How to plan for connected and engaged learning at home

In this post, Dr Sofia Mavropoulou and Dr Carly Lassig discuss planning ideas and resources that teachers can use to engage their students in connected learning at home. You can download this information as a PDF – How to plan for connected and engaged learning at home (PDF file, 2MB)

 
In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have been tasked with designing online learning experiences to help all students remain connected, engaged and motivated in their learning. This is not an easy task, especially with the additional challenges that teachers, students and their families may be facing at home.

When families are largely isolated in their homes, social connection becomes even more critical in student wellbeing and learning. Teachers are endeavouring to find flexible and innovative ways to stay connected with their students and help them maintain connections with their peers. For some students, changes in the learning environment have created additional challenges in building and maintaining social relationships and a sense of belonging in their learning community. Teachers are in a unique position to effectively use digital technologies in ways that encourage connection and engagement for all their students. Academic learning is only possible when students feel included in an engaging learning community.

Below are some questions and examples to guide teachers’ thinking about planning for social connection, and for student engagement and motivation, with links to resources.

Planning for social connection

Questions to ask Examples of effective practices

Are there regular opportunities for students to connect with their teachers and seek help? Teachers could use:

  • Daily check-in sessions online (similar to a roll call, or a primary school ‘morning meeting circle’ or a secondary ‘form’ class).
  • Drop in online sessions for different subjects with the teacher (and teacher aide).
  • Emails, with clear guidelines for students about when teachers will respond (e.g., a teacher could tell students that s/he will respond to emails between 2 and 3pm each day).
  • A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page or discussion forum (e.g., using Padlet).

Brief daily or weekly video messages from the teacher to the students to highlight the key learning goals for the day/week.

Are there regular opportunities for students to connect with each other (not necessarily about learning)? Teachers could:

  • Use video chat applications (such as iConnect) to communicate with students and parents.
  • Set up an online meeting room that is left open between set hours for students to drop in on whenever they like. You could set up a roster of student facilitators and provide some example questions to promote discussion. Ask student facilitators to set the protocol/etiquette for respectful online communication.
  • Do an online survey of student interests and then students can self-elect into groups to teach other new skills or participate in an activity together. For example, students might lead a real-time online exercise or yoga class, record a cooking video demonstration, demonstrate how they made a marble maze run, record a dance or song they play on an instrument or sing.
  • Create an online wellbeing group to share strategies for optimising “Life in lockdown”. Use this unique opportunity for social-emotional learning, and for students to develop qualities such as resilience, compassion, and empathy.
  • Provide wellbeing activities and encourage students to share their experiences.
  • Ask older students if they want to create a list to share their social media or gaming handles.

Are there opportunities for student collaboration in their learning? Teachers could:

  • Set up online cooperative pairs to encourage peer tutoring. Rotate these so that students have opportunities to work with a variety of peers.
  • Use cooperative learning groups (synchronous or asynchronous) and set clear goals, roles and responsibilities so that everyone can contribute (see an example of cards we have created for online group work in this Padlet).
  • Co-create group expectations. Teachers can provide examples but encourage students to develop these collaboratively so that they take ownership of them.
  • Use flexible groupings – avoid grouping students with the same people for every task.
  • Set up student accounts in online platforms (e.g., Discord or Google Docs) to allow students to talk and take notes for group work.
  • Include criteria for group skills in your assessment.  

Are there opportunities for teachers and peers to offer each other praise and social motivation? Teachers might prepare an empowering video message for their students during these challenging times.

Teachers might provide praise to:

  • individual students for learning and effort; and
  • teams for their collaborative work.

Peers could be provided with opportunities to:

  • provide constructive feedback on each other’s work (e.g., through discussion forums, Padlet, email, approved social media, email templates); and
  • like/comment on posts to motivate each other.

How are teacher aides being used to support all students? Teacher aides could:

  • be involved in planning with teachers;
  • prepare resources for teachers;
  • work collaboratively with teachers in drop in sessions for students;
  • help students become more independent by offering prompts and encouragement, rather than answers;
  • clarify instructions for students who have questions; and
  • send reminders and check-in messages to students.

To ensure inclusive practices are maintained in this learning at home time, the teacher aide should not become the main teacher of students with disability. The teacher maintains responsibility for teaching all students.

Planning for student engagement and motivation

Questions to ask Examples of effective practices
Have the school’s expectations for learning been shared with students and their families? Schools could create:

  • Daily/weekly written schedules or visual schedules for different year level groups, which can be adapted by families for their situation.
  • An online noticeboard/email with daily or weekly messages and updates that students and their parents can access.
  • A video message and transcript about the plan for the next week/month and the big ideas to learn each week.
  • Social stories to help some students understand COVID-19 and staying at home.
Are there strategies to help students manage their time? Some possible strategies to assist students include:

  • Developing a calendar to help students keep track of their schoolwork, assessments, and progress.
  • Eliminating distractions, e.g., turn off social media notifications and TV during learning time.
  • Working on one thing at a time rather than multitasking. Finishing one goal/task before starting a new goal/task.
  • Setting regular short breaks so that students stay focused during learning time.
  • Planning rewards for completion of goals and tasks, e.g., going for a bike ride, playing some music, playing a board game.
Are there ways to maintain routines and offer resources to help students feel safe and calm? Teachers could:

  • Set specific times in the day for sending announcements to students.
  • Follow the same sequence of class periods and breaks in their online timetable as in their onsite teaching.
  • Encourage students to follow their daily schedules.
  • Send the week’s lessons at the start of that week. Chunk lessons into daily folders so that students are not overwhelmed by the volume of work, but can work at their own pace.
  • Allow sufficient time for the completion of schoolwork each week, recognising that students may not be able to commit the same amount of time to a subject as they would when at school.
  • Provide options of meaningful and respectful extension tasks students can complete if they finish their core learning.
  • Offer ideas for a range of free activities and resources that students could do at home or outdoors to help them take care of their wellbeing, e.g.,:
  1. Beyond Blue Wellbeing Tools for Students;
    online physical activities (Sport Australia, YouTube channels e.g., The Australian PE teacher; PE with Joe);
  2. free online yoga and mindfulness apps (e.g. Insight Timer, Cosmic Kids); or
  3. start/join a couch choir.
Do students understand, and are they committed to, the learning goals? Teachers could:

  • Provide explicit learning goals at the start of a unit/week/lesson.
  • Ask students to restate those goals in their own words.
  • Encourage students to break up long-term goals into more achievable short-term goals.
  • Engage students in discussion about what excellence looks like for these goals. If relevant, link to assessment criteria sheets or rubrics.
What opportunities are there for students to have choice and autonomy? Students might be provided with choice in:

  • Topics within a particular content area;
  • Contexts for applying content or practising skills;
  • Level of challenge;
  • Resources they use;
  • Sequence or timing for completing tasks; and/or
  • How they present their learning in a task (e.g., record their responses in a voice memo, take a photo of their poster/drawing/construction, create a video presentation or animation).
Are there opportunities for students to self-assess their progress? Teachers could:

  • Provide self-reflection templates for students to fill in.
  • Create online quizzes with automatic scoring and feedback, including explanations of answers and links to materials that will help to further develop students’ understandings. Example quiz apps include Kahoot, Socrative, Quizlet, and Quizizz.

Stay connected

The COVID-19 situation is a steep learning curve for teachers, students and parents alike. It’s a challenging journey, but it also offers unique opportunities. Teachers’ commitment to strengthening social connections in the online environment and guiding students to use creative ways for communicating with their peers and expressing their learning will help everyone to navigate the new reality of teaching and learning. We do not have all the answers for all the teaching and learning matters that will emerge in the time of COVID-19. Sharing effective practices for reinforcing social connections and nurturing student engagement and motivation can help all learners feel included and valued in their online learning communities.

We want to acknowledge the teachers, parents, and students who have shared ideas for learning at home, which have contributed to the development of content in this blog post. We also acknowledge the Queensland Department of Education, with some ideas in this post originating from their learning@home website.

We have created a Padlet to share ideas, photos, weblinks and resources that support teachers’ efforts to keep their students connected, engaged and motivated during these times. What great ideas have you used or seen? We invite you to share your ideas here!

In our next blog, we will offer suggestions for using Universal Design for Learning, differentiation, and adjustments to the physical environment, resources/materials, teaching and learning approaches, and assessments to ensure all students are included while learning at home.


Dr Sofia Mavropoulou is a Senior Lecturer in the QUT Faculty of Education. Her research and teaching are focused on inclusive strategies, educational supports for social understanding, social inequalities and parenthood in autism. Sofia is very passionate about creating autism-friendly environments to accommodate the strengths and preferences of persons with autism to promote their inclusion, independence and well-being.

 

Dr Carly Lassig is a Lecturer in the QUT Faculty of Education with a passion for social justice, equity, and inclusion. Her research and teaching interests include inclusive education, differentiation, Universal Design for Learning, educational experiences of children with disability, gifted education, and creativity. Carly is passionate about reimagining schools to be places that are inclusive of all students and supporting teachers, families and students in achieving this goal.

 

 

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