When students are learning remotely, distanced from their teachers and classmates, it’s harder than ever to keep them engaged. In a recent study, 54 percent of high school students said that remote classes are less engaging for them, and 64 percent of high school students and parents said that remote classes result in less learning than in-person classes.

While remote learning isn’t ideal for most schools, educators can still keep classes engaging, ensure that students can collaborate effectively and check in with them individually. Here are six ways to keep your students engaged in remote learning:

1. Know your remote learning tools

Making the most of your remote learning time starts with learning how to use the platform and apps you have at your disposal. For example, if your school uses Google Classroom, take the time to learn all of its features — not just the basics. The more you know about the platform, the wider variety of materials and activities you’ll be able to share with your students. Make sure you’re also familiar with the add-on apps and other resources you have access to.

2. Create ways for students to connect with each other

Students need healthy ways to connect with one another, especially while they’re socially distanced. Rather than relying on social media, be proactive by setting up opportunities for students to work together. With the Zoom app, for example, facilitators can create virtual breakout rooms so that students can collaborate on an assignment in small groups. You can drop in on each group during the session, just like you would in a real classroom.

3. Use formative assessments

When you’re teaching remotely, it can be difficult to know how much material your students are actually processing and retaining. To keep students engaged and make sure they understand the concepts you’re teaching, you can use a variety of quick formative assessments. For example, Google Classroom provides a Questions feature that allows you to ask your students a single question — either multiple-choice or short-answer — and gather their responses. You could also have your students draw pictures or charts, make videos of themselves explaining a concept or create word clouds.

4. Meet more often, for shorter periods

Holding students’ attention for an hour at a time can be challenging, particularly for elementary schoolers. Keeping them actively engaged with lessons at their computer can be even more difficult. Depending on the needs of your class, consider breaking up real-time sessions into shorter blocks of 15 to 20 minutes, interspersed with independent learning activities. For example, instead of holding a live class on Google Meet from 9 to 10 a.m., you could meet from 9 to 9:20, send students to do some research for 40 minutes and gather again from 10 to 10:20 to hear about their findings.

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5. Check in with individual students

Make time for students to connect with you by setting aside virtual office hours on a videoconferencing platform such as Google Meet. Parents and guardians also play an important role in remote learning, so be sure to connect with them individually through periodic virtual meetings. If a student appears to be struggling with their work or isn’t showing up for class meetings, send them (or their parents) a private message to ask about how they’re doing. Ultimately, student engagement is about relationships, and while you might have to work harder to cultivate those relationships remotely, it’s still possible — and important — to connect with your students and let them know they have your support.

6. Gather feedback

Remote learning is new to almost everyone in the education system — students, parents and teachers alike. Gathering feedback from your students and their families gives them a voice in the learning process — and allows you to create the best possible remote learning environment. In Google Classroom, you can use the Questions feature to get feedback about the course. Ask your students and their parents to share their thoughts about assignments, class meeting length, use of class time and any external apps you’re using. Then review their feedback and make adjustments as needed.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, no one knows for sure how long remote learning will remain a part of K-12 education. But when teachers meet their students halfway with engaging lessons and make time for collaboration and open communication, learning from home can be a successful and even enriching experience.

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Jessica Leigh Brown

Jessica Leigh Brown is a freelance writer and former high school English teacher who covers the intersection of technology and education. Over the past decade, her work has appeared in EdSurge Higher Ed, Education Dive, EdTech Magazine, University Business, and District Administration.

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