Distance Learning- Six Tips for Interacting More with Students

[my favorite student + me working]

I'm going to save everyone the trouble of listening to me lament the woes of distance teaching/learning. It's really, really, really hard to be thrown into it with no training or warning, and the kids have been told that their grade from the first progress report stands for the entire semester, even if they don't do one assignment (they can increase their grades, though). I teach IB seniors, who are typically motivated kids, but senioritis was already setting in, so getting them involved is really hard sometimes. I have had mixed results- there are assignments with 85% of the kids participating and ones with 35%. I feel like, as a whole, I am having some success and engaging with them, though, and here are some techniques that I've used-

1. Daily Google Classroom Questions- This has been the easiest way for me to get steady work done from kids and also shows me they are doing some reading at home. The questions usually ask for 3-5 sentences (once in awhile I'll throw them a bone and just say 1-2) plus textual support. I provide a personalized response for every single one and it's credit or no-credit, so it's easy for me to keep track of and for them to use improve their grades with. It's perfect because I can sit down and respond to ten kids, help my son with some of his work, and then jump back on and reply to a few more. 

2. IGTV Book Rec Channel on my Teacher Instagram Page- I started this a week ago, and most work-days I put up a 2-5 minutes video talking about an influential book in my life. The numbers show most of my kids who are following me are watching them, so I can rest knowing that they're hearing me talk about books like Crime and Punishment, The Handmaid's Tale, and memoirs. I think, whether they want to admit it or not, it reminds them of my literary-tangents the classroom.

3. Recognizing three students a day- I started doing this on my Instastories and saving them to a Highlight, and the views are really high. Every work day I recognize three kids who are doing an awesome job, have improved, or have done a great job at a particular assignment. It's basically the equivalent of giving a kid a certificate and I always tear up a little when they reply with so much gratitude (social isolation is making me sappy, what can I say?). 

4. Emails, emails, and more emails- I email kids for doing a good job, for not doing work, to remind them to do an upcoming assignment, and to check in to see if they are doing okay. I also email parents, although I haven't gotten many responses. 

5. Flexibility- I am typically not a very flexible teacher when it comes to a lot of things. I have well over 100 students and I need things on time, I need to stick to a carefully thought out pacing calendar, and I need to prep my students for the IB test. These are different times, though, and they require a different approach. I am providing a lot of wiggle room on turning work in, am re-figuring how much time I give kids to do the reading, and am making exceptions for kids who email me and explain their situations. My kids know that this is a HUGE deal and they're communicating with me about what's happening in their lives because of it. 

6. Being honest with my feelings and open with my at-home life- The kids really appreciate it when their teachers are human, and that's something I've always tried to be with them. I am constantly relaying anecdotes from Sawyer to them in the classroom, and life in general. It's hard to want to work for someone you don't feel you know well (at least that's how I am)! I have opened my life up to them even more now. I include snippets of my schedule and my feelings in my weekly letter to them, I share pictures of my son on Instagram, funny things that go on around home in my stories, screen shots of things I find interesting, etc... Obviously I keep it appropriate, but I find keeping that connection really important. 

Things I don't do:
1. Try to get them to use a whole bunch of new platforms- I stick to the basics that they are all familiar with, instead of downloading a whole bunch of new things. I know that this is overwhelming enough as is, and, honestly I don't have it in me right now to learn 4825932598 new programs that two of them might use (or sign up for all the free trials and deal with all the new passwords). 

2. Take their lack of work personally- They're teenagers and have been thrown into a weird, weird world. I do occasionally get frustrated, but I know they're good kids and their situations are all very unique.

3. Assume that the assignments that worked in the classroom will necessarily work now- For example, every book we did had a very involved physical notebook that went with it. That definitely won't work now! 

I cannot wait to back to the classroom and start the slow process of returning to normal, but for now I am doing what I can with what, and who, I've got. 

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