Coming into this new school year has been a mixed bag of emotions for everyone: anxiety, excitement, worry, relief. Although many schools are starting the year in-class, the possibility of switching to distance learning can add stress and uncertainty to the list especially for those juggling more than one child in school, work responsibilities, and maintaining some semblance of balance at home. There are quite a few news and social media posts of children trying hard to be excited about learning online but struggling. Understandably, this leads to concerns of substantial learning loss for our students.
Schools are generally a place where students can feel valued and cared for, finding a comfortable stability in the routines established. Educators play a large part in cultivating these positive feelings, building relationships within the class family as part of the school community. But for educators and students starting the school year with remote learning, the absence of that in-person connection may cause many to struggle. The challenge becomes how to keep students connected, not just during virtual learning sessions but for as long as remote learning is in place. Besides the fact that education is vital for building critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them thrive as adults, students need to ‘buy-in’ to regularly connecting and participating in their remote learning environment.
Building buy-in means that educators are cultivating virtual class environments that students are willingly supporting and participating in. Students are showing up for scheduled virtual sessions and engaging, making an effort to complete assignments fully and on time, and actively trying to make academic progress. Here are some ways educators successfully develop buy-in for students:
- Making sure that there is two-way, open, and honest communication with students. When educators are willing to listen to students’ needs, they are showing empathy and helping to build trust. Scheduling weekly check-ins to see how students are handling the “new norm” and listening to their responses is vital. There also may be students who will thrive from daily check-ins in the beginning.
- Working with students to establish expectations and norms for participating in remote learning. This includes how everyone participates in a live virtual session (attentively, respectfully), posting feedback on others’ work (have examples of positive and constructive comments), and even controlling facial expressions if someone makes a mistake.
- Having students share what makes/would make a live lesson engaging. They are digital natives and most likely their tech experiences and knowledge surpass what we know. Being receptive to their ideas and open to adapting is important for keeping students tuned in.
- Helping students generate strategies that will help them focus on learning. This might include making a schedule with breaks, using a timer and working until it goes off, setting goals for each day, note-taking skills, or creating a checklist then starting from the easiest or hardest task and working down. Encourage students to try one or two strategies for a couple of weeks and modify to suit them.
- Providing as many choices as possible when planning assignments. For example, if students need to write a persuasive essay, let them select from three or four topics. Or instead of completing a worksheet on identifying 3D shapes, give them the choice of taking and posting pics of household examples. Help students feel a greater sense of responsibility with their learning progress and this might boost their desire to stay join live sessions week after week.
- Instituting a class tradition that can help draw the class closer together. Traditions could be a simple 1-minute share of a highlight from the day at the start of a live session, a weekly show-and-tell (dogs are welcome!), or a biweekly interview of a “special guest” such as an older sibling, care giver, or even themselves.
- Including opportunities for collaborative projects as a whole class or in small groups. This can range from service projects that can help the community (food and clothing drive, meal delivery, recycling efforts) to smaller-scale art projects like writing/recording a short movie using props at home. Use questionnaires to get a feel for what students are interested in and live sessions for discussions around these projects.
Of course, this is not an absolute list of what can be done to help our students buy-in to remote learning, if and when this should happen. The ultimate goal is to instill in them a sense of confidence that educators are doing all that they can to meet their needs, including social and emotional needs. Educators, too, must feel confident that their actions will positively affect their students’ lives. This entails lots of hard work but it is not impossible to achieve. The outcome? Everyone eager and excited to take this new learning path.
Boxlight is working to meet the demand of creating collaborative virtual classrooms, including software and web applications, standards-driven digital curriculum, and quality teacher professional development. Learn more about what Boxlight has to offer by going to global.boxlight.com.