Encouraging online engagement from students
Moving learning online has necessarily been a steep learning curve for both students and teachers alike. Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE) lessons are delivered for one hour a week in Key Stage 3, so in the first two to three Virtual Learning Curriculum (VLC) lessons I was concerned mainly about three things: how to deliver continuity between lessons, how to maintain engagement, and how provide an encouraging presence for the students.
I have found the best way to maintain this was to post a welcome comment on the Google Classroom at the start of the lesson in real time. This included a reminder of what we did last lesson, in the previous week, and a summary of what we were aiming for in this lesson. At the end of the lesson I write a quick re-cap of what we had learnt this lesson, and shared the plan for the next lesson. This also provided me with a feeling that I had both welcomed the class into the lesson and subsequently released them to their next activity, and I hope it did so for the students too.
I am very fortunate to be a part-time teacher, to have gained time from both Year 11 and 13 timetabled lessons, and to have no home childcare requirements. So in the first couple of weeks I was able to free up time to write a short individual comment on each student’s initial work submission, either as they came in or shortly afterwards. I hoped that this would help students feel that even though they were sending work off into the ether it was definitely being received!
Each lesson I had set an interactive task, either a Google Quiz or a Google Doc using the Assignment function on Google Classroom. When the students submit the Google Doc it is easy to send a private comment to the students, even just a ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’, along with their name, I hoped would increase engagement. I have since discovered that there is an integral comment bank facility in ‘Assignment’ tasks so I have been saving some comments to re-use which has made the process quicker. Today I found that you can save multiple comments in one section of the comment bank, so it would is possible to save three lots of comments, one for each KS3 year group, without the comments becoming so numerous they are unmanageable.
To comment even faster, it is possible to select a group of students to ‘Return’ work to in Assignments, and write a private comment. They will all get the same individual comment when their work is returned, meaning the feedback can be tailored to selected groups of students but without the need for an individual comment, often making very similar points, to be written by the teacher, which gives the benefits of whole-class feedback digital style.
The really lovely thing is that these comments are only seen by the student whose work you are returning, and it has been delightful to hear back from students who possibly feel freer to respond and comment in the VLC than they may have done in public in the real world classroom.
A even quicker way of monitoring engagement and understanding is a multiple choice Google Quiz. Most people will already know how to do this, I am sure, but if like me you had never used them before lockdown. Quizzes can be created in Google Forms and a quick guide from Google is here. It’s quick to set up: once in Google Forms in the settings ‘cog’ go to ‘Quizzes’ and select the ‘Make this a quiz’ button, then click ‘Save’. This will add an ‘Answer Key’ into each question box which is used to select the correct answer. A points value for each question can also can be added in the answer box. The student responses are stored and analysed for you within the Google Quiz, which is a very quick way to see how many students have engaged with the lesson, and to track their comprehension. At first I was putting these quizzes into the lesson at the end as a summary, but they also go really well before a main activity as a consolidation exercise.
In the first two weeks I was commenting on work in a very general way to students. At the end of the first week I produced a Feedback and React power point slide which I used with all my classes. This was quite simple, a reminder about setting out work, and about using full and detailed sentences, with some tips and hints on how to do so. I have done this for the beginning of each of the subsequent weeks. This has paid dividends, as there have definitely been improvements in written work by many, which is great to see.
Finally, I have tried to be very positive in my feedback, especially in the first 2 weeks, using phrases such as ‘I am going to leave you to change this part of the answer…’ along with some information about how to improve the point. Hopefully this avoided feedback sounding abruptly critical and adding to the stress of the situation.
Overall, I have been relieved to find that it is possible to maintain continuity, engagement and encouragement while adapting to a new way of being a learning community.