When schools closed in March and we quickly switched to digital learning, many teachers reported struggling to keep students engaged during digital instruction. Students were often absent, or did not complete or turn in assignments. Some students even devised crafty ways of pretending to have connection issues during a live lesson so they could check out. Today we will share with you some tried and true methods for increasing student engagement when teaching remotely.
Distance Learning Mindset Matters
First of all, we need to get the right mindset for teaching virtually. Instead of thinking of yourself as an old school lecturer, we need to think of ourselves as an engaging and interactive tv show host or video game. We need to use high-interest activities to keep students wanting to be involved in the lesson. Take a look at a tv show or video game students are watching. and ask yourself how you can mimic that engagement.
Ok. I know what you are thinking, “I’m a teacher, NOT a tv star.” Teaching like a tv star may be out of your comfort zone, but teachers are more like tv stars normally than we think. We have a dedicated audience daily for the message we are going to convey. We need to be interesting to students or they can change the channel. That used to mean that they would daydream, put their head on their desk, or ask to go to the bathroom/nurse/counselor as soon as they are bored. The only difference now is they can literally switch the channel and we are not there to stop them.Teaching like a tv star may be out of your comfort zone, but teachers are more like tv stars normally than we think. #distanceeducation Click To Tweet
Have a Gimmick Daily
Build reasons to tune in into your daily distance learning instruction. Some ideas are:
- Hold a daily morning meeting focused on student check-in and conversation, not so much teaching.
- Try a daily/weekly “Would you rather…?” question
- Have a daily/weekly cartoon and discussion
- Have a scavenger hunt that focuses on the topics you are learning about
- Play mystery bag/box
- Reward students for daily attendance/work completion with a “Fun Friday” activity. Announce the activity on Monday and hype it up all week.
- Virtual field trips
- Learn to draw something together
- Friday movie/watch party
- Consider reading aloud a chapter book to your students daily. Do this live at the same time every day and choose a high-interest book.
Build-in Commercial Breaks
During in-person school, students need bathroom breaks, snack breaks, and brain breaks. Digital learning is no different. Brain breaks are also a great idea through distance learning. Have students get up and stretch briefly every 20-30 minutes. Remember that their normal school day is broken up by brief stretch breaks such as when they have to switch centers or retrieve supplies before the start of a lesson. Some ideas for a brain break are:
- Cosmic Kids Yoga
- 30-second doodle break then everyone shares
- Holding live small group lessons (students not in a group at the time are doing independent work/ taking a quick break.)
- Smile Break. (I recommend pre-screening these ready-made PowerPoints full of interesting images and memes. Conscider adding images of your own that students may connect with. You can even make it a project for students to build these for their class as the year goes on.)
Offer Programming Choices
While I believe that the bulk of your distance learning instruction should be offered live through a platform such as Google Meets, Zoom, or WebEx some of the lessons your provide students will be independent. This a great place to build choice boards like you would for instruction in your classroom.
For this I used a Google slides template from Slides Mania. Then I selected what my learning target for the week of “centers” would be and filled in my template with activities students could choose from. Students could choose the activities they wanted to complete and had an exit ticket at the end of the week to complete.
Schedule Off-Air Time
Teaching online is challenging and it is important that you set a schedule for yourself that includes downtime. Make sure your students know when they can contact you and when you will be unavailable. Building in routines for them to know how and when to contact you will let you have time for yourself without feeling guilty.