Building meaningful connections is my favourite part of teaching. The relationships built are so special and important for students and teachers. When schools moved to online last spring, I shed many tears about not being connected to my students and those relationships being stripped away out of nowhere. It was difficult to connect in a meaningful way with so much uncertainty and crisis going on. Online platforms were new to the students and to parents. Navigating them under the stress of a pandemic was not easy and we did not want to put any pressure on families.
Now, a year into the pandemic, families are more familiar with the online platforms. Zoom and many other online forums are popular in our everyday language. Connecting is a lot easier than it was a year ago and I would argue our society has become more tech savvy in the last year. Teachers all over the world have worked hard to find ways to engage students and build impactful communities within their online teaching.
Childs’s (2021) asserts the three types of student engagement are cognitive, emotional, and behavioural. In her article, Virtual Student Engagement Isn’t Impossible, she discusses the importance of putting students needs first, even in a virtual setting.
Childs’s (2021) gives many suggestions and practical ideas on how to create a learning community, build strong relationships, growth mindset, class norms, restorative practices, collaboration with others, authentic experiences, high-order questioning, and learning strategies that can be applied to in-person, blended, or online learning. Connection is a huge part of each of these ideas. Students first need to feel like they belong to a community where they are safe, heard, and loved before authentic learning can take place.
Students absolutely crave connection. It is part of our human nature and that has been very evident over the last year. Moving to online learning the week before and after Christmas, gave me a deeper understanding of how important this is. My students missed socializing and their friends very much. They wanted to talk and catch up every day. In our zoom meetings I dedicated the first part of our meeting to check-ins and sharing time. If I didn’t do this they would not have been able to focus on any of the learning. Students were so excited to talk and share about what was going on in their lives and homes. This time showed me the importance of human connection. I have had to allow more chatter within my class this year knowing at school may be the only socialization they could be getting.
In our reading, Online Collaborative Learning, Bates’s (2018) suggests in order to create meaningful conversations there must be; appropriate technology, student orientation and preparation, clear guidelines, meaningful feedback, and regular instructor presence.
I struggle with this aspect teaching younger students as they do not always have access to technology or are using old devices. Students are still learning to read, type, and use technology properly so the collaborative/peer feature online is a bit more difficult. In my experience, students need assistance to access and complete the online learning. Talking with teachers that are strictly online, I have learned that students have become more independent and are able to engage in the points Bates’ suggests.
The tools used for engagement and interaction must be easy to use. I do not want to add a variety of tools into my course that students have never used before. This is not only hard for young students to figure out, but difficult on the parents as they may need to help their child figure it out. My course is designed to fit with what works for the teacher and students using it. If the class is fully online, they can have full group discussions and break-out rooms. There are many options embedded to make the course work for whoever is using it. It is flexible for teachers to choose possibilities of what works for them. Whether they are online, blended, in-person, have attendance issues, or in a community where not all students have access to technology, they can make the course work.
I thought about ways to implement peer connection and collaboration within my course designed for primary students. Using Seesaw and Google Classrooms for my course, many ideas circled as I learned and read what would works best. In Seesaw, I thought this would be the most challenging as students cannot view each others work or connect to each other. Reading my classmate, Jennifer‘s blog allowed me to remember and learn about the Seesaw Blog feature. This feature allows students to share, comment and connect to each others assignments and learnings. Unfortunately, my school board does not allow us to use the Seesaw Blog for privacy reasons so I had to look beyond the platform and see what I can embed that is simple for a younger audience to use.
Padlet is a great tool for seeing students responses and asking questions. I have never used it with the age I teach. I believe it is simple enough for students to figure out and great for them to see each others ideas.
My Gratitude Padlet allows students to add what they are thankful for in a variety of ways. Students can write, draw, upload a picture, voice record, etc. This gives students an opportunity to share in a way that works best for them and their abilities.
I implemented Flipgrid when schools shut down last March as a way for students to connect with each other. It was easy to navigate and for students to figure out. The videos were a fun way to see each other and keep in touch. I would like to use it again within my course as a way for students to respond and see each other.
I would like to use a Flipgrid and/or a Padlet within my course for each module. This will give the opportunity for students to discuss and hear from one another. As I discussed previously, my course is designed in a way that can be used fully online, blended or in-person. If teachers are teaching fully online, further discussion questions can be done over Zoom or whatever platform they meet on.
In Google Classroom there are already great features embedded into the platform that allow for student engagement.
My lessons include;
It is difficult for myself to think about assessing the interaction that is being done between the students. We can tell if it is meaningful conversations and if students are understanding the concepts being taught in a whole group discussion on Zoom or in-person. But to assess understanding this way may be hard. Students may be shy or not able to express themselves well. There could be many great conversations and ideas but it is hard to view each child’s full understanding through responses on Padlet, Flipgrid, Google Drawings, Jamboards or Seesaw. I do like that each tool has a variety of ways to show understanding. But students still may really understand each concept and express that understanding another way. I believe it is important for all students to have a variety of opportunities to show their comprehension and learning of each topic. Each student is different and deserves options to show their knowledge. That is why I plan to strive to add many ways for students to display their learning within my course.
I do not have much experience teaching a full course online or assessing students work online. I am continuing to learn from my classmates how they engage students online and assess the learning going on. I look forward to learning more through my classmates courses.
-What are your favourite ways to engage students?
-Do you have any experience teaching a variety of grades online?
-What are challenges you face teaching younger grades online?
-What are your favourite assessment tools?
Thank you for reading,
Bates, A. T. (2018). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning.
Childs, M. (2021). Virtual Student Engagement Isn’t Impossible.