So you’ve suddenly found yourself teaching virtually. You’re competing with all the distractions your students have at home, like their cell phones, TVs, and pets. Even kids who enthusiastically participated in your classroom discussions now seem distant online. They complain about headaches and fatigue from sitting at their computers all day. Others simply aren’t performing as well outside the traditional classroom walls. Everyone misses the social interactions that can only occur in a school building.
To boost student engagement, you may have turned to online programs such as Nearpod or Kahoot! to help gamify your content, or maybe you’ve created more hands-on projects that students could do independently. However, you’ve probably found there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What works with one class, or even one student, may not work with another.
If you’re still struggling, read on for some useful tips for boosting engagement in your virtual classroom. These tips work best for students in grades 7-12, but you could easily adapt them for other grades as well.
What Is Student Engagement?
In short, it depends on who you ask. According to edglossary.org, student engagement is “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” While you may have high standards for your students’ engagement in the ideal setting, you might define it differently online. Your goal may be for each student to take part once a day in the class discussion. Even small goals, when built upon each other, create a more positive learning environment for everyone.
Online Student Engagement Platforms
First, let’s address online learning platforms such as Nearpod, Kahoot!, Peardeck, Quizlet, and the many other sites that have recently risen in popularity. There’s no doubt that some students love learning through these sites. Some of them can even cut down on your workload as a teacher, as they provide fully developed lessons at the click of a mouse. However, if you decide to use one of these programs, consider the following tips:
1) Keep it simple.
Stick to one or two of the most appropriate sites that you can find for your content area. Don’t overwhelm yourself with putting together Peardeck slides if you can accomplish the same task in PowerPoint or Google Slides, for example.
If you read the posts on various groups on Facebook devoted to teacher talk, you’ll see lots of teachers still drowning as they implement multiple new programs all at once. Just don’t do it. You, and your students, likely know about Nearpod and Kahoot! already, so stick with what works.
2) Use what you already have.
If your school uses an online learning management system like Schoology or Google Classroom, use it. Several online learning sites allow you to post lessons directly to a learning management system in a few easy steps. Take this time to brush up on your knowledge of your existing platforms and use them to their fullest.
3) Be consistent.
Make sure the programs you use align with your standards and goals and also use the same vocabulary to describe them as the rest of your academic materials. Take advantage of the online tools that come with your textbook whenever possible.This will reduce confusion and enhance your students’ understanding of the concepts.
Methods of Conversation
Teaching and assessing content may not be enough to keep your students showing up to class during a global pandemic. Sometimes, you need to spend some time talking and learning from each other.
1) To boost student engagement spend the first five minutes just chatting.
You may teach bell-to-bell in a traditional classroom setting, but that doesn’t always work online. If you allow your students to chat during the first five minutes of class, you not only give time for latecomers, you also show them you actually want to hear their thoughts and concerns. I guarantee you they have plenty right now!
2) Engage students in meaningful conversations about the content.
Some subjects, such as English Language Arts, naturally lend themselves to whole-class or small group conversations. Remember that mastery of a subject shows itself in many ways. A student who is not a strong writer, for example, may orally analyze a poem or short story with the same success as an extremely strong writer. They can then use their oral brainstorming to guide them through the writing process.
3) Hold friendly debates.
Students who learn how to express their opinions and respectfully disagree with others will succeed in college and careers for years to come. With guidance, any class can share their knowledge of a subject and learn to appreciate other people’s perspectives of it.
Asynchronous Learning Methods
You may choose to “flip” your classroom, or you may have days where you teach and others where students work on their own. Either way, asynchronous learning may force you to think creatively about how to engage your students.
1) Hold office hours.
If you have some flexibility about when (or how often) you hold synchronous classes, consider holding office hours where students can meet with you one-on-one to discuss their projects, essays, or any other concerns they have about your class. Office hours give your students the opportunity to control aspects of their own education. They also allow you to get to know them as individuals and chat about hobbies unrelated to school.
2) Use forums and blogs.
Not only do blog and forum posts give students more practice writing in a real-life context, but they also act as a method of communication between those who may not get to see each other daily.
3) Assign collaborative projects using Google Docs.
Google Docs is a simple way for students to collaborate at their own pace, on their own time. You can also see who contributes, keep track of their progress, and make comments and suggestions whenever you’d like. Try allowing your class to perform research on topics they care about, write short stories together, or just jigsaw questions within one document.
No one said that managing a virtual classroom was going to be easy. Just keep in mind that your students feel overwhelmed too. Don’t forget to give plenty of brain breaks and cut them some slack sometimes. A good balance of technology and old-fashioned conversation will boost student engagement, no matter how you define it.