Online Classroom Engagement

Making more Ah-Hah moments happen

And the pandemic is the perfect opportunity to practice prompting ah-hah moments to create online classroom engagement, one after another after another. Picture this.

On a virtual platform, you see a gallery of 24 close-ups of students so eager to connect with you and people their own age. Locked in their homes for way too long, they are primed for engagement, and, as the classroom teacher,  the responsibility for engagement is squarely on your shoulders. There is no slack time, no room to let a handful of expressive learners engage you and count on the others to enjoy listening to their teacher’s lively attention to the more talkative classmates. It doesn’t happen onsite; it won’t online. There are too many distractions out there, out of your awareness, and therefore, out of your control – internet pop-ups, the lure of a favorite video game, a fun or pesky sibling, an open book that has their attention, Pokémon cards; the list is endless.

Distractions do exist, and we know we cannot do much if anything about them. So, no need to spend time worrying about them.

Instead, focus on the features for student engagement that virtual learning brings to our aid.

  • In gallery mode, you are everywhere at once. You see all of your students up close and personal like you are with each of them one-on-one. Impossible in a classroom.
  • You can see when Charlie’s eyes wander and shoot him a chat that pops up on his screen, The next question is for you, bud. 
  • No tension about bathroom passes. They go and they come back. No permission, no fuss.
  • Your screen is front and center. Homebound every day, you have pandemic time to pull in visual aids from the internet or in one of those unexamined supplementary resources your district provided.

You are free to focus on keeping those faces engaged. All it takes is sincere intention and calling on some simple truths about teaching and learning that are easier to create classroom engagement online than onsite.  

Talk with the Student, Not At

Take this Example – Take more time to talk with students instead of at them. This is tough because talking at is ingrained in the very fabric of American teaching and learning from the beginning of formal education. Teacher asks a question – student provides an answer – teacher responds. It goes like this. Given cat, catfish, whale, and dolphin.

Teacher asks, which of these animals is a mammal?

Juan answers, cat? with the proper amount of modesty that students don’t really know answers.

Teacher responds, good job!  

Juan sighs with relief. 

Yes, Juan did a good job, and he deserves credit for an accurate response.  But a good job concludes the matter for Juan, and he is already looking around, grinning broadly at key friends. For Juan, the lesson is concluded. He is free to think of other things. He presented a right answer, and it will be a couple more days before he’s put on the spot again in front of his classmates. 

This is a prime example of talking at students. It is also a prime example of missed opportunity.  It is also the perfect opportunity for the teacher to talk with Juan, and that could happen in a dozen ways that further engage Juan and his fellow classmates.

I always start with a thought, Hmmm!  (like I’m thinking, which I am). There are dozens of choices. Consider:

If you think this is a logical response, raise your pointer finger to your chest.

Cat seems reasonable. Is it the only right answer?

So, cat is the only mammal, right?

Is it possible that they are all mammals?

What about a cat makes it a mammal?  

You are kidding me, right?

What made you choose cat?

Student Needs Redirection

To another student that you see in need of redirection, Nathan, Juan says cat is a mammal. (You saw he wasn’t listening so you need to give him the context of your comment.) Explain why cats are indeed mammals.

I know this about these first seven responses that come to mind. They all keep Juan engaged.  And likely everyone else in the room. Every student that is guessing along with Juan is focused on whether Juan was right. All of these responses help Juan

Understand why his right answer was right

Consider that other responses may have been just a “right”

Think about how the wrong answer relates to the right answers. If a catfish is not a mammal, what class of animals is it a member of? It takes a while to change, but we teachers have built-in don’t-say-that-again alarms (as opposed to crap detectors). When you are excited by a student’s response in class tomorrow, squelch Good job and extend her and her classmates’ engagement by talking with her more about her response and watch the classroom engagement ripple throughout the gallery of your virtual classroom.