In these times of uncertainty, students look to the adults in their life to provide a sense of comfort and stability even if they seem to be worry-free. While teachers and administrators quickly adapt curriculum and instruction to maintain a high quality of learning as schools around the world close, it’s important for us to remember that beyond academic growth, the classroom is a vital space for students to socialize and feel like they belong. Here are a few principles to keep in mind as we implement distance learning to make sure students still feel the strong sense of community we have worked so hard to build in our physical classrooms. Read on to learn how to put these principles into practice:
- Don’t give up your daily routines
- Find ways for students to showcase parts of their lives
- Respect student choice
- Continue your inside jokes using memes and multimedia elements
- Maintain a respectful digital environment for discussion
- Recognize and reward positive student behavior
Don’t give up your daily routines!
Your routines matter and the kids look forward to them more than we know.
As much as students may grumble about seating charts or daily bell-ringers, we know that structure and consistency are extremely important for learners of all ages. Now more than ever, we can leverage some digital routines to help students feel a sense of normalcy and constancy. Did you greet each student at the door with unique handshakes, or kick off each morning with a 3 minute meditation session? Did you open each week with the cutest cat video you saw on YouTube over the weekend, or end the week with a short recap of the most “bizarre” science news?
Make sure you deliver this experience to your students in the digital learning space you have chosen, so they know that even though they may be far from you, your commitment to making learning fun continues. You may need to replace the handshakes with a fun meme post, and simply post the prompt for your meditation focus session in writing and trusting that the kids will participate together from afar, but your routines matter and the kids look forward to them more than we know!
The scheduled post feature in Edmodo makes this incredibly easy. Do you want your fun cat video to go out to the class on Monday at 9AM? Schedule it ahead of time in case you’re still finishing up making pancakes for your own kids! Leveraging this time-saver to schedule fun interactive posts in addition to quizzes and assignments means you can sit down and plan just once for the whole week to make sure students get plenty of those enrichment experiences.
Find ways for students to showcase parts of their lives
Let’s take this opportunity to help students realize that learning is ubiquitous and wonderful.
Learning experts have always known that for students to learn, they must feel like they belong. Mindful teachers make their classroom a space where students can be themselves and feel comfortable bringing their interests, experiences, and perspectives from outside the classroom in. This may seem a bit harder to achieve during distance learning, but since our students are digital natives who already share many aspects of their life on Instagram and TikTok, we just need to find creative ways to harness these habits for building classroom culture.
It may be tempting to fill our distance learning curricula with many digital worksheets, flipped-learning videos, articles to read, and Quizlet flashcards. Those activities are important and we do need to be able to have documented evidence of active learning and participation. However, consider giving prompts to your students and project ideas that require them to spend time away from the screen and engage with their environment during this period of self-quarantine.
Here are some quick ideas:
- ELA: Find a book you really loved from your childhood in your house and record a short video doing a book report on the themes and figurative language you notice, now that you’re an experienced scholar!
- Math: Calculate the square footage and volume of your room and other spaces in your house. How many packets of Jello powder will you need to make enough Jello to fill the whole house?
- History: Interview and record a family member about where they grew up and focus on significant historical events that affected them.
- Science: Cook a dish you love with your family, record a video where you discuss the scientific principles behind heat transfer, molecular change, or even natural sourcing of the ingredients you used.
Let’s take this opportunity to help students realize that learning is ubiquitous and wonderful. Distance learning isn’t just staring at a screen all day. We may be apart, but they are not alone—the class and the teacher are here to learn more about them and their lives, and the community thrives on digitally!
Respect student choice
Offering students a choice is always a good practice for the physical classroom, and digital learning spaces should offer them the same flexibility.
While we may feel inspired to give students some fun home-projects where they are encouraged to share more aspects of their “real life” with the classroom community, it’s still important to keep in mind that not all students may feel comfortable sharing to the same degree. If possible, provide students a few choices to feel equally engaged and invested, but deliver in a different medium.
If a student is not comfortable appearing on camera, give them the choice of just recording their voice or creating a photo-filled slideshow instead. Offering students a choice is always a good practice for the physical classroom, and digital learning spaces should offer them the same flexibility whether they want to demonstrate their understanding through a drawing or a poem.
Continue your inside jokes using memes and multimedia elements
My students particularly loved this aspect of having a space to continue conversations outside of the classroom, even when distance learning was not the norm.
I always found, as both a student and teacher, that having a running inside “joke” with the students of a particular period made them feel very special. If you had something like this, whether it’s a funny phrase you said one time when you misspoke and the students loved it, or another memorable classroom moment that became a “meme” in your class, try to capture and share it digitally so students can be delightfully reminded that your community still exists.
There are now meme generators galore if you want to create your own, but you can already find GIFs from around the internet to enrich your interactions with your students in a digital classroom space. Research shows that our students feel like GIFs aid in conveying feelings, ideas, and shared cultural experiences better than words alone.
In Edmodo, I find it incredibly easy to express myself using a wide variety of file types. Each new post, reply, and direct message (as well as assignment submissions and even quiz questions) allows for GIFs, images, videos, and more to be attached and shared. The GIFs and images are rendered beautifully within the web and mobile platforms. This makes for multimedia-rich conversation threads that students can consume and respond to asynchronously. My students particularly loved this aspect of having a space to continue conversations outside of the classroom, even when distance learning was not the norm.
If there are a few particular images you find yourself using frequently, consider uploading those to your Edmodo Library. This makes it even faster and easier to add them as attachments to your posts, replies, and direct messages any time you are interacting with students in the platform.
Maintain a respectful digital environment for discussion
As we move our discussions online during distance learning, we need to maintain the same high expectations we have in the classroom for what students say to each other.
Educators are well-aware of the phenomenon of cyberbullying, and we know that something about the anonymity and impersonal nature of online interactions makes it easier for people of all ages to be cruel to each other online. As we move our discussions online during distance learning, we need to maintain the same high expectations we have in the classroom for what students say to each other and the way in which they say them.
A digital citizenship pledge, signed by the student and their guardian, is always a good place to start. If you ever need to follow up with a student about problematic discussions, remind them gently that they made a commitment, and that there are indeed consequences for our actions online. For the first few weeks of utilizing a digital class space for discussions, it may be a good idea to list out your expectations clearly and pin the post at the top of your class stream.
For younger students or students who need more support during this transition to online discussion, Edmodo offers two fantastic solutions: turn on moderation for all posts and replies in a class and the option to set specific students to “read-only” for the time being. Moderation allows for the teacher to quickly review each new post and reply in the class before they appear, and read-only allows for teachers to place a class member on a cool-off period if they need some time to reflect upon behavior that violates classroom expectations.
Recognize and reward positive student behavior
The truth is, students love all tokens of recognition, however small, that helps them know they’re on the right track.
Do your students roll their eyes when they see a “cheesy” stamp or sticker you’ve lovingly added to their exam? Do you ever pause to reconsider drawing a smiley face at the top of every essay that pleasantly surprises you with its coherence and thoughtfulness since you have 200 to grade? The truth is, students love all tokens of recognition, however small, that helps them know they’re on the right track.
There are plenty of discussions in the education space about whether extrinsic rewards have a place in the classroom, but many teachers realize that it’s about balance, and a small gesture often goes a long way. It may be harder to provide praise and recognition for positive behavior in distance learning, but I’m grateful for how easy it is to create personalized badges on Edmodo and award them to students.
Will a fun, animated badge you create and give your students for asking good questions replace a fistbump you would give them in the physical classroom? Absolutely not. However, students will be able to see these badges on each others’ profiles and know that even in distance learning, their teacher is paying attention to the positive things they do!
We hope these strategies help you support your classroom culture and help your students feel part of a learning community, especially when in-person learning isn’t possible. Find more strategies and resources for staying connected in our Distance Learning Toolkit. You’ll find practical guides, videos, tools, and activities to help you engage your students online.