COVID certainly made the school year unpredictable—but here are some excellent digital teaching strategies to successfully close out the year

5 top practices for engaging digital teaching

COVID certainly made the school year unpredictable—but here are some excellent digital teaching strategies to successfully close out the year

Summer is on the horizon, and the only thing standing in the way is a couple more months of school. Teachers and students alike wrestled with the steep learning curve of remote teaching and learning. Much of our experience has been molded by trial and error, failure and success, frustration and elation.

The same is true for technology in the classroom. Above all else, technology is only helpful if it works well, a type of ROI–Return on Instruction. It is a systems-thinking approach, making sure that all the pieces–the technology, the teacher, the student, the school–all have their role; hope as we might, no technology is a silver bullet answer for any problem.

As we look back on this tumultuous school year, remote learning, hybrid, asynchronous, and even in-person approaches hang in the balance as vaccination efforts move into full swing. Yet, schools can leverage digital teaching and learning now more than ever. In the long run, schools should even rethink how they approach the school year. We may not know what the future in remote instruction holds, but we have realized we must be ready regardless. The overnight transition to digital teaching was a process in itself. After a year, we identify key takeaways from our teaching experiences.

Throughout that process, these five practices have emerged as the most helpful to finish the year strong. Therefore, keeping these practices in mind can ensure improved student success.

Know your roster

Students have experienced tremendous change. If schools are returning to the end of the year, they may or may not be comfortable with this new avenue of instruction, especially if they just got comfortable with virtual learning. The transition back to the classroom may feel just like the first days of school, processes are very different. Student, teacher, parent, and administrator expectations are varied, but one thing is common: student success.

Some of the most introverted students thrive in collaborative learning environments online–as they come back to the classroom, adopt those digital practices. The anonymity provided by digital teaching and learning platforms gives students safety and trust, without peer pressure, to engage with learning. While students will be vocal and tremendously happy to be back, we can’t let those quieter students lose the progress they’ve made via digital learning.

Keep digital teaching time short

Whatever virtual platform you use, sitting in front of a computer is tough for anyone, not just students. Allow time for instruction and provide activities for students to follow along. Then, allow students to jump off the call to complete their work–just like work time in class. This is true for the hybrid students who are joining in class, while their cohort is in-person. Whatever lessons and problems you are teaching, a meaningful assignment ‘unplugged’ is equally important. Encourage activities and work that will require them to move around, engage with other people in their household, and other things happening around them. Easier said than done, I know, but these types of lessons are incredibly important. Once you have one, share them with your other teachers–I’m sure they’re looking for things too!

Stay consistent

Help students get familiar with their new formats of learning by keeping a consistent structure, even if it’s a digital class that day, a hybrid, or in-person. However, just like teaching in the classroom, be ready and flexible to change things up. Log onto the class link a few minutes before the class is supposed to start, allowing time for kids to talk amongst themselves, just as they would in school, especially for their virtual cohort logging online with their in-person classmates. Maintain a consistent schedule for your students, and they will succeed.

Hold students accountable for their work

Different platforms have made it amazingly easy for teachers to collect work from students. Therefore, it’s best to ensure students are turning in their work that you’ve assigned. If they’re not – connect with them on a personal level to see what they need. The learning this year has been largely self-driven, and accountability provides students opportunities for guidance in uncertain learning situations. Moreover, it builds responsibility for their learning, fostering pride upon completion. In the grand scheme of things, education should go beyond a letter grade. Hence, making sure you hold students accountable ensures they will be much better off as they grow.

Ask students for feedback

In the end, they’re the ones who are learning. Therefore, students have valuable perspectives and opinions that shape learning in all learning environments, including remote instruction. For instance, they may want time for questions during the scheduled class or prefer office hours for students outside of class time. Some students may need advice on at-home workspace organization. What’s more, students may want opportunities to log on to your class link to use it as a supervised free block to connect with others. Any of these suggestions can make all the difference in engaging and connecting with your students if they’re online, and they are strategies that you already do in the classroom. Open the floor to your students; they will understand this is a work-in-progress for you as well. Through building that trust between you and your students, success is within reach.

We’re all still learning. Technology is enabling what would not have been possible even 10 years ago. Without technology, there would be no instruction. Without teachers, there would be no instruction.

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Laura Ascione
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