A Focus on Belonging
Distance learning can be challenging when it comes to building relationships. You can counter that by spending the first few weeks getting to know your students as you would in the classroom. Nurture face-to-face interactions via engaging activities that are student centered.
Caregivers also have an important role to play. Seek their feedback—it’s gold. You also want to extend grace to your students and the adults in their lives. Living through a pandemic isn’t a picnic for anyone. Give your students space and time to communicate openly.
Build fun into your online meetings at least once a week. This helps to provide a sense of community. Also, let students have a glimpse of your life outside the classroom. Small, simple things like weekly teacher-update videos allow students to get to know you as a person.
“Take more time than you usually would to check in with students to see how they’re feeling and coping. Yes, you might have to cover a bit less content, but these connections are what will allow you to keep persisting when it gets hard.” (@caribarbour)
Last year was like none we have ever experienced. It’s going to take some work to get students up to speed. But now is not the time to harp on testing, particularly the high-stakes variety. It is a good idea to administer low-stakes assessments to determine students’ progress toward mastery. You can use the results to establish small-group videoconferences for follow-up instruction. Try to make time for one-on-one interaction if possible. You’ll want to make sure that some of the work you assign is offline. Students and teachers can become demotivated after staring at a screen for hours on end.
Creating a class routine and, when possible, opportunities for students to use technology to collaborate will help put students in a position to succeed. A routine helps provide a sense of normalcy, and group work gives your learners some much-needed socialization. Using discussion boards allows you to model and practice good communication skills. Icebreakers give students something to look forward to while you are taking attendance. You can use these to launch synchronous classes to increase engagement as well. An opening question in the chat box can serve as a good jumping-off point for synchronous discussions.
To help your students stay organized, put work in weekly folders. Micro lessons on specific themes also help learners to stay focused.
As much as you can, provide students with choice and differentiation. Survey your students frequently to get feedback on how things are going. And be prepared to slow down. Everything will take twice as long. You won’t cover nearly as much, and that’s OK.