This article originally appeared on Understood.org
Whether you call it remote learning, online learning, or distance learning, school looks different during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some students are thriving with this way of learning, many students dont seem to be engaging in it. Some students may not be present at all. Others may be in attendance, but they arent turning in work or doing more than the bare minimum. So, whats holding your students back from engaging?
Research shows that students who are genuinely engaged persevere despite challenges. Engaged students are attentive and curious. They find meaning in what theyre learning, whether their classroom is brick-and-mortar or virtual. Here are five possible barriers to student engagement during distance learningand ways you can help.
1. Students life circumstances have changed
In the midst of a pandemic, economic recession, and social unrest, your students lives may have changed drastically since the day your school shut down. Many families are grappling with financial worries, illness, loss, homelessness, and/or food insecurity. Or they may be vulnerable in other ways.
Students may no longer have an internet connection, a device to use, or a space to learn in. Some students may not be available to meet at specific times. Others may have a lot going on in the background that theyre trying to block out or even hide from the rest of the class.
In the classroom, when you work with your students in person every day, you can get a sense of who may be going through something difficult at home. You can privately check in to see how things are going. During distance learning, its harder to have those one-on-one conversations, especially with students who arent engaged.
One thing to try: If you have a student whose behavior has changed significantly, check in with them or their family with a phone call. You may also want to help families understand how social workers can help with their childs challenges.
2. Students are dealing with stress and trauma
Stress and traumahttps://www.understood.org/articles/en/what-is-trauma-informed-teaching can interrupt cognitive processing, reduce students executive functioning skills, and disrupt emotional regulation. All of that makes it difficult to learn, think, and engage meaningfully.
Between anxiety around the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide uproar over racial injustice, many students are facing unprecedented emotional challenges. And they may not have the support system or coping skills to manage them.
One thing to try: Incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) into your distance learning plans. It can help your studentsand youmanage emotions without disengaging. You may also want to help families understand which types of emotional help are available for their child.
3. The content isnt accessible
Making sure materials are accessible can be a major challenge, whether students are going online or picking up paper packets. If students arent comfortable with the system youre using, they might avoid it. It takes time to establish norms and practices with a new systemespecially when it involves technology. Its hard to measure engagement when youre all still learning how the new system works.
In some cases, content being presented in a new way keeps kids from accessing it. For instance, students who struggle to process auditory information may have trouble with video lessons. Students who need more visual support may struggle with text-heavy directions and materials. English language learners may have difficulty accessing content without the support theyd typically have in your physical classroom.
Also, many students may be struggling because the content doesnt feel relevant to them right now. It may feel like it has nothing to do with whats happening in the world around them.
One thing to try: Explore best practices for online learning and assignments to make sure your lessons are accessible and relevant to as many students as possible.
4. Students need more structure and support
Many students rely on the structure and support of in-person school to help them stay on track with assignments. Distance learning means students need to be more independent and responsible for their own learning. Families may be trying to help, but many are also trying to juggle work while their kids are learning at home.
Once students get off track and miss a few assignments, it can feel daunting to try to catch up. They may just disengage instead.
One thing to try: Be up front about grading and missed work policies. But look for ways to relieve stress about deadlines and the amount of work left to do. Show students strategies for making the work more manageable, like breaking assignments into chunks. Read how one teacher used video messages to reach out to students who disappeared and how she helped them reengage after they missed weeks of schoolwork.
5. Your expectations for engagement havent changed
Its still important to set and reinforce explicit expectations around behavior and participation. But with distance learning, engagement may look differentand not just because your classroom looks different. Its likely to look different from student to student, too.
For instance, live video classes may pose unique challenges for students who learn and think differently. Students who have difficulty with focus and distractibility, trouble managing sensory input, or increased anxiety about being on display may behave in ways that challenge your definition of engagement. Behaviors like fidgeting, turning off the camera, or moving around during class meetings can look like a lack of engagement. But for some students, its what they need to do to be able to participate in learning.
Its important to recognize that students engage in a variety of ways. Dont expect engagement to look the same as beforeor the same for each student.
Engaging students during distance learning may be difficult, but its not impossible. Ready to dive deeper? Get firsthand accounts from teachers like you on how theyve been navigating distance learning:
Reprinted courtesy of Understood.org © 2020 Understood, LLC. All rights reserved.