Kudos to all of the teachers who have kept their students engaged during our time away from school. When presented with the challenges of distance learning, I asked myself, how will I manage to get my students excited about learning at home? I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task!
The first thing I worked on was establishing a feeling of connectedness. Using Google Classroom, I came together with my students each day and started with a morning message in our Daily Message classroom. I discussed things to be excited about during the week and observations I had about their learning progress. I tried to introduce consistency and a sense of normalcy in a very abnormal time.
In order to see who was joining class, I posted a daily check-in that was a fun way to come together and continue to learn about one another.
I believed that it was important to provide something for my students to look forward to each week; with that in mind, we had a class meeting just for fun every Thursday. During our meeting we played games like Scattergories or did Mad-Libs. I gave them weekly challenges like building a fort or creating an invention. They would also bring something to the meeting to share such as a piece of origami they made for our Japan unit. We had spirit days like crazy hair day or dress in Hogwarts house colors. We used a website called Padlet to share pictures of projects they made. They could write messages to each other and post about their lives away from school. Not surprisingly, our Thursday session was especially popular.
Flipgrid quickly became one of my favorite resources. It allows students to create and share videos of themselves. Everything from fun videos about our dream houses and our favorite things, and educational videos about books we read. It was neat to watch them come to life in a new way. (See the National Board’s webinar on Flipgrid.)
We did quite a few exercises to build up their independence and confidence to work at home. I slowly introduced new things while continuing to use programs students were familiar with. They were able to create their own schedule. I organized their assignments by weeks so they could plan school into their life and not have to plan their life around school. We engaged in a variety of projects throughout the quarter in order to keep them interested. My students had the freedom to design projects like slideshows and I showcased their creativity and learning as well as giving them an incentive to do their best work.
I created different Google classrooms with categories like Fun Stuff, Challenge Work and Hogwarts. I am known as the “Harry Potter teacher” and every year we read the first Harry Potter book; the kids look forward to Harry Potter Week during which we do all sorts of wizarding activities. This year we weren’t able to finish the book or have our fun. Knowing all of the things my students were missing out on, I felt compelled to create some sort of magical experience to send them off for the summer and get some sort of closure. I put together Harry Potter gift bags for each student and secretly delivered them at night as they slept. I asked the parents to hide them until our meeting the next day. Our last class meeting was to be a talent show.
When it was my turn, I told the kids that I had a secret. Professor McGonagall is really my great aunt and I too can do magic! I recited a magic spell with my wand and sent gifts to their bedrooms. They ran off with glee to see if the magic actually worked. I could hear their excitement and I will never forget the joy and wonder on their faces.
Distance learning has been challenging, but I learned new engagement strategies and now have this amazing memory to cherish.