The global pandemic has disrupted the lives of, nearly, every person on Earth. One of the biggest impacts has been felt in the lives of school-aged children. Many have had to adjust to hybrid or distance learning. Distance Learning for Kids means they have to get used to having a school day that is completely held virtually online. There are, certainly, students who will thrive in a distance learning environment, but there are also students who will struggle with staying engaged and completing their school work. Keeping students engaged is paramount to their success.
What is an “engaged” student in distance learning ?
The National Association of Independent Schools defines “student engagement” as: “meaningful student involvement throughout the learning environment.” Which means the student is actively participating in the lesson being taught, and they are curious about what they are learning. Many students who are distance learning are not able to stay focused, or are doing the bare minimum. Teachers have worked, the entire year, to find ways to increase student engagement, but are often unable to find a solution; increasing student engagement in a distance learning environment is a complex problem that requires teachers, and school administrators to understand that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied, because each students’ circumstances will be different than the next.
Why aren’t kids engaged in distance learning?
While the entire world may be grappling with the same traumatic event, the impact the event is having on each person varies widely. Teachers must understand that the students in their class could be facing a lot of different issues.
Some reasons students may struggle with being engaged in distance learning:
They are dealing with trauma and grief
Many students have had family members who have become severely ill, or worse, have passed away. Trauma negatively impacts student learning by causing disruptions in their ability to regulate their emotions, their cognitive processing, and their executive functioning.
They have a lack of support at home
Parents were unprepared to have to jump into teaching their children. Distance learning for kids makes it harder to ask for help from instructors. They may try to ask their parents for assistance if they need help. Their parents may not be knowledgeable enough of the subject matter to help them, leading to the student not receiving the academic support they need. Many parents are also having to juggle distance learning while working from home. Their parents may be too busy to help. A lack of support will lead to the student falling behind in the lesson, and thus losing interest in staying engaged during class.
They do not have reliable access to a computer
Unless schools provide laptops to their students, it would be hard for certain student to study online. Families must provide internet access and electronic equipment so that their student can login for distance learning. This can be a financial issue, or even a location issue as many rural students struggle with reliable internet access. A student with accessibility issues will struggle with staying engaged, or even, logging in at all.
They are distracted easily
Large families may have several children attempting to distance learn at home. This will cause a lot of noise and distraction. Students may also be distracted for the simple fact that they are in their home environment; home is not where they’re accustomed to doing school, and their home has all the belongings they use to relax and enjoy themselves.
The expectations for distance learning are not clear and consistent
In the classroom, teachers spend much of the first few weeks of school acclimating their students to the expectations of their classroom. Distance learning is brand new for everyone, teachers included. The expectations for classroom engagement might not have been stated clear enough for students to understand. Students need structure and they need the expectations to be clearly expressed.
They are unsure of how to navigate the online classwork
If students are not able to access the programs they need to complete assignments, they are going to get frustrated and will not be engaged in learning. If time is spent ensuring that they can access the applications needed to do their work, they are more likely to successfully stay engaged and turn in their assignments.
They find it difficult to feel connected to their teacher online
A huge component to student success is the relationship they build with their teacher. Students need to feel connected to their teacher to feel positive about that relationship. Positive student-teacher relationships yield higher student engagement. Prior to the global pandemic, students could give their teachers hugs, high-fives, or fist bumps. These simple physical gestures helped teachers make their students feel seen and valued. Students who need this type of positive reinforcement may find it, especially, hard to stay engaged during distance learning.
Teachers must be very intentional in their communication with their students who are distance learning. They must also be diligent in noticing when students are losing interest and becoming disengaged throughout the day. Engaging with students in a genuine way so that they feel comfortable voicing concerns and asking questions will benefit teachers in maintaining student engagement. The most important aspect in increasing student engagement is giving them grace. Students are facing a lot of stress, uncertainty, and trauma. Each student will deal with these issues in completely different ways, but it is the responsibility of teachers, school administrators, and the other adults in their life to help them through this tough time.
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