Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part III

In addition to building strong relationships and maintaining consistency, students with autism who are struggling more than usual due to distance learning will also greatly benefit from specificity. Below are additional strategies that educators can use to help best support their students on the spectrum while we continue with virtual learning. 

 

Make everything as specific as possible 

When it comes to Zoom class sessions and online learning in general, teachers sometimes forget that students are not hanging on our every word like they would be more inclined to do in the physical classroom. Since Zoom meetings are often a passive form of learning—even when we try our hardest to keep it engaging—students, especially those with autism, are probably not absorbing every major point, example, instruction, etc. Because of this, students require significantly more repetition, clarification, and specificity to succeed with virtual learning. Teachers should consider taking the following steps to ensure that instruction, assignments, directions and tasks are as specific as possible:

  • When assigning reading homework, teachers should be careful to phrase the chapters and pages very specifically. For instance, when saying, “Please read chapters 1-3,” some students may interpret that to mean read up to chapter 3, not including it. Be sure to clarify specifically what page number students should stop reading for a particular assignment to avoid this miscommunication. 
  • As discussed in part two, naming or labeling assignments and resources consistently is key to streamlining materials for students. The same is true regarding specificity. Titling an assignment “Writing Homework #1” is too vague. This name does not help students to identify the details of the task when looking at Canvas. Remember, students have anywhere from 5-7 classes; therefore, specifically titling tasks in Canvas or other virtual portals will help trigger their memories and clarify the exact task that you are asking them to complete.
  • Provide specific times for assignment submission as well. Canvas allows you to just set a due date; however, some students may appreciate having a specific cut off time for submitting an assignment just to be sure. For example, I always set the time to 11:59pm whatever day the task is due. This way, students know that they always have that final full day to complete and submit without penalty. 
  • Consider providing students with a reference sheet that specifies what you mean when you say certain high-frequency, tier 2 and 3 vocabulary terms in class. Abstract words, such as analyze, evaluate, critique, and assess can cause stress and uncertainty for students with autism. Accompany these terms with specific examples and explanations so that students know exactly what is expected of them. This is a great practice for all students, especially when teachers are introducing key unit questions, objectives, and writing prompts. 

When providing written feedback, especially since virtual learning leaves less time for 1:1 conferences and writing workshops, it is especially helpful for teachers to use a higher level of specificity. If students are not able to directly connect a teacher’s feedback to an area of weakness and how they can strengthen that weakness in the next assignment, then the feedback is essentially worthless. One worthwhile activity to gauge whether or not your feedback is specific enough is to ask students to reflect on the feedback that they received on an essay or project. This ensures that 1) they have actually read the feedback, and 2) that they fully comprehended their errors and areas for improvement.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part II

In part one, we discussed the importance of implementing strategies to help build strong relationships with students remotely. This is no easy task, but establishing a strong sense of community is a critical aspect of success for students with autismthey must feel connected, supported, and heard in order to truly meet their academic potential. In parts two and three, we will discuss additional tools and methods for supporting students on the spectrum remotely, including consistency and specificity

 

Consistency is key

For students on the spectrum, change might throw them for a loop on a greater level. As if the changes that happened this past year were not enough, the sudden switch to virtual schooling undoubtedly shook many students. Now that many students, educators and families have settled into somewhat of a routine for remote instruction, it is essential to maintain those procedures and expectations as much as humanly possible. Any abrupt changes or inconsistencies bring unnecessary stress into students’ lives, especially those students with autism, who tend to thrive in sameness, continuity, and routine. Below are some simple suggestions to help keep things consistent for your students who depend on those measures and routines:

  • When setting up a new module for each new week or unit for your class, click the three dots to edit and set every new module to be “moved” to the top. This way, every time students want to find the most recent course materials, they can see everything at the very top of the page when clicking into their modules—no more scrolling! 
  • Use the same procedure for your warm-up every day. I prefer to keep it casual by asking students some sort of activator or daily question on the shared intro slide so that they see it immediately when they enter the Zoom. I ask students to respond in the chat every day so that I can use their answers as starting points for discussion, as well as for taking attendance.
  • Organize assignments clearly and consistently in Canvas. For example, if the assignment is called “Written Response: Night chapter 1” on the Google slides, be sure to title it exactly the same way in your assignments tab on Canvas. As teachers, we can of course keep track of our various assignment names. But for students, consistency will remove the second guessing when it comes to locating and completing their work.
  • Consider setting up due dates for weekly homework assignments that remain the same throughout the semester. For instance, if you are reading a novel and plan to track students’ reading and comprehension, explain that their novel notes or annotations for the week’s chapters will be due every Friday. Keeping that running Friday due date will help ensure that students are organized and better prepared to mentally or physically plan out their homework tasks for the week. 
  • Consider setting up individual check-in times for students with autism on a weekly or biweekly schedule. Students on the spectrum may need additional one-to-one teacher support that extends beyond the allotted weekly office hour. Ask students if they would like more assistance and when in their weekly schedule they could plan to chat for 15 minutes or so. Assure them that this is not a punishment or a mandatory check-in, but rather an opportunity to ask individual questions, review assignments and feedback, and gain clarity on anything. Keep the check-ins on the same day at the same time every two weeks and send out calendar reminders. Teachers can also encourage parents to pop in on these check-ins as well.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part I

Distance learning, as well as the potential for hybrid and the return to in-person learning, has presented students with many unknowns. Educators and families know a lot more about how to successfully support students than we did last spring; however, there are always areas for improvement and aspects that we may be overlooking. 

 

It is especially important to ensure that students with autism are receiving a greater level of support during this time. It is inevitable that students with autism are experiencing more significant learning challenges right now, which places them at a greater risk for learning gaps. Because of the challenges that distance learning brings, these students are impacted on a greater scale than their general education counterparts; however, there are things that educators can do to help students navigate the remainder of this precarious school year.

 

Building community remotely

Fostering relationships and building a positive rapport with students over Zoom has been one of the greatest hurdles of distance learning. Teachers are doing anything and everything to engage students and to reach them on a personal level. This is a critical element for student success, especially when it comes to students on the spectrum. Knowing your students means knowing their learning styles, their preferences and interests, their communication styles, and their areas of strengths and weaknesses. For students with autism, understanding and accommodating these ins and outs of learning can mean the difference between engagement and disengagement, comfort and discomfort, success and failure. 

 

To better reach all students, teachers should consider taking the following measures:

  • Present students with a survey on learning styles and make an effort to use that information for differentiation as much as possible. 
  • Use examples, samples, and texts that incorporate student interests, especially instructional resources that connect to your students with autism on a personal level. Making sure they are acknowledged, appreciated, and understood is the first step to building strong relationships.
  • Arrange alternative or additional modes for participation and communication. Some students, especially those on the spectrum, are highly uncomfortable on Zoombeing on camera or speaking in front of peers can be an unnecessary stressor. Some teachers may find it helpful to arrange additional office hours or check-in times to make sure students feel comfortable participating in a smaller group. 
  • Remind students of the chat function for participation as wellthis is a great way for hesitant or shy students to answer and ask questions without “putting themselves out there.”
  • Acknowledge a job well-done and provide specific examples of the growth that you have seen with your students. Those learners with unique educational needs, especially those with autism, often find that school has been a place of perpetual struggle. Therefore, when you recognize students for their accomplishments, no matter how small, the outcome of this positive reinforcement can be life-changing. 
  • Reach out to parents about their child’s learning history and preferences. As we all know, parents know their children best. So when it comes to getting to know your students, parents can provide a wealth of knowledge regarding a student’s interests, hobbies, academic and personal needs, friend group and peer history, etc. Teachers may want to set up a few parent Zoom meetings to help build a positive rapport there as well. Open and consistent communication between parents and teachers is essential for students with autism, especially during these difficult times.

Connecting with Students Virtually

One of the biggest downsides of online learning, in my personal opinion, is the loss of community and the severely diminished level of engagement that comes from no longer having a physical classroom. Regardless of our content area or our students’ age group, there is something about being in the same physical learning space that conjures up a special type of magic. Personalities emerge, connections are made, and peer interactions are lively when in the comfort of the classroom. Try as we might, much of the magic is lost in the virtual realm. For many teachers, our students are known only to us as faceless black boxes on Zoommany of whom we’ve never actually met in person. Students may be connected in the literal sense, but they are often understandably disconnected when it comes to engagement, interest, and intrinsic motivation. With such little to go on, many teachers find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel for tips and tricks as to how to truly reach students over Zoom. In the same way that we engage students and build a rapport in the classroom, teachers should start small and recognize that a little bit goes a long way in terms of building connections with students.

 

Celebrate milestones

Although we are not physically in the same room, or even the same building for learning, teachers can take simple steps to make students feel welcomed, acknowledged, and appreciated during online class sessions. 

  • One simple detail that I make sure to use every single day is to acknowledge students’ birthdays on the opening slide at the start of each week. Since my opening Google slide format stays the same throughout the yearit’s just the agenda and objectives that changeI can easily update the birthday announcement in less than a minute when prepping for the week ahead. By checking Synergy/gradebook, I am able to quickly see which students are celebrating a birthday that week, add their name to the “Welcome” slide, and wish them a happy birthday at the start of class as they enter the Zoom session. This is a small but simple way to acknowledge a student’s special day. It may also be the first or only mention of their birthday, so I like to make a big deal out of it, even if we’re not in the classroom together.
  • If I’m lacking a good warm-up question for the day, or if students are coming back from a long weekend or holiday break, I use the activator/warm-up opportunity to check in on what students have been up to. I keep the options for response casual and conversational to prompt full participation. Some students will prefer to speak out loud to the whole group about their weekend plans; others prefer to respond privately using the chat function. As I’m taking attendance, I’ll make quick notes about soccer games, volleyball tournaments, siblings visiting from college, etc., so that I’m able to follow up with students about things other than their English assignments. Again, a little bit of personalized attention helps students to feel more comfortable in the virtual space. These small conversations add up over time, helping to build a positive rapport and encourage participation and open dialogue.
  • When I’m providing feedback on written assignments, I use those comments as an additional opportunity to connect with students, not only about their writing skills, but about the content of their writing as well. For instance, I may compliment a student who has shown growth in her sentence structure or vocabulary since her last essay. I may also ask follow-up questions in the comments. For instance, since many of my seniors are writing about their plans for next year, I use my essay feedback as an opportunity to prompt them for more detail. I’ll make a point to ask the following questions, especially when students submit personal narratives:
    • What was the number one factor for choosing that school?
    • Do you know anyone else attending the same college?
    • What was your first impression of the campus?
    • What are you most nervous about after graduation?
    • What is one thing you hope to do before leaving for school?
    • How have your goals/career aspirations changed over time?

Perspective is Reality

Attitude is everything—especially during these trying times. Students of all ages are undoubtedly impacted by not only their own daily stresses, but also by the stress that the adults in their lives are currently managing. The sponges that they are, even young, elementary-aged children are picking up on the fact that mom, dad, and other adults around them are coping with greater levels of stress and concern these days. They may not know exactly what is going on in the world right now, but they are certainly aware that something is “off.” The uncertainty of the school year alone is disconcerting for kids, but parents can help. Just as we adults may exude tension or worry, we can also work to put out a contagiously positive attitude.

 

Self-care and words of affirmation 

One way that adults can help to foster a positive attitude is to model and encourage self-care and positive self-talk. These affirmations can be especially beneficial during times of high stress, conflict, or tumult. Teach children these reminders and explain them as deliberate attitude adjustments to use when they feel themselves going into a negative headspace. 

 

Examples of positive self-talk and affirmations might include:

  • Because I’m smart, I am capable of making my own decisions.
  • My attitude is something that I can 100% control, even when other things are out of my control.
  • I am allowed to take a moment to calm down when I need it.
  • No one is perfect; everyone in the world has flaws.
  • My differences make me unique.
  • I am allowed to make mistakes—everyone does.
  • My failures don’t mean that I’m a failure.
  • I will give it all my effort and that will be good enough.
  • I will choose to lift others up today.
  • My parents are proud of me, even if I mess up sometimes.
  • Worrying will not solve problems, but creativity can.
  • People who really love me will accept me for exactly who I am.
  • I know what is best for me.
  • I have a lot to offer and my ideas are worth sharing.

 

Teaching kids about how to use self-talk to build themselves up gives them a foundation for strong self-esteem. These helpful mantras also help children to remember what is important in moments of stress or struggle—a positive belief system can make all the difference in a chaotic moment.

 

Set a purpose for the day

Another great way to change a child’s negative perspective is to intentionally articulate what positive things today will bring. Parents can use these conversations as a beautiful way to start the day. Setting expectations for a worthwhile day, especially when children are feeling down and out, can act as a positivity springboard for the whole day. 

 

Phrases could include:

  • Today I’m going to try my best to accomplish _________.
  • I plan to challenge myself by _________.
  • One thing that I’m really looking forward to today is _________.
  • I hope to have learned more about _________ by the end of today.
  • I’m most looking forward to seeing/talking to _________ today.
  • Steps that I’ll take today to reach a larger goal include _________.
  • I’m going to help someone out today by _________.

Virtual Writing Instruction: Part II

In addition to providing cross-curricular writing opportunities, arranging activities that encourage peer feedback, and building in time for formative writing assessment, educators can also capitalize on one highly underrated teaching strategy: student choice. When at all possible, I try to provide my students with latitude for their written responses and essays. Of course, with a curriculum to follow, grade books to align, and cohorts that prefer to plan in “lock-step,” this is much easier said than done. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to plan for student choice when designing the writing tasks, as well as the instructional lessons leading up to those tasks.  

 

Below are several methods for implementing student choice while providing writing instruction:

  • Set up a NoRedInk classroom for students to join, explore, and practice various aspects of sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. The platform is set up for self-directed, student-driven, asynchronous work. Therefore, the activity options in NoRedInk can provide students with interventions, scaffolds, and supports, as well as enrichment and rigor for those working ahead of the group. 
  • NoRedInk allows students to choose from grammatical, sentence-level practices, standardized English prompts, and guided essay support. They can also participate in peer or self-review, depending on their level of comfort with collaborative feedback.
  • One of my favorite warm-up activities is to provide students with several gifs on a Google slide. I try to choose gifs that relate to students and their interests, such as The Weeknd’s Superbowl Halftime performance or the latest State Farm commercial. They get to choose the gif they’d like to caption. Then they must incorporate a sentence structure or grammatical concept that we’ve recently discussed in class somewhere in their caption. Not only do students get to pick the gif they want to caption, but they also get the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions, for example. Like an exit or entry ticket, teachers can quickly sift through the gif response to make sure that clauses are punctuated correctly and that students are understanding the purpose of the dependent clause in relation to the independent clause.
  • For writing instruction involving essay revision, teacher feedback, or peer edits, ask students to consider which section or paragraph of their essay they’d like to really rework or revise. Teachers can then use strategic grouping to organize students into groups with peers who are looking to revise the same portion of their essays. This streamlines teacher feedback, allows students to view one another’s work, and opens up the learning space for discourse around different writing techniques and components. 
  • I might organize small groups as follows:
    • Group 1 should be students who would like support/guidance with the thesis statement.
    • Group 2 should include students who need help finding appropriate quotes from the text or texts.
    • Group 3 should consist of students who need support with a concluding paragraph and/or transitions between paragraphs.
    • Group 4 should be for students who need help with elaborating on their analysis or further developing their own explanations. 

 

Student choice with writing samples/models:

  • Providing teacher models at the beginning of a new writing task is another beneficial strategy for incorporating student choice. Depending on the writing task, teachers should find (or create) a few various examples of the final essay or product for students to read and review. 
  • These samples can also include student essays from previous years. Provide students with options and require them to read, review, and assess at least one of the sample essays. This activity serves several purposesit allows students to see how others have approached the essay prompt, either successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on the samples you collect. It also shows teachers if students truly understand the criteria for success after viewing a teacher model or student sample.
  • If students review a mediocre or poor essay model as “great” or “topnotch work,” then teachers immediately see that they have missed the mark on fully explaining the task and the learning goals attached. Conversely, if students are unable to articulate why the model essay was unsuccessful or sound, then they truly do not know how to approach the task successfully either.

Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level: Part III

By the time students reach middle school, the basic foundational skills for social-emotional intelligence are in place. Preteens and teenagers are now ready to face greater obstacles and challenges, especially with regard to peer relationships, stress, and self-motivation. To meet new benchmarks, students in middle and high school must learn to deal with more significant academic struggles, greater peer influences, ever-changing teenage social dynamics, and their own personal growth and development at the same time.  

 

SEL Middle School Benchmarks SEL High School Benchmarks
Students should begin to recognize circumstances and situations that cause extra or unnecessary stress; they should begin to adopt strategies to help with motivation, stress management, and task completion.  High schoolers should begin to understand how expressing one’s own emotions/feelings can have both positive and negative impacts on others. For example, as young adults, they need to know that positivity begets positivity, especially when emotions are running high.
Middle schoolers should begin to recognize the benefits of strong self-advocacy skills and how to best utilize the resources and supports that are at their disposal. For instance, if schools offer afterschool homework help, students who know that they struggle to complete assignments on their own should take initiative by signing up for the club/program and making a point to attend. High schoolers will have developed the ability to multitask by this point. However, more than multitasking, HS students should be able to shift back and forth between various tasks and under wavering conditions or circumstances. For instance, if completing a chapter review for English, a high schooler may need to answer a phone call or walk the dog to then return to the chapter questions later. Perhaps they need to maintain focus on several different homework assignments while working from a bustling coffee shop.  
Since learning to set goals in elementary school, middle schoolers should now be equipped to assess the validity of their goals so that they may make more informed, realistic, and specific goals moving forward. They should also be able to determine why they were able to reach success or not, i.e., What helped them to reach their goal? If they didn’t reach it, then why not? What prohibited them from finding success?   Students in high school should be able to capitalize on their strengths and think creatively when facing a challenge. This ability connects with problem-solving skills and ingenuity. We can’t all be great at everything, but in what way can we use our personal/individual strengths to make challenging tasks easier? This is key for college and career readiness.
By middle school, students should not only be able to recognize other people’s emotions, feelings, or perspectives, but they should be able to surmise why they feel or think that way. In this sense, they’re activating the ability to take another’s perspective that they learned in elementary school, then further expanding on that by making inferences.  High schoolers should be thinking about setting goals for the future after graduation. College is not the “end all be all.” But if college isn’t their plan, then what is? Young adults need to recognize how important it is to find a path, take steps to follow that path, and evaluate their progress, preferences, and goals as they go. If they want to take a gap year, what do they hope to accomplish during that year? If they are going to study abroad, how will they decide on a program and pay for it? What skill set do they plan to use for supplementary income while in or out of college?
Preteens not only recognize cultural differences, but they should begin to acknowledge how certain cultural differences can result in some peers being ostracized or bullied. They should then be able to begin to find ways to combat or address the bullying and/or to make others feel included and recognized.  High schoolers should be capable of showing respect for those with opposing or differing viewpoints, even if the opposing side is argumentative, dismissive, rude, etc. It is important to maintain a level of self-control even when others are not. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they are wrong or right in their convictions.
Middle schoolers should be well-aware of group dynamics and what it takes to ensure the success of the group. This includes assigning roles, taking responsibility, sharing the workload, cooperating with others, etc. As young adults soon to be out on their own in the adult world, it is critical that high schoolers recognize how we must all be concerned about the well-being of all people; we may all be different races, but we’re all part of the human race. Therefore, we can positively contribute to our communities by advocating for human rights. 
Students in the middle school grades should be aware of negative peer pressure, what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. They should also be able to come up with ways to combat negative peer pressure in non confrontational ways and under various circumstances. High schoolers should be able to assess their ability to actively listen and explain how active listening helps with conflict resolution. They should also be able to demonstrate leadership abilities within group contexts without dominating or overtaking the goal of the group.
Preteens should be considering their decision-making in terms of others. Before making an important decision, they should consider not only how they will benefit from their choice, but how it could impact others as well.  Young adults should be prepared to demonstrate knowledge of social norms and appropriate behaviors between and among various cultural groups. They should recognize certain expectations and norms when interacting with authority figures, children, elders, etc.

Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to themsomething that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers.

 

How to organize PBL for remote learning

  • “Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them during this pandemic. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:
    • What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
    • What needs are not being met now that we are working and learning from home?
    • How has your daily routine changed since the pandemic?
    • What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?
  • After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.
  • Help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.
  • Utilize haptic engagement or handson learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of handson, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis. 

Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.

Gaming in the Classroom to Boost Engagement, Part I

Creating engaging lessons and activities for learning is no easy task. With today’s technology, the Gen Z group has access to the most realistic and stimulating gaming graphics, digital art programs, and communication platforms. Their familiarity and use of technology is practically innate. Therefore, it is no wonder that holding students’ attention in the classroom has become more and more of a challengecompared to the allure of the glowing screens, our books and assignments do not hold a candle to their preferred methods of entertainment. So, one way for educators to look at it is: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

 

Ideas for the English/history/world languages classroom

  • Take a page from the NCAA and create a March Madness-inspired bracket to lure your students into the current novel, play, or works of poetry. This can work in several different ways. Teachers can have students rank their favorite texts, readings, or chapters from the unit. Then use Google forms to see which work progresses to the next round based on class votes. Students can also make predictions about which characters will come out on top at the end of a tragedy, conflict, or quest. This type of bracket works especially well during a Shakespeare unit and/or when teaching students about various battles during The Civil War, WWI, WWII, etc. The key for engagement is to hype up the bracket to get students investedconsider an Elite Eight winner, Final Four winner, Championship winner with school-related prizes. Teachers should also think about either creating a giant visual bracket on the classroom wall or a website for digital class brackets.
  • For tech-savvy social studies students, challenge them to create a digital recreation or simulation of specific historical events. For example, instead of making a typical timeline, students might choose to show Germany’s progression across Europe with a visual map simulating territory takeover. Similarly, using video programming, students can act out various historical events and arrange or splice the clips with background music, captions, historical photographs, or Google Slides. With these projects, they’re putting their technology expertise to great use while demonstrating their knowledge of the event and/or time period.
  • Students are all about their social media presence right now, so how about utilizing those platforms to demonstrate their knowledge of a major historical figure, author, or literary character. There are hundreds of websites available for classroom use involving fake instagram templates, Tiktok videos, and pretend Linkedin pages. While these aren’t exactly games, the use of such platforms can be equally engaging for students. Some ideas include creating a Spotify playlist for a specific character or historical figure. Songs should represent key quotes or important aspects of the person’s life. Recently, a student of mine did a fabulous “Desdemona’s Breakup” playlist using Spotify to write an alternate ending for Shakespeare’s Othello. I’ve also found that mock-dating profile templates can be a great, creative option for students to demonstrate their understanding of a character. Teacherspayteachers.com offers a free “Fiction Mingle” template for this exact purpose!

Another engaging activity stems from the ever-popular escape rooms. Students with experience using gaming simulation and other digital animation programs can create and share virtual escape rooms with other students as a way to review foreign language terms and vocabulary. There are numerous websites, apps, and even options for using Google Forms to create digital escape rooms for the classroom. Teachers can create various levels of escape rooms to challenge students based on skill set, level of difficulty, and individual or collaborative groups.

Teacher Tips: Keeping Students Engaged in Virtual Math Class

As an avid reader, writer, and English teacher, nothing used to scare me more than the possibility of having to cover an absent colleague’s math class. Like a fish out of water, my literacy-geared mind simply cannot adapt to the math world. Now that we educators have moved into the virtual realm of instruction, at least for the time being, I am even more in awe of how my math teacher counterparts are able to reach their students when it comes to such complex skills. It goes without saying that, for students like myself who find math to be difficult to begin with, they must be finding online math instruction to be even more difficult. Another critical piece of this perplexing puzzle is this: how on earth are teachers now adapting to make online math instruction engaging?  

 

Real World Connections

Just as we would in the physical classroom, in order to boost engagement for a lesson or concept, teachers should try their best to connect the activity or information to students’ real-world problems. Enough with the “train leaving the station at a certain time” word problems and examples. Students will inevitably zone out when the material is not relevant or familiar. Instead, use what you know about your students to incorporate their interests into your math lesson, then connect the content to a problem that they might actually need to solve at some point. Making the concepts less arbitrary by showing students how to use these math skills in the real world will take engagement to a new level.

  • To teach measurements, perimeter, area, etc., have students make a plan for rearranging their room by actually measuring out their bedrooms and bedroom furniture. 
    • Visual learners can sketch a “floor plan” for where they could realistically move their bed, dresser, desk, etc.
    • Kinesthetic learners may want to build a diorama or 3D representation of their bedroom arrangement proposal using everyday materials around the house like cardboard, straws, tape, sticky notes, etc.
  • Teach percentages and healthy eating by demonstrating how much sugar is in some of your students’ favorite candies and treats. Poll students in advance and do a little research about how many grams of sugar are in some of their favorite candy bars. 
    • Then challenge students to represent those grams in tablespoons so that they can visually see how much sugar they are ingesting. 
    • Extend the activity by discussing how much of their daily recommended sugar intake is “eaten up” by choosing that candy bar. Ask students to figure out how much of a healthier treat, like grapes, they could eat in place of the candy barthey’ll be amazed at the comparison.
  • Teach concepts involving time by having students actually time themselves doing everyday tasks, like walking to the park, making their bed, brushing their teeth, etc. 
    • Then incorporate multiplication skills to see how many minutes students spend brushing their teeth in a year, for example. 
    • You can surprise them even more by asking them to track screen time for a week and then finding out the average time they might be spending in front of their phones per year.

 

Celebrate (and Learn from) the Errors

Students don’t often spend time reviewing math errors to gain a substantial understanding. Instead, they’re correcting mistakes for additional credit, or overlooking the missteps altogether. Teachers can boost engagement by capitalizing on students’ errors in non-judgmental ways.

  • Teachers may want to try a practice called “the best mistake” in which they use anonymous student samples to analyze where a math problem went wrong. 
    • This activity encourages students to take on another’s perspective, reread and review material, and look critically at different mathematical functions and properties.
    • This activity also helps to remove the stress around math quizzes and word problems by making light of errors and demonstrating how they happen to everyonewe all make mistakes sometimes. The key is to use those mistakes and improve in the future.
  • Teachers can also increase engagement by letting students be the experts and intentionally making an error in a math problem.
    • Tell students in advance that a step or number is incorrect. Ask students to discuss and collaborate in groups in order to spot the teacher’s error.
    • Remember, kids always love being able to correct the teacher—even if the error is intentional.