When the pandemic impacts nearly every aspect of student learning, how can we help our children survive and thrive? Finding ways to motivate students and providing the best teaching strategies during hybrid learning is not easy. Whether children are attending class in person or online, participating in “school” is a great way to provide a sense of normalcy in their lives.
Establish common ground
Use familiar rules and reference points to bring a group of classmates together. When students understand a teacher’s expectations, they can become a more unified group and support a better learning environment. Assigning weekly classroom jobs that rotate among all students is a great starting point. When students work together, it encourages participation and collaboration.
Bring joy and fun
Teachers and students have been learning how to adapt to hybrid models. Having a sense of humor and remembering not to take things too seriously will help students become more receptive. Make learning exciting, and focus on what students can do (not on what they are missing). One idea is to begin class with a five-minute game such as Scattergories or Pictionary to reward students on time to class. These activities allow students to connect through team building, whether they are in-person or online.
Use relatable communication tools
Students are motivated by being involved and engaging in conversations with their teachers and classmates. A chat service like Google Hangouts allows classes to communicate in a mode that feels comfortable and fun for students. Introducing a class group chat creates opportunities to engage students in conversations, send them reminders, clarify expectations, and answer questions with the group, individuals, or with the teacher directly. Opportunities need to be in place for students and teachers to communicate.
Adapt Teaching and Learning
During hybrid learning, teachers have adapted to meet the needs of in-person and online learners by creating innovative lessons. An outdoor unit that allows students to take water samples and study a stream is one example. For in-person students, this is an ideal outdoor lesson where students can safely socially distance themselves. For online learners, the teacher can provide instructional videos and share the data collected by their classmates to analyze.
Give students choices
Allowing students to choose the types of explorations and experiments they want to study can be highly motivating. For example, allowing students to use whatever materials they can find around the house is an excellent challenge for a STEM project. When given a choice, students come up with creative ideas. For example, one student at Sanford trained their pet to accomplish a task, and another student taught their chicken to climb stairs. Both projects strengthen skills that include planning, creating diagrams, designing, testing, and redesigning. After completing the project, students experience a sense of accomplishment while applying problem-solving skills.
Breaking up assignments into discrete tasks or “chunks” also helps students master the content. Especially with advanced coursework, it’s important to offer time for group and independent work. This gives hybrid learners a break from their screen and time to reflect on the material. Spending an entire class talking about one topic will drag on too long for most students. Students need to be given breaks during the class to recharge and re-set.
Create virtual travel experiences
Give students opportunities to discover the world outside the classroom with new virtual experiences. Bringing special guests to the class via Zoom can open up discussions about other cultures, seasonal traditions, holiday celebrations, and more. Contacting a school in France, for example, and pairing up with a teacher connects students to “pen pals.” Beyond exchanging letters, students can record Flipgrid videos to meet “real people” from other countries. Both in-person and remote learners can get great satisfaction from sharing thoughts about what their world looks like during a pandemic.
Ultimately teachers have a common goal: to help students feel connected and invested in learning during the pandemic—conditions that have challenged everyone to adapt and find new ways to create a sense of normalcy for our children. Teachers at Sanford School are constantly adapting instruction to motivate and meet the needs of our students during the pandemic. To learn about the steps we're taking to protect our school community, visit Sanford's COVID-19 Response Plan.
Laurence Birkett is a French instructor in the Upper School. She graduated from l'Université de Lille III in northern France in 1991 with a Bachelor's degree in English, Spanish, and translation, and from l'université de Lille III in 1993 with a CAPES (Certificat d'Aptitude au Professorat de l'Enseignement Secondaire), the French equivalent of a Master's in Secondary Education of Foreign Languages.
Alexander Levine is a History instructor in the Upper School. He graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2013 with a Master of Arts degree in Art History and German, and from the University of Glasgow, also in Scotland, in 2015, with a Master of Letters degree in Technical Art History.
Beth Whipple is the fifth and sixth-grade Middle School science teacher. She received her bachelor's degree from Davidson College. She earned her master's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.