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Student Engagement vs. COVID, Can we overcome?

Student Engagement VS. Covid... Can we overcome?

The past year has been filled with masks, social distancing, and quarantines. Families were faced with homeschooling, remote learning, or abnormal in-person learning experiences. Students lived in a world where they couldn’t hug their teacher, see each other’s faces or stand next to each other in line. As I think about the next school year beginning, I wonder…Do students even know what school feels like anymore? Has the love of learning and engagement diminished? Did we, as educators, forget what a classroom community looks like?

I wish I could say that this would all be changing in the coming year, but the CDC released their updated guidance on Friday stating that educators and students not vaccinated should continue to wear masks and keep a social distance of 3ft. It saddens me to think of how the classroom community is being torn apart by these regulations, BUT I do have hope for schools. 

I had the opportunity last school year to see a school community make every effort to engage students to the best of their ability despite the strict CDC restrictions. Administrators used funds and training opportunities to provide teachers and students with the tools necessary to keep students engaged and learning. Technology played a significant role in offering students ways to collaborate and communicate without sitting side-by-side, still building a sense of community…virtually. Padlet, Zoom, and Seesaw are just to name a few of the partnerships that helped our school and many others across the nation work to meet the needs of our students socially and academically.  

As local education agencies worry about the “COVID-slide” and prepare for accelerated learning, there is an emphasis on filling the learning gaps related to math and reading. There are many online, digital programs out there that may provide support in this effort, but I caution educators to not forget about providing students a rich learning environment inundated with content-based connections. Social studies and science can offer rich learning experiences that build cross-curricular literacy and math skills. Filling gaps in reading and math using real-world applications will build student buy-in and engagement. It will also strengthen their background knowledge assisting them with those dreaded non-fiction reading passages seen on assessments. 

The Inquiry Model and Project-Based Learning, both support students in real-world learning experiences that build literacy and cross-curricular connections. They promote higher-order thinking and comprehension skills. Technology can easily be incorporated into either of these models to assist in research, communication, and product creation. By using either of these models paired with the right technology tools, teachers can provide an engaging, collaborative learning environment and re-build the classroom community students are longing for. 

Teachers may also be looking for quick ways to help students learn information fast in order to fill these COVID learning gaps. There is a lot of research that shows how brain development in children is constant and changeable. Using whole brain teaching, multi-sensory learning, or just simple strategies that build connections, teachers can help students learn new information fast. Marcia Tate’s book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites offers 20 instructional strategies to help kids learn quickly in a way that sticks while having fun! Edutopia recently published an article digging deeper into cognitive science strategies that boost learners’ ability to recall and retrieve information, as well. 

At the forefront of a new school year, I am hopeful that students can still be engaged and enjoy school. I do believe engagement can exist in a world infected by COVID. With the right tools and strategies, teachers can build a sense of community within their in-person or remote classrooms that will help learners thrive. It may be different. It may be new. But it can be done. 

Referenced Books:

Inquiry Illuminated (purchase link)

Dendrites Don’t Grow Worksheets (purchase link)

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