As most of the United States rapidly transitions to a full-time homeschool environment, teachers are especially equipped to handle this crisis with their own children. We are fielding questions from our friends, family, and neighbors about schedule design, resources, and how to keep students on task. The question I have been fielding most often is, “How do I keep my child engaged in learning? I thought this would be fun and exciting, but my kids are rebelling!”
To complicate matters further, teachers are attempting to create lessons to keep their students engaged in learning online, with limited contact with the students or their parents. Early attempts may be overly ambitious, as we attempt to mimic what we would have done if school was still in session. The reality is that even our most compliant and engaged learners could be tired, stressed, or distracted by the home learning environment.
Just like in the regular classroom, there are some actions we can take to increase engagement for our students, making life easier for our inexperienced parent-teachers and our students. However, it's important to remember that not every student will be engaged in every project. With some finesse, you can include enough elements of interest (social media, educational technology, environmental awareness, engineering) that will capture the attention of most, but there are simply some projects (or even subjects!) that some kids are not interested in.
Tips for creating engaging e-learning projects for students at home:
Chunk the project into segments so students can experience tangible success, receive feedback and catch up if they get behind. Releasing only parts of the project at a time may also create a sense of anticipation.
Provide extension “opportunities”- students may be more interested in the extension that moves beyond the standards in depth or breadth and it can be a motivator for completing work on time. This can allow students to show advanced proficiency in a particular skill, even if they are typically struggling to reach proficiency. Particularly when the product mirrors the work of real professionals, students will often perform well above the level of academic standards.
Ensure the project has anauthentic audience. If the students are doing the project for someone real, even if the topic is not their favorite, they are likely to invest more in the quality. With many or most professionals working from home, it could be more likely than ever that feedback from a community member is a possibility.
Pose a forced-choice research question, such as “Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?” Even if students Google the exact question and regurgitate the answer, you can ask them to supply evidence or insert a contradictory piece of evidence and have them analyze it according to their position. Another favorite: ask the students to defend their position with evidence, then introduce a “live” component of the lesson, such as a meetup or chat, where you require them to change positions at the last minute!
Ask the students what they are interested in and invite them to design their own projects. You can pose the standards, provide a handful of resources and allow them to design their own investigation. You might be surprised with what they can come up with!
Engagement is a challenge under normal circumstances and the rapid transition to a digital environment can be straining to teachers who are used to face to face contact with their students. Following these tips may help students discover a passion for a topic they never knew they cared about!
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