you might be surprised how much they enjoy talking to you again as they got to do at school.
Secondly, if there is anyone who is in need or who seems a little bit off, then these check-ins are a great way for me to touch base with the kids. Of course, they are not likely to reach out about what they need on a Zoom meeting, but these are gentle reminders that they have adults who care if they need to talk to us.
Lastly, on these informal Zoom meetings, the kids have an opportunity to socialize with people who they cannot see because school is out. Most of the kids have friends that they see during summer, but many of them do not see classmates that they would only see at school. These zoom meetings are a crucial part of their social needs being met.
One of my favorite “assignments” that I have sent out to my kids is not really an academic assignment at all. I want to encourage my students to recognize that they are living through history right now. One day, their children and grandchildren will read about this time in their history books. For this reason, I have given my students assignments such as a virtual time capsule to remind them how their daily lives during quarantine will one day be remembered in history.
I used Google Slides to give my students a space to share their time capsule, but there are a million different ways this assignment could be accomplished. The important thing is to encourage them to write and think about their lives as a living piece of history.
Day in the Life
Another fun activity I gave my students was a short video of a “day in the life.” First, I created my own short video that showed my day – from cooking breakfast all the way to putting my children to bed. We used time lapse and Wevideo to create these. This was another activity that gave me a real connection to my students and fostered a connection amongst them as well.
One last thing that I did to boost engagement with my students is to take them on a virtual field trip of a local city. We were unable to have our traditional end-of-the-year trip that we normally have. Instead, I filmed myself visiting various “social distancing” safe places around the major city in our area. The kids had to write a response about any one of these places that they have visited in the past. The best part is, I did not even need an online permission slip in order to give the kids this awesome experience.
Again, this activity is focused more on giving the students easy ways to connect to their life at school and to me as an individual. I think that these opportunities are crucial for our students if they are going to continue to thrive long after this pandemic has come to an end.
Engaging with students in the classroom can sometimes seem like an impossible task. Now that our students are no longer right in front of us, engaging them is even more impossible than it has ever seemed before. However, in my experience, my students are overwhelmingly eager to talk to me and their classmates. I have been pleasantly surprised by their eager reactions to the more engaging content that I post. As a result, I have also had quite a bit of luck getting them to interact with the educational material posted as well.
One of the most valuable lessons that I learned was these students with both mild and significant disabilities were no different than my other students. They thrive when real learning takes place. They enjoy the intrinsic value of education. Overwhelmingly, they need significant experiences outside of the walls of the classroom just like every other school-aged child.
After stepping back from all the craziness during a slow-paced spring break, I’ve had some time to think about how I’m going to try to make the last quarter of school a really positive online learning experience.
So, here’s what I’ve whittled it down to (for me, a kindergarten teacher with a fairly large class)…
This new land of virtual school thrust me head first into the fire that awaits me next school year: a hybrid position split evenly between classroom teaching and teacher support. I cannot pretend to be an expert in virtual school, but I can share some wisdom from the front lines.