Student engagement was a struggle during the 2020 school year. With class being online, student-teacher interaction was low, and in places where not everyone had reliable internet access, engagement felt optional instead of mandatory.
That’s not to say that teachers didn’t try to make virtual instruction as motivating as possible. We got creative, teaching students in smaller breakout groups, leading interactive educational games and setting up virtual field trips. Despite our best efforts, assignment submission rate was still low, students still kept cameras off and some didn’t participate even when their name was called.
So how do we reacclimate students to active, in-person instruction?
Keep the students talking. As soon as students step into the classroom, give them icebreaker prompts that get them chatting. The more students talk, the more connections are made and the more ideas and perspectives will emerge, which will increase the length and depth of the conversations. Keep stalled conversations moving by making conversation stems accessible for students to reference, such as:
- “I agree with your perception and I would like to add…”
- “I heard you say_____________, but I would have to disagree with you because…”
- “I have a similar connection to your experience because…”
Keep students moving. Sitting all day can cause stagnation and boredom, much like it did in classrooms before the pandemic. Use flexible groups when appropriate based on learning styles, academic proficiencies and personalities. If it works for the activity, get a little fun with it. Have students group themselves by birthday month, favorite movie genre, favorite color or anything else you can think of.
Limit technology in the beginning. Don’t have students go right back to looking at screens or a laptop. They’ve probably gotten used to scrolling through content quickly or distracting themselves by browsing the web. Instead, surround them with physical books, magazines and objects, things they may not have had as much access to last school year. Get them to refocus on tangible instructional materials and encourage them to physically annotate their texts.
Keep students writing. Online learning has kept many students from writing with paper and pencil. Research still suggests the pen is mightier than the keyboard when it comes to note taking and creative expression. According to a study done by psychologists Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, students who take notes long hand are better able to summarize content than those taking notes on a keyboard. Typing allows a student to record verbatim what they are being taught, but they struggle to paraphrase what they’ve recorded.
Teachers will face unique challenges as students return in-person for the 2021–2022 school year. Just as we help our students stay safe with safety precautions and mask mandates, we’ll need to help them reacclimate and reengage with the learning process. The good news? Students are excited about returning, so build on that momentum to make the school year great.
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