Students are students because they attend school, have classmates, friends, teammates, teachers who are mentors, a safe space in the school building. So of all the things they are, they are missing so many pieces of themselves this fall.
School districts are working as hard they can to provide an education that resembles consistency and equitable learning. However, what can’t be made up is the physical social interactions that students have been wanting since schools closed back in March. So, how can we create a community and a sense of interpersonal interactions? We are limited in the numbers of students per class and to a 6 feet distance rule. Well, here are some ideas:
Creating classroom rituals can temporarily fill in any gaps with remote learning. Students are still able to interact with each other as a class and create a sense of community with one another. It may sound corny but even with the distance, students will still feel connected.
Starting class with a rose, thorn, and bud activity can get students warmed up to listening to each other and being able to talk about something good that happened to them, something negative (if any), and then something they are looking forward to. Making this into a class ritual where there is a day dedicated to doing this in the morning can help put a band-aid over the interpersonal gap. Students can get to know each other and create a sense of community in the classroom.
Playing a short game that is related to the class can help students get excited about the content that will be taught that day. Teachers can use Kahoot (a trivia website game) to have students answer fun or content related questions. This can be used as an informal assessment to gather about the students while letting the students bond over the competitive nature of trivia. Other games could include (but not limited to) Pictionary, Never Have I Ever and Scavenger Hunt!
As a teacher, creating a community is different from the online format. However, making modifications to what has been done in the past to fit the online format can be done. Classroom rituals can be beneficial for students to feel for connected the new classroom environment, their teacher, and their classmates.
It can be difficult for students to discuss with each other in an online format. There are a few ways to allow student collaboration and discussion while using online classroom tools. The use of the chat function, break-out rooms, and creating small group projects can help students converse with one another.
The chat function can be great for students to talk to each other during class. Using the chat can be a discrete way to ask or clarify things for each other without disrupting instruction. This can mimic the side chatter the students occasionally have in class. However, it is really important to note that there need to be guidelines with this. Student chats can often get out of hand. Limiting it to only class-related chats and making it clear that inappropriate conversations or language will not be tolerated is important to ensure a positive classroom environment.
Break- out rooms can be a great resource to allow students to interact with each other. In every class, there are going to be students who are more inclined to speak to the whole group but most would prefer to talk in smaller groups. Creating these rooms for students to discuss the content helps students process the information with one another. This fills in what could be the side conversation or the after-class conversations students have if the school was in-person. Another way break-out rooms can be used is to just let students catch up with each other. Incorporating in breaks (depending on time) can allow students to just reconnect with others to discuss whatever they would talk about if they were at school.
Lastly, in-class group work. Some may groan in despair but we carry on. Giving students a chance to work together on a small project during class can help facilitate collaboration. Students will be able to utilize the Google Suite sites to create documents for class live. This can be done by creating break out rooms. While this removes the students’ power to create their group, it will give them a chance to possibly be paired with people they know or can get to know.
These options can be really helpful in creating a classroom community and allow students to still have some sense of the interpersonal interactions that they crave as adolescents. While it is not in person but at least they will be able to interact more than just seeing each other. A big piece to recognize is that not all students can show their faces. Not punishing students for having their video on is important. Just make sure that the students are participating.
Everyone is currently adapting to the new normal. Students are faced with changes that they were also not ready for. However, they can adapt. One day, they will see each other without a screen or a 6 feet distance requirement. But until then, as teachers, we should help facilitate time for them to create and build students’ relationships with their peers. It is important to be patient with students who are struggling more than others. Not all students have the same home life. Giving students all space where they can learn, collaborate, and still have fun consistently is going to help their engagement in the class.