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As the novelty of online platforms and virtual classes wears off, we are running into a new challenge...keeping students engaged. Now there are two types of engagement we are talking about here. One type is tied to the daily actions you are taking to try to get a student to be more involved in their online programming whether it’s the virtual sessions you are offering on a daily basis or work on the online platforms that they’ve been assigned. The second type of engagement is actually just trying to get students online. Some of you have children who you are struggling to even get in touch with right now and you have tried every phone number and every email address and still are struggling to reach families. In other cases, you have reached students and parents, but the student is choosing to disengage entirely. You may be trying to work with the parents to engage the students but the parent may be at a loss as well. Whatever the type of engagement challenges you are trying to problem-solve, both are going to be problematic if we don’t find a solution for these students.
Now, we are all still waiting to find out how long the school closures will last. While some of us are making assumptions that we will be back in our buildings next fall, some of us are assuming the worst and think that we may experience closures that go well into the fall or have intermittent closures caused by COVID-19 flare ups throughout next year or even longer. Now if this is the case, those kiddos that you have struggled to get engaged could possibly be missing out on instruction for a long period of time. Which is why the effort you are making now to engage students is so important and your success will set the tone for students' engagement for the rest of the year. It could be the difference between a child receiving a high-quality education even in the midst of a pandemic and a child getting further and further behind from their peers.
And let’s be honest, the kids who are having the hardest time engaging are likely students with disabilities or diverse learning needs or those who have a history of challenges in school. These kids were likely at risk when school buildings were open and it was difficult to get them engaged when they were right in front of us. So obviously engaging them in an online setting may be a thousand times harder.
However, I want to encourage you in your efforts and ask you to keep trying to be creative as you build relationships and develop a new strategy. I have included some resources and ideas to help you, however, some of your students may need more intensive planning to get them engaged. For these students, I would be happy to be a thought-partner with you as you try to build relationships with these students.
Thank you for all you are doing and thank you for not giving up on your hardest to reach students. They deserve your efforts and their education is worth fighting for even if we need to fight for their education on their behalf!
As students begin experiencing challenges or boredom in the activities they encounter online, they may struggle to remain motivated since they no longer have our in-school motivators: consistency and structure, peer interactions and positive competition, and teacher relationship and support. With a transition to online learning, you need to plan strategically and proactively to incorporate activities that meet students’ needs in these areas.
Create Virtual Interest Groups to Build Connection
Frequently Asked Questions about Engagement
HOW DO I ORGANIZE THE WORK THEY NEED TO DO IN A WAY THAT IS EASY TO NAVIGATE FOR BOTH KIDS AND PARENTS?
- Create google slides and share with students/parents in an email in the morning or put it on google classroom. 3rd Grade Example
- Provide kids an agenda that has all the required activities and resources that they need.
WHAT IF I CAN’T EVEN REACH THE STUDENT BY PHONE OR EMAIL?
- Ask colleagues if they have a working number/email
- Ask the student’s friends or the friends’ parents. They may know how to get in contact with them.
- Use snail mail!!! But make sure you use brightly colored stationary, stickers...whatever you can to make the letter highly noticeable. Make sure to include your phone number and email address so they can contact you.
- For older students, look for them on social media.
WHAT IF PARENTS ARE NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING?
- Use the free app Talking Points. It is an app that supports two-way communication in multiple home languages in order to reach or non-English speaking families. It can be used in a web-browser or via text message.
- Use Google Translate to help you write an email, text, or script for a phone call to help you communicate with the parent. Set up your speaker phone next to your computer with Google Translate set up so that when the parent responds, Google translate will translate into English text.
- Connect with the school’s ELS or ELD teacher to see if they have recommendations for how best to connect with the student/family.
WHAT ARE OTHER TEACHERS DOING TO GET STUDENTS TO ENGAGE IN ONLINE LEARNING?
- Rewarding students with gift cards when they are demonstrating certain positive behaviors or meeting attendance expectations! Amy Swift from Global Village Academy shared that this was a game changer for her caseload and Lori Lockman from Colorado Early College shared this was working at their school as well!
- Stacey Wells from Sobesky Academy shared that Classcraft has been a great tool for getting kids engaged in online social/emotional learning! It looks just like a video game and students can alter their avatar.
WHAT IF THE STUDENT HAS MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS?
- Work with your school’s counselor to coordinate connections with the student and the family.
FREE WEBINARS OFFERED THROUGH THE COLLABORATIVE
Parent Webinar Series: “Becoming a Home School” Parents are invited to join this webinar series to gather tips and tricks that will help them support their students during the current school closures.
- Becoming a Home School: Creating a home environment conducive to your child’s learning In this session, parents will be given strategies to help them set up a learning environment to meet their student's learning needs through altering the physical space, use of materials, and providing strategic support during academic activities. Here’s the recording and the resource folder from this session.
- Becoming a Home School: Systems & structures that support your child’s behavior at home, Monday 4/13/2020 5:30-6:00 PM MDT In this session, parents will be given strategies to help them set up systems and routines that will help them prevent and support behaviors they may encounter as students move to online schooling. Register Here
- Becoming a Home School: Strategically connecting to support your child’s mental health, Wednesday 4/15/2020 5:30-6:00 PM MDT In this session, parents will learn about the importance of monitoring their students' mental health during times of closure and will receive strategies to proactively create opportunities for connection to foster social and emotional well-being in their child. Register Here
SUPPORT & COLLABORATIVE PLANNING OPPORTUNITIES
Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need a thought partner! We will also be hosting opportunities to receive support and to collaborate with other special educators and related service providers weekly. Contact us to get added to the calendar invite and to get the Zoom links to these meetings!
- Special Education Teacher Support Group Weekly on Mondays 1:00-2:00 PM MDT
- Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Mental Health Providers Weekly on Tuesdays 2:00-3:00 PM MDT
- Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Severe Behavioral & MH Needs Weekly on Wednesdays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT
- Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Moderate to Severe Cognitive Disabilities Weekly on Thursdays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT
- Collaborative Planning for Online Related Services: Speech Providers Weekly on Thursdays 2:00-3:00 PM MDT
Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Leading Schools Through COVID-19 Every other week on Mondays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT
Links to Resources:
- The Collaborative is collecting and organizing resources in this google document. This gets updated daily!
- Ideas for Building Connection
- 5 Tips for Virtual Engagement
- Building Connections Video
- Online Accommodations: Resource & Strategy Bank
- Online Learning & SwDs: State Policies & Guidelines Center on Online Learning & SwD
- Chrome Extensions for Struggling Students and Special Needs
Links to Recent Webinars
- (3/30/20) Providing Students with Mild Disabilities Accommodations on Online Educational Platforms
- Developing a Universal Approach to Mental Health on Online Platforms
- (4/8/20) Instructional Approaches that Support Executive Functioning - building awareness of student needs and developing skills
Links to recent state guidance:
Links to recent national & federal guidance:
- (3/21/2020) Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities - USDE
- (3/16/2020) Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students - USDE
- COVID-19 and Students with Disabilities from National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
- (3/16/20 w/ongoing updates) OCR update
- FERPA & Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)