7 tips for engaging K-12 students remotely

Article by Ari Winkleman

The CDC is preparing for K-12 students to return to school this fall. The school districts that tried to resume in-person classes in the last couple of months have had to change their mind owing to safety concerns.

Even as the pandemic rages on, the academic needs to continue. And remote learning continues to feel like the safest option for K-12 educators. But teachers know well that this is far from the classroom experience. Without being in a physical environment:

  • It can be difficult to hold students’ attention
  • Group activities are nearly impossible
  • Hearing and being heard can sometimes be difficult, unless parents are also involved in monitoring children in class
  • Low connectivity, unsuitable devices, lack of privacy or quietude etc. can alienate some students

And most importantly, teachers themselves might not be ready for remote learning as the long-term solution. It is one thing to quickly get acquainted with tools and teach online in the interim. It’s quite another to sustainably deliver school education online — teach, involve, instruct, and engage K-12 students over months.

In this blog post, we offer help. Here are seven tips teachers can use to deliver better student experience remotely to K-12 students.

1. Try the Triple E Framework

The Triple E Framework was created in 2011 by Professor Liz Colb at the University of Michigan’s School of Education to integrate technology into teaching. The three Es are: engagement, enhancement and extension of learning goals.

While devising student success strategies, it puts learning first, technology later. It uses tech to improve learning, not the other way round.Technology can bring immersive learning experiences to an online class. For instance, instead of a history lecture, Google Expeditions can be used to tour Greece or look at dinosaurs in a biology class.

2. Consider co-teaching

In a physical classroom, co-teaching — having two teachers in a class at a same time for complementary needs — has been argued to be ineffective. In remote learning environments, though, it can be quite helpful.

A team approach to teaching, especially since the staff room is not at hand, can break the silos that remote learning tends to create. When educators collaborate on their teaching methods, there comes a new set of insights — this can be especially handy given that all teachers are new to remote learning.

Here’s how a middle school English teacher and a special educator approached co-teaching.

3. Encourage students to participate

Online learning can be lonely for students. So, it falls on teachers to encourage community and belonging.

“Alongside learning, we can leave space for students to discuss, share experiences, and complain about being stuck at home; we may consider online tutor time or assemblies.”

— UK based former history teacher turned teacher-educator Harry Fletcher-Wood

If that doesn’t exactly work, remember that kids have a lot of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), especially if they’re in high school. Try emphasizing on showing up for class. Statements like “don’t miss your friends” or “don’t miss school”  can make them want to come along.

4. Put content over comprehension

A 2019 article in The Atlantic stated that US schools tend to focus on comprehension skills over knowledge having a disastrous effect on poorer students. In remote learning, focusing on content over comprehension can ensure that students absorb more knowledge and have a basic understanding of what they are learning. The pandemic itself can be a teaching tool, as a fourth grade teacher shared on Twitter — she used the concepts of ‘flattening the curve as a way to drive up engagement.

5. Keep it simple

“My instruction was increasingly becoming about figuring out how to incorporate the new bells and whistles and less and less about the content. If I’m spending more time planning for and learning how to implement some software than I am about the actual material to be learned, I’m not on the right track,” writes Blake Harvard, an AP Psychology teacher from Alabama.

Choose technology that is simple for both you and your team.

6. Offer personal attention

If you think you’re in an unprecedented situation, imagine how confused the children must be. It’s understandable that many students with fewer resources have put education as a low priority item. It helps to offer personal attention to students who need help, such as those in a food-insecure household or caring for another family member. Office hours and one-on-one check ins with struggling students can help move the needle further. As can flexibility of assignment deadlines etc.

7. Wear your oxygen mask first

Time’s tough. Take care of yourselves first. Take time to decompress, and take care of your own mental wellbeing. Stay in touch with yourself from time to time, seek help as you need.

The best way to navigate where we are is to accept the circumstances and do the best we can. Understand yourself, empathise with the students, connect with parents, and take it one day at a time.