As a result of the global spread of COVID-19, many international schools have temporarily closed their doors. Governments all over the world are restricting the movements of their citizens in order to curb the spread of the virus, and many teachers have found themselves unexpectedly teaching from home – some for the very first time.
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How do school closures impact on students?
Like teachers, many children and young people will be learning online for the first time, and this comes with its own challenges. Many teachers are teaching live classes online, but students can become distracted at home. There’s no guarantee they’ll have access to a quiet spot to work and study; perhaps they have younger siblings in the house, or a parent who is also working remotely in a crowded space. Students might have limited access to a computer, and unless they have a garden, they likely won’t be getting much time outside to burn off extra energy with a mandatory quarantine in place.
School closures also have a big social impact on students – like all of us, they’re missing out on face-to-face contact with friends or classmates. Their routines have suffered a massive upheaval, which can make some students feel anxious or fretful. For older learners, exam disruptions can make them feel uncertain and frustrated about their post-secondary education prospects.
“The big game changer has been the cancellation of the international exams – everyone was more motivated when they thought they were sitting exams,” said secondary level teacher Olivia Hunt. And for primary teacher Fin Duffy, “the biggest challenge of this new teaching environment is helping students find the motivation to learn at home themselves.”
A lack of motivation can be a huge barrier to learning. So now, it’s up to teachers to help students find the motivation to learn at home themselves.
Tips and tools to help motivate your students
So how can teachers help students better ease into distance learning? Well, there are a few strategies that will help smooth the transition for students faced with learning online.
Take the register
In times of crisis or change, knowing that adults are in charge can be comforting for children and young adults alike. Let your students know you have expectations of them; after all, there will still be exams to take and projects to turn in at the end of the year. Even something simple like taking the attendance – and having students call out that they’re present – can provide them with the comfort and familiarity of a routine, and make it clear to them that even though they’re studying at home, it’s still business as usual.
Revise your classroom contract
Many teachers start off the school year by creating a classroom contract with their students – a set of norms and expectations which will guide everyone’s behaviour. Set time aside with your students to revisit and amend this contract to reflect the changed circumstances. How does learning online compare with learning in a physical classroom? What challenges await? What norms and boundaries do you want to establish?
You won’t be able to enforce any rules from behind your laptop when teaching from home, so try to set daily challenges and goals for students – and then give them an incentive to complete them. You might create a points system for completing exercises or doing their homework, for example, and promise students a class party on their return to school if they succeed. You know your students best – what reward would motivate them most?
Communicate with parents
Instead of setting blind expectations for students, it’s best to communicate closely with their parents to understand what’s reasonable. Is it too much to ask of families to get their young children ready for an online class at 9am? Or, maybe it’s best to start classes earlier but take more frequent breaks?
If you’re teaching young kids, you’ll likely have a relationship with your students’ parents already, which will help to facilitate communication. If you’re teaching from home at secondary level and have more students, divide the load with your colleagues and break up who will speak to each parent. Overall, it’s important to acknowledge the pressure families are facing during these unusual times and see how you can all work together to help students learn.
Balance and mix up your activities
Make sure your classes are varied to keep students interested – and stop them from playing virtual hooky! Design interesting powerpoints, give students engaging research tasks, leverage online platforms, and all around, keep things fun.
Give students options when it comes to their work, too; if they’d rather record an explanation than write it, for example, that’s ok. After all, tools designed to streamline teaching online help teachers to stay flexible.
That said, it’s also a good idea to assign students more manual, creative tasks to take them away from the screen – like making a collage, a poster or a model, for example. Set students one offline task a week and get them to send a photograph of their progress.
Promote a growth mindset
Try to promote a growth mindset during this temporary disruption; praise your students for their hard work, present online classes as a new learning opportunity and encourage students to learn from their mistakes.
Remind them of the value of developing their skills – this will encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning. Give students specific and detailed goals to reach, and follow up with them individually if you notice they don’t seem to be making progress.
And, don’t forget your own growth mindset! Remember, you’re all embarking upon this new territory together, so ask your students for feedback on your classes. Find out what they’ve enjoyed and what hasn’t worked. It’s a learning opportunity for you too, and a chance to develop your skills and adapt them to teaching online.
Reassure your students that things will go back to normal
Times of crisis can be deeply unsettling for children and young people. If your students are feeling stressed and on edge, it’ll be even trickier for them to focus on their schoolwork. However, as a trusted adult and a point of consistency in their lives, you are in a position to offer them support. Make space for them to share their concerns, and reassure them that things will go back to normal soon.
Finally, don’t forget to check out our round up of resources for teaching online.