Students disinterested in learning, students misbehaving, and students just not attending our classes; as teachers we have seen all of these in our careers. In any normal school year, teachers across the country try to pull a rabbit out of their hats in order to get the attention of and to motivate our students. Well, as we all know, 2020 is not a normal year. In fact, motivating students during a pandemic is even harder than it would seem at first glance. Getting students to attend the Zoom session can be difficult at times. And when they do show up, keeping students interested is the next hurdle. So what are some engagement strategies that can be used for those remote learners in order to promote participation or at least paying attention?
For those teachers and students that are in a remote setting, the video conferencing tools are your friend. One of those we have seen many schools utilize as a way to conduct remote learning is Zoom. Inside Zoom there is a chat feature that allows students to message their teachers directly, message other students, and for teachers to send messages to students. For students who appear to be disengaged in your Zoom session, maybe sending them a brief chat message could spark their interest. It could even be used as a way to check in on learning. In addition, Zoom, like other video conferencing software, has a breakout room feature where students can work with other students in small groups. Because teachers can’t be in every breakout room at once, students sometimes keep their cameras off and mute themselves, and don’t participate in the lesson. However, if you assign each student a task to complete while in the breakout room, this holds students accountable. If all else fails, how about setting up a poll asking students to vote on a question?
So, what if we are in person? How do we get our students excited to learn our curriculum? This next method could work both remotely and in person and that is get to know your students. This can be achieved through an easy ice breaker activity you do each week. Or, consider letting students who are in the waiting room into the Zoom session a bit early for a brief conversation about how their weekend was. Simply inquiring about their home life or what they like to do in their free time generally elicits a response and the relationship can grow from there. Finding something you have in common with the students is another great technique teachers can use. Similarly, you can help the other students in the class to get to know each other. Maybe it is having new seats each month, or choosing their own partners for a project. These meaningful opportunities are endless and can lead to a wealth of information along with a greater sense of trust with your students. Hopefully, as they get to know you and each other, interest in the class will increase, as will the learning.
Another one of the go-to ways to improve classroom motivation is to set high classroom expectations and establish clear goals. The students themselves can and should be involved in deciding what the classroom rules should be. As students create these rules (also called norms), include a discussion about the need to build a safe classroom where students feel unafraid to take risks. Here, the teacher should continue to reassure students that even if there are struggles, the students can still overcome them. This can be done by setting reasonable goals, both academically and professionally. Further, showcase student work to promote a sense of accomplishment in the classroom or on your website or social media. When students see that their work is being shown, they take greater pride in their work and therefore are motivated.
Finally, teachers can and need to be inspirational. We know of teachers that have at least one if not many techniques that are used to inspire students; that is why they went into this profession. I can tell you teachers did not go into this profession thinking that they would get rich. They came into this profession because they wanted to light up a child’s life, bring a smile to a struggling child, and to be a role model for children. We understand that motivating students is extremely tough, but is also very rewarding. This does not change just because we are in the middle of a pandemic; it just makes it 100 times harder! Continue to stay strong and persevere and your students will become more interested; you just need to find that spark.