How teachers can engage students learning from home

teacher smiling
Teachers are very familiar with the challenge of keeping students engaged in the classroom, however keeping them interested and on task when they are learning remotely takes this challenge to a whole new level.

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In the media: Education Today 17 September 2020

Teachers are very familiar with the challenge of keeping students engaged in the classroom, however keeping them interested and on task when they are learning remotely takes this challenge to a whole new level.

As weeks of lockdown have rolled into months, it’s no surprise that students’ motivation and enthusiasm have begun to wane and that keeping them motivated and engaged has become increasingly difficult.

Fortunately, there are some helpful tactics that teachers can employ to help boost their students’ participation and concentration in the virtual classroom. 

A little bit of fun goes a long way
While it can be tricky to make all aspects of the curriculum riveting for kids, there are still lots of things we can do to make learning fun – it’s all about being creative!

For example, Preps at Strathcona Girls Grammar recently participated in ‘Science Extravaganza Fri-yay’ which saw them research, hypothesise, test and observe scientific processes at home, using household items. Another group of students went on a virtual world tour as part of their geography class – visiting South America, Europe, North America and Asia. At the end of the tour, students were given recipes from each destination so they could finish the day with an exotic family feast at home.

It doesn’t need to be elaborate though, even something as simple as setting up your own creative backdrop for your lessons will give students a sense of fun and some much-needed variety.

Make it interactive
Children don’t always have long attention spans (especially if they’re young) and participating in virtual lecture-style classes all day can really test their ability to sit still and concentrate. For this reason, it’s important to make classes as interactive as possible.

You can do this by promoting class discussions and facilitating group activities — Zoom and Microsoft Teams both have break-out room functions. And don’t forgot to use lots of visuals – the Share Screen feature is a teacher’s best friend. You can share videos, images, class games and even use a visual whiteboard function to make notes.

For younger students especially, something as simple as encouraging them to use pictures to outline their daily timetable and having them tick activities off once completed is a great way to help keep them on track throughout the day.

Acknowledge student accomplishments
Each child will be managing online learning at different rates with individual challenges going on behind the scenes in their world. The beauty of online learning is that there is an opportunity for sharing more broader learning experiences than just school work.

While it is important to acknowledge and give positive feedback about school work that children are handing in, for those that are struggling with this, there are other avenues where they can show their capabilities. They can share photos of pictures they’ve drawn, origami they’ve made, Lego creations they’ve made, or photos of cooking creations they’ve tried. A student’s participation and productivity will be increased when they feel connected and valued. Games or activities where each child gets to share their favourite toy, book, pet, game or photo will assist also with adding that sense of connection. Themes for a day are a great way to encourage participation and get student’s feeling connected and ready to contribute. Students have come up with some great ideas like wear a hat day, crazy hair day, wear a specific colour day, football day or dress up day. Students feel a sense of accomplishment at being a contributing member of the class with these activities. Students that feel these connections with their classmates and teacher will be more likely to put in that little bit extra or keep going when things are difficult, maybe not all the time, but most of the time.

Be a positive role model
During this difficult time, it can be exhausting for teachers to put on a brave and happy face each day when they may be feeling tired and overwhelmed. However, it’s important to remember that students are looking to you for cues on how to behave and cope during this difficult time.

With that being said, don’t be so hard on yourself if the school day isn’t going as planned – try your best to model good coping skills, and potentially shift the focus of the lesson to an educational game or group discussion to promote interaction.

Prioritise wellbeing
Between an incredibly interrupted school year, technical and practical challenges, missing friends, and not being able to do most extracurricular activities – it’s not surprising that students’ moods can fluctuate. While it can be harder for teachers to monitor students when they’re not side by side in the classroom, monitoring students’ wellbeing and stepping in when necessary remains vitally important.

Make time to check in with your students individually or in small groups to see how they’re feeling and encourage them to look after their own wellbeing by taking regular breaks, going outside daily, getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and catching up with friends.

It’s been a year like no other for school communities, and it’s understandable that students might be feeling a little disengaged and demotivated after so much disruption. Fortunately, there are steps teachers can take to make the learning experience more fun and engaging and to help keep students on track during this time.  Most importantly, keep up the great work! Parents and students are incredibly grateful for your agility in adapting to the online world of teaching.