As the nation’s pupils self-isolate, we discuss ways in which teachers can achieve the impossible: keeping learners engaged and motivated while working remotely.
Respond and praise
We know that pupils thrive on being told they’ve done a good job. But without the presence of a teacher, with their verbal signals, smiles of encouragement and recognition boards, pupils- especially younger ones- will inevitably lose the motivation to continue.
Consequently, it is vital that students know teachers are present and are looking at work. Respond as frequently as is practically possible. Children and teenagers are notoriously poor at delaying gratification, but this is compounded during the mammoth task of remote learning. While writing out lengthy feedback, when there is no necessity to action it, is time wasted, ensure all work is responded to in some form and that comments are personalised. Students need to know there’s a point. If there is no time to provide feedback immediately, send a congratulatory message for completing work and promise to get back to them.
Especially at the beginning, congratulate pupils for attempting any work or just for emailing for help. This shows initiative and a desire to learn in difficult circumstances. Praise should not be reserved for high scores but be administered liberally and creatively. For example, for effort put in, presentation, being the first to submit or best title.
Create opportunities for success early on
Just as in the classroom, ensure activities are broken down into achievable chunks and that starter tasks allow for early success. Achieving early on means students are more likely to work through the remainder of the lesson and, over time, become more resilient.
Think about the brevity of task and texts. Numbering activities or providing tick boxes (like a ‘to do’ list) helps students break work down into manageable tasks. Think about what can be comfortably read from a computer screen. Include more paragraph breaks if possible and consider what can be deleted.
The lockdown represents a perfect opportunity to assign creative tasks which will help provide an outlet for potentially anxiety ridden young people confined to the house. However, tasks such as ‘write a story about a…’ are sometimes too broad and overwhelming. Rather than hindering creativity, setting strict parameters can help it flourish. These could include writing the opening paragraph yourself, setting up ‘rules’ such as use of first person narrative, ending with a particular sentence, or inclusion of 10 particular words. Model answers and examples are also invaluable. Remember that creativity takes many forms – cooking, drawing, music, writing lyrics or scripts, gardening or sewing could all help students develop vital skills of creativity and find solace in difficult times.
Competitions used sparingly
Some students thrive off a competition: games, virtual point systems and league tables can all work wonders in keeping them engaged. However, bear in mind that other students recoil from competition, especially when failure might result in losing face among peers. Only share results of top performers, to save the feelings of those who didn’t achieve well. Introduce competitions outside of your subject realm to allow all students to participate and avoid the dull prospect of the same people winning repeatedly, for example, a competition for the best picture of a student reading at home. Starting the day with a brain teaser or ‘guess the song’ competition can encourage all students to have a go and to create opportunity for communication.
Variety and options
Teachers may feel torn between supplying sufficient repetition in task types in order that pupils can establish routines, but not so much repetition that learning becomes dull.
It is inevitable that some activity types will be repeated; however, try to plan over longer periods and, when setting tasks, compare to the last one set. Are the same skills being tested? Is this format the same? Is this a similar type of text?
Try to include tasks that are varied and if you can, give pupils a choice. Think about the possibility of tasking students to create video essays or podcasts to answer a question. Use models and examples. Check school regulations regarding rules around videoing pupils; they do not necessarily have to appear in them.
Make use of video content on Youtube and television. Is the BBC airing anything appropriate that may complement the curriculum? Do pupils have access to Netflix? MFL students could benefit from clips of series in other languages.
School blogs or newspapers
Such collaborative projects can create an instant sense of community which will resonate with pupils missing their friends and routines. There is also a vast scope of possibility for content, from top ten tips, recipes, articles, short stories, interviews etc. so that all children could attempt something. And of course, there is nothing more thrilling and motivating for students than seeing their work published.
Communicate with parents
For students who have gone silent for a prolonged period, contact should be made with home. However, be wary that families may be experiencing very challenging circumstances. Consult with senior leadership about phrasing emails or how this should be approached.