It’s hard enough to get some of our teens to do the work in class, and now we are expected to get them to do it from home. It seems like a gargantuan task, but is distance learning and student engagement impossible?
Distance learning offers many challenges, and this may be one of the greatest ones. I’m not going to suggest that I have all the answers, but I’m pretty sure we can find ways to make the work engaging enough that they want to do it.
We also need to be realistic about this situation. It’s all new to us and the students. There will be growing pains and a lot of adjustments. We can make the situation less stressful for all involved, including ourselves, if we are flexible and forgiving.
I also think our students will follow our lead. If we are relaxed and have some fun with this, they will be too. We can’t change what’s happening, but we can try to make the best of it.
So, let’s get to my strategies for distance learning and student engagement:
Post Activities that Offer Freedom of Choice:
In my experience I always get more engagement when I offer kids freedom and choice. Here’s how I will do it with my students:
- Give students a choice board that allows them the freedom to pick an activity that they want to do and that best suits their strengths. You can grab my free Distance Learning Challenge Board here.
- Let kids read for fun, not to just complete an assignment. Ask them track the pages they read each day and then to try to read a few more the next day. Make it a challenge to see who can increase the most (do it by percentage rather than number, so everyone can compete). If you need more ideas for independent reading and distance learning, you can read this.
- For non-fiction reading, post links to sites where kids can access news stories and articles like Newsela, Time Magazine, NPR, etc. Instead of assigning an article they have to read, let them choose. Ask them to summarize what they’ve learned and do a response. Ted Talk videos are also good to post for response.
- You can even get kids to practice their research skills by exploring topics and ideas they are interested in. Tell them to spend their online class time searching something they find interesting. Then, they can write a reflection that includes some paraphrased & quoted info that they need to embed and cite.
- Ask kids to post “You’ve Got to Read/Watch/Play This” reviews. These don’t have to be long and formal. Instead, they are short, persuasive pieces that allow students the chance to practice their powers of persuasion AND offer good ideas for passing the time.
- Throw in some group or individual challenges here and there. Competition always drives up engagement, so if once every few days you give one, you will have more kids checking in to see what’s going on. It could be something as simple as creating a haiku to capture how they feel about staying inside. Check below to see how I’m going to do this with my students.
- All of these things are all low-prep for you, but they give the kids the opportunity to build skills while they do something they find interesting. You are also more likely to motivate students to work remotely when they see a purpose to what they are doing, so don’t give them a bunch of busy work.
Post Activities that Let Students Collaborate:
The biggest problems I’ve encountered with distance learning and student engagement is how to use the activities that I used to use in the classroom. When we met face to face, I always planned classes that were full of activity. Students had lots of opportunity to communicate, collaborate, and move. But these things are not as easy to build into online lessons.
That doesn’t mean that they are impossible, though. In fact, I’ve been working hard to adapt some of my favorite activities so they can be used online.
Some of the most engaging activities we do in my classroom involve a little healthy competition. The picture on the left shows examples of some of the writing challenges that I would use to get my students excited about an activity that required them to build their writing skills.
As you can see, I would “hide” items in a bag for groups to write about. That can’t happen online, but I was able to come up with an adaptation that kept all of the essential aspects of the activity – the competition and the skill building – while allowing the kids to collaborate and compete from home.
Here’s a peek at what the new version looks like:
We don’t do challenges every day in Room 213, but my students do a lot of active learning exercises, ones that have them thinking critically, communicating, and collaborating. Most of my favorite classroom activities seemed like they were useless for our new reality. However, with a little thinking and playing around on Google Slides, I have adapted some of those as well. If you have enjoyed using these activities with your students, you can download the resource again and look for the file called digital options.
If you have a number of my resources and you want to know which ones you can use for distance learning, be sure to check out this post.
- You can also sign up to get some free strategies and lesson plans for remote learning here.Stay safe, and never hesitate to reach out with any questions.