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How to engage learners while working remotely

Last week, the UK Government laid out its COVID-19 economic recovery plan, which outlines its broad objective to get pupils in certain year groups back into schools and colleges in some form by 1 June.

While the goal post for this may be moved depending on the success of the new ‘Stay Alert’ campaign to help keep the virus at bay, one thing for sure is that educators at all levels face another few weeks of remote teaching.

Keeping learners engaged while working remotely has been a key challenge for the education sector during this enforced period of lockdown. Across the world however, teachers have been using the new flexibilities afforded by online delivery to come up with increasingly creative ideas to help motivate their learners, so we thought we’d share a few of our favourites to help you get through the next few weeks.

  1. Embracing edtech

With apps like Google Classroom and Padlet readily available, there is a wealth of edtech solutions to choose from to support you with things like resource sharing, lesson delivery and work feedback. Our friends at Skills Forward provide a wide range of solutions suitable for FE learners and apprentices to help keep them on track with their course progression.

  1. Using video to create a virtual classroom environment

With face-to-face delivery impossible in the current climate, video tutorials are the next best thing. Using apps like Zoom or Google Hangouts, you can engage your learners in a live online classroom environment with interactive elements like screen sharing, video content, polls and Q&A sessions to keep them hanging on your every word.

  1. Setting assignments and providing feedback

Maintaining some kind of structure during this uncertain time is key to keeping learners on the right track. Set assignments based on live lessons you’ve delivered with a timely deadline for completion which they can submit back to you via email or another online portal, such as Class Dojo for your comments. For younger pupils, you could incentivise the completion of work with a points system or virtual star chart.

  1. Providing opportunities for self-assessment

Providing learners with the opportunity to set their own learning and performance goals and communicate a plan back to you on how they’re going to achieve them can be a great motivational technique. It will also help learners to develop vital time management and organisation skills which can help them further down the line when seeking employment.

  1. Setting game-based tasks and activities

Making learning fun doesn’t have to stop just because you’re not in the classroom, there are a great range of educational games available online to support core subjects like English and maths for helping to consolidate what learners have covered in the classroom. Alternatively, you could create game-based worksheets for learners to complete or encourage them to put an educational twist on traditional board games like Monopoly or Twister – there are tonnes of great ideas on Pinterest.

  1. Encouraging peer-to-peer learning

Research has proven that peer-to-peer mentoring can improve learner progression by up to 5 months. Set up an online space where learners can socialise with their classmates or ask for help with homework tasks. You could even set a group research project or assignment. There are also apps like Peer Tutor which provide on-demand access to learning support from verified peer tutors who have passed their own exams at Grade 6 or above.

  1. Communicating with parents

Your learners’ parents are your greatest ally in ‘new normal’. Keeping parents in the loop through a group email thread, WhatsApp chat or weekly newsletter about the tasks their children have been set and any upcoming deadlines will help them to encourage their child to participate in remote learning and ensure they complete tasks on time.

  1. Reducing screen time wherever possible

This might seem counterintuitive, but researchers suggest that we’re still not entirely sure what the long-term effects of over-exposure to technology are on children and young people. Supplying worksheets they can print from home to complete or setting practical, creative projects to get them to make something out of materials they find around the house can be a great way to break up the time spent looking at a computer screen.

  1. Encouraging skills development outside of the curriculum

While keeping up with the curriculum is important, it’s also important to remember to help build up learner’s meta skills. Skills development like team working and communication might have taken a backward slide during this extended period of isolation, so setting tasks that help learners to explore these areas is crucial. You could also set some enrichment-led activities or challenges to get learners to try learning a new skill, such as speaking a new language or how to cook a simple dish.

  1. Promoting health and wellbeing by staying active and checking in on mental health

With the distractions of things like Netflix, it’s likely that between learning time, your learners aren’t getting much exercise. Why not introduce some light exercise into your remote teaching time? Or set weekly step or cycling challenges for learners? Fitness coach, Joe Wicks has got a great range of free 30-minute PE lesson videos on his Youtube channel, or for younger learners, why not try Cosmic Kids Yoga? It’s important to remember to check-in on your learners’ mental wellbeing too, as the pressure of being stuck at home and kept away from friends can be detrimental to their mental health. We’ve put together a list of helpful resources to support teachers and learners through this challenging time.

Have you got any other tips you’d like to share for keeping learners engaged while working remotely? Tweet us your ideas @NCFE or send us a message on Facebook.

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