When most people think of virtual learning, it’s not uncommon for images of boredom to come to mind. As educators during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re being thrust into the world of e-learning headfirst. It’s a daunting world that may seem so different than in-person instruction for a lot of us, but I promise quality connections can be formed even while in separate spaces.
Connections are not confined to a classroom. As soon as you get your class list (as long as policy permits, reach out.) I love sending my students these postcards to show them how excited I am to get to know them as individuals. It sets the tone for the year and your intentions as their teacher before they even meet you in person.
When the year does start up, it’s still crucial to get to know everything you can about each student. I’ll be using digital all about me and family surveys this year. Surveys are a quick and easy way to get to know a child through their own eyes and a family member’s eyes. What makes them upset? What holidays excite them? What goals do they have for themselves and how do they compare to the goals their parents have for them? Learning about a student as a human and not just a student is everything. Although learning may be out of the classroom for some, interests and differentiation are still essential to incorporate into lessons. This Digital Student Flipbook is also a great way for both you and your students to get to know one another!
Reading, math, science, and other subjects are all mandatory to teach, but community building is still a must. One of my own must-dos as a teacher is a morning meeting each day. Class meetings are a great way for students to start the day off on the right foot and connect with their classmates. You can read more about my morning meeting process here, but I assure you that this is still something you can do virtually.
It’s important to keep the sharing aspect of class meetings even if you don’t follow the responsive classroom model. Sharing, both to you and to their peers, gives students the opportunity to process their emotions and feel valued. A Morning Check-In Google Form is a great way to help students name their emotions and determine why they feel that way. You can also use this data to follow-up with students as needed based on their moods and thoughts. Sharing with peers also helps them feel included and accepted. Here are the questions I like to use! I choose one daily. They’re fun, but also teach students about one another.
One of the most important pieces of the morning meeting is the activity. The activity is not only “the fun part” to the kids, but it’s an important puzzle piece to building community within your class. During activities, students are able to form authentic connections and use important skills such as communication, emotional regulation, and decision making. A lot of our students’ favorite activities include a lot of movement and visual cues, but that doesn’t mean some can’t be adapted for the online world! Below are a few of my favorites I’ll be pulling out if my district goes virtual:
- Would You Rather?: These slides are a hit in my classroom! In person, students move to a certain side of the classroom as shown by the arrows, but alternative movements can be given to students to show their choice–such as hands on their heads and hands on their mouths. Students can also use a chat feature to follow-up and discuss their choices.
- Scavenger Hunts: Turn the traditional idea of a scavenger hunt and make it virtual! Avoid items that could lead towards feelings of inferiority (i.e. cell phones, fresh food, video games, etc.) You could even make it educational by including to look for items with certain letter sounds (i.e. Find something that starts with the “sh” sound) or use higher order thinking skills to think of uses for the item (i.e. Find an item that could be needed while camping.)
- Appearance Swap: Choose a student randomly and have them go off camera and change one thing about their appearance (different hairstyle, put on a jacket, add earrings, etc.) When they come back on, students have to guess what they changed!
- Farmer Game: A classic favorite of my class can be played virtually after your students know each other decently well. Choose a student to guess and have them turn away from the screen. Then, choose another student to be the farmer. The farmer has to say “quack,” “moo,” or “cock-a-doodle-doo!” in any voice they want. The first student has three guesses as to who the farmer is.
Allow me to reemphasize that distance learning does not equal boring. While it may seem tougher to excite students over the internet, find ways to engage them! Carry out a virtual escape room. Still incorporate dancing brain breaks. Allow short group projects and have students still form those connections and learn how to work together as a team. As an educator early in the year, I constantly refer to my students’ All About Me forms to incorporate their interests into my lessons.
Virtual learning looks different for all of us this fall. Some of us may be teaching half of our class one day with the other half doing independent learning activities online. Do not let any of your students go a day of school without a “hello!” from their teacher. Even if you find a quick way to pop in and show you’re thinking of them, it means more to them and their families than you realize.
This fall will throw us a lot of curveballs. Devices may malfunction. Servers may crash. The first day may be all about teaching how to use Zoom. However, the one thing you can guarantee is that effort to build connections.