10 Ideas to Increase Distance Learning Engagement

Whether we’re back in school full time in September or in some sort of hybrid model, we’re going to need to address the elephant in the room – engagement. Students will have a difficult time adjusting to either model after 3 months of remote instruction in the spring. There will be plenty of challenges but the only pieces I can control are my curriculum and my instruction. Both can go a long way to improving engagement, so here is my top 10 list for building engagement in the “new normal.”

  1. Build relationships with students. Students are more engaged and work harder for teachers they like and for teachers they think like them. Get to know them informally. Chat. Get to know them formally with guided bellringers and focused conversations.
  2. Maintaining a regular routine will make the transition back to school easier for students which will make it easier for them to engage. Begin every class period with a bellringer. Have a few minutes of direct instruction, then a few minutes of independent or group investigation or experimentation and end with a closure that brings it all back home. Surprises are fun, but routine is more accessible for students.
  3. Provide choice. Students perform better when they have some control over what they do. When my daughter first started having an opinion about the clothes she wore, maybe age 2, it would take hours of debate and struggle for her to choose an outfit from her closet, and often it was not an appropriate outfit for the occassion or weather. Instead of giving her the entire closet to choose from, I gave her the choice of 2 or 3 outfits that were equally appropriate. Use this in your classroom. Provide choice, but not unlimited choices. Give students control and they will perform better.
  4. Digitize as much as possible. Obviously, that addresses the need for flexibility since we seem rudderless for September. Expect the best but prepare for the worst. But digital resources are more engaging for students, especially since shared hands on resources will likely be banned. Digital resources are also flexible for hybrid situations. Hyperdocs and digital labs also save paper, so win-win 🙂
  5. Allow your students to work in groups. We’re receiving direction that there is to be no sharing of materials and that students must remain socially distant. But that doesn’t mean they can’t cooperate on a shared Google doc to create a product. They can share data and observations during labs digitally. They can partner together in Zoom breakout rooms.
  6. Gamify your classroom. I’ve always used games in my classroom – they are naturally engaging and motivating for students – but we’re going to need to arrange for games that don’t use shared resources. Kahoot, here we come! I’ve always been a big fan of escape rooms – I love the Breakout.edu resources and have a ton of locks and boxes that make the kids’s eyes light up – but I’m moving toward digital escape rooms this year.
  7. Provide brain breaks. The age and temperament of your students will determine how often and what type of brain break you should use, but I think it’s going to be more important now than ever.
  8. Engage with phenomena. The NGSS have long proposed that phenomenon based instruction boosts engagement. Present students with a photo or a demo of something to pique their curiosity.
  9. Be present. If we’re remote, live lessons are more engaging than video lessons but video lessons are more engaging than worksheets.
  10. Provide meaningful feedback quickly. When a student submits work, they should obviously receive a grade, but, more importantly, they should receive guidance on how to improve next time. Imagine receiving a mediocre report on your observation. “Fine,” you think and forget it. But if it included specific strategies to improve next time, you’d be more inclined to include those strategies in your lessons to improve your score.


Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Published by JustAddH2OTeacher

Science teacherpreneur

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