Engaging Students Remotely
Student Engagement Is More Critical Than Ever
The past several months have been transformative for K–12 schools. The shift to remote learning in the spring pushed school leaders and teachers to rethink what teaching and learning look like today. But transitioning to an online environment was far from easy. The pandemic further exacerbated existing challenges, from connectivity issues to achievement and equity gaps. Teachers also struggled to engage students with virtual lessons, particularly those who did not have reliable access to a device, adequate Wi-Fi, or tech support at home.
Classrooms today look very different from the traditional classrooms most of us are used to. Technology has been an instrumental part of teaching and learning as many classrooms are now reliant on online learning platforms for instruction. This shift has been challenging, and many students and teachers struggle to build engagement and improve learning outcomes in a virtual environment. Now more than ever, teachers must find ways to increase student engagement in a remote setting. Research shows that student engagement leads to learning. When students are engaged in their studies, they dedicate time to schoolwork in and outside of the classroom, feel challenged, and exercise deeper learning strategies (Fredricks, Blumenfeld and Paris, 2004).
There isn’t a magic playbook of virtual activities and lessons that teachers can use to build engagement. Teachers must combine multiple strategies to reach remote learners and their families. And while there isn’t a singular solution, response data did support a few principles of effective teaching that are immune to the pandemic. According to the research conducted on Teaching & Learning in the Time of Covid-19 (Urban Education Institute, 2020) students are most likely to engage when they are able to:
Implementing these principles of engagement requires us to revisit the strategies learned in Module 1: Culturally Responsive Classroom Management. Whether teaching in-person or remotely, teachers must continue to develop a positive classroom culture that focuses on building community, setting clear expectations, and being flexible to meet the needs of learners.
Lessons that Promote Engagement
The difference between remote and in-person teaching is that teachers do not have as much control over a remote learning environment. If lessons are not intentional and organized with ample opportunities to connect, create, collaborate and communicate, then students will disengage and learning will not happen.
In many cases, substitute teachers will be provided a lesson plan with content that needs to be covered for the day. As you plan to implement these lessons, it is important to remember that teaching remotely is different from being in the physical classroom with students. You will need to be prepared, familiar with the technology tools, and plan as much in advance while remaining flexible. While this is not an easy task, we hope the following resources, activities, and lessons will help you feel better prepared to instruct remotely.
BUILDING CONNECTIONS REMOTELY
Students are not engaged when they do not feel connected to the teacher, their peers, or the content. When students are not engaged, active learning does not occur. Substitute teachers must find ways to balance the day by incorporating connector activities.
Find simple activities that promote the visibility of students. Meaningful activities that humanize the learning process during times of uncertainty are especially important for the well being of students. These activities can be used during transitions, when students finish lessons early, during classroom meetings, and as attention grabbers.
Brain Breaks: Giving kids frequent brain breaks to reset their energy level improves their ability to focus, retain more, and stay on task. Here are 50+ educational brain breaks that can be used to build connections remotely.
Tech Features & Platforms
After reviewing the ideas in the “How?” section above, familiarize yourself with these technology features to support successful implementation. (A deeper dive of common digital tools can be found in lesson 4.5)
Google Meet is a video conference tool from Google that many teachers use to host virtual classes and to provide small-group or 1-1 support to students. Interactive tools and features also support remote connections.
Watch how this teacher uses Zoom as a way to greet students and begin the day with positive community building activities and affirmations.
ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY REMOTELY
Students are easily bored by “busy work,” worksheets, and written responses to passive reading or viewing. Traditional formats like fill-in-the-blank lessons and quizzes are not engaging and these methods are outdated in an online context.
Lessons must provide opportunities for student creativity, artistic expression, experimentation, and hands-on learning. Open-ended assignments need to be considered to provide student autonomy and choice.
Substitute teachers should review the lesson plans for the day and think about ways in which these lessons can be adapted to encourage creativity.
“Gamified” lesson activities allow students and teachers opportunities to create or engage with interactive games that can be used as a way to informally assess students' understanding of content.
Tech Features & Platforms
Flipgrid is a free video recording, posting, and sharing platform. Teachers can create a topic/prompt, and students reply in their own words and voices with brief video responses that are viewable to all classmates. The teacher can enable settings that allow users to respond to one another’s videos with a video or text comment.
Google Slides is an online presentation app that lets students’ create and format presentations and work with other people. Sharing features allow for students to create presentations both independently and collaboratively.
Watch this video collection of students using Flipgrid to create videos that demonstrate their understanding of content. Think about how these opportunities for creation can allow students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways.
It is easy to let group work fall by the wayside when teachers cannot be in the room with students to ensure focus and productivity. Additionally, social distancing prevents students from working together in close proximity even when they are physically in the room together.
Peer collaboration is an integral part of the learning process. Find ways to encourage collaboration and interaction by learning basic technology tools that are designed for collaboration.
Virtual Gallery Walks give students an opportunity to view their classmates’ projects while learning from each other. Students can present their work through a 3-5 minute screencast, and classmates can give feedback to each other.
Station Rotation is a model in which students rotate through learning tasks/modalities on a ﬁxed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion, and at least one of the modalities is online learning. Students rotate through all of the stations over the course of a day or multiple days. Stations might include activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, and pencil-and-paper assignments. (Adapted from The Christensen Institute). This blended learning model allows for teachers to create online stations that encourage collaboration.
Tech Features & Platforms
Google Docs is a powerful real-time collaboration and document authoring tool. Multiple users can edit a document at the same time, while seeing each others' changes instantaneously. Users can produce text documents, slide presentations, spreadsheets, drawings, and surveys.
Screenshare (a feature on both Zoom and Google Meet) allows for students to share their screen with the class. This feature needs to be controlled and monitored by the teacher.
Jamboard is a collaborative virtual whiteboard in the Google Suite of free tools. Students can add sticky notes, draw, add images, and type in text boxes, which allows students to make their thinking visible. Like a Google Doc, Jamboard allows multiple users to make edits to the same artifact simultaneously. It is similar to Google Slides or PowerPoint presentations in many ways.
Breakout Rooms are sub-rooms that can be created (using Zoom and/or Google Meet) within a meeting or virtual conference session. They are useful for splitting a large class into smaller groups for discussion and collaboration.
The challenges of getting students to participate have intensified during remote learning. Digital platforms can create added communication barriers by making it hard to know when to talk, for example, or how to read subtle but important elements of discourse like a person’s body language and facial expressions.
Find ways to still provide students with personal support, scaffolding, and reassurance. Creating opportunities that encourage students to verbally express themselves through dialogue and meaningful content helps to improve communication barriers. Please note that giving students options to turn cameras on and off are recommended as evidence suggests that online instruction can pose a range of challenges for students if they are required to keep their cameras on during class. (EdWeek, 2020)
Spider Web Discussion: is an opportunity for teachers to create a visual map that tracks the flow of conversation. Teachers can track the flow of class discussions by drawing lines on a sheet of paper, resulting in a spider web. Sharing the drawing with students over video, and then having students reflect on the experience and what they learned about who talked, who listened, and who built on the ideas of others is a successful way to encourage student discourse.
Videos can be more engaging than written instructions for students. They can be used in any subject area to enhance the distant learning experience and to give students a visual understanding of a concept.
Tech Features & Platforms
Educational videos that Inspire, and support authentic learning:
Screenshare is the practice of sharing the contents of your screen with others on another device or multiple devices. Both Zoom and Google Meet have this feature, and when settings are adjusted, teachers can allow students to share their work with their teacher and/or peers for authentic discussion and feedback.
Watch how this teacher uses zoom to promote classroom How might you use this technique to encourage student discourse?