• Sarah Rich

Building A Community With Your Students During Distance Learning

Let’s face it, your students are stuck at home and their whole routine has changed. More than anything, students want to see their teacher and interact with their friends. Zoom or Google Hangouts Meet work great for older, more independent students, but they can be complicated for kindergarten through second grade students or students with special needs. Younger students need more support from their parents, and this may not be able to happen right between 8:00 and 8:30 when you’re used to doing your morning meeting. That’s why we need to get creative and create options that make sense for your students and their families.

Students wish to see and hear from you!

Most of you know that your students are craving teacher time. Anything that you can do to contribute to some sort of normalcy is important. Create casual videos of yourself just from your phone. Take your students with you while you walk the dog, share with them what you’re having for breakfast, record a read aloud, have them solve a math problem with you—just about anything that would brighten up their day. You can use many different platforms to share these videos: your school’s LMS, Remind, Seesaw, Class Dojo, or Google Classroom.

But what about including the students and allowing them to contribute?

I recommend starting out small and working your way up. Start your morning meeting or circle time on Padlet. Padlet is like a fancy bulletin board. You can post pictures, videos, and sentences there. Your students can then comment on your posts. You could have a morning meeting Padlet for the week. On Monday you share the link. Within the Padlet, share or write a morning greeting. Add a video or something else for students to see. Then, let them have the week to read, listen, or watch, and then respond. There is a setting where you can approve comments prior to posting if you're concerned about what students might post.

Taking it to the next level.

Now your students are comfortable posting comments, and maybe some have even added a video of themselves to share with the class. This is a great time to incorporate Flipgrid. Flipgrid is an online program that allows students and teachers to contribute with short videos, making this perfect for morning meeting or show and tell. The possibilities of using Flipgrid for distance learning are endless, but that’s more for another blog post. With Flipgrid, you can record yourself saying the morning greeting. Make sure to ask students a question that they have to answer. They can then create a short video responding back to you and their friends. If it’s a student’s turn to share something from home, they can hold the item up and share it as they are recording. Students do not need to sign up for Flipgrid, they just need a special code that they enter to get in.

Next steps

After participating in these options, students will begin to get more comfortable communicating with friends online. Parents will appreciate these baby steps toward helping their children become more independent. Once students are comfortable, then I would incorporate Zoom or Google Hangouts Meet using small groups. Meet with two or three students at a time. Utilize these programs for small group work. A smaller number of students attending will make it more manageable.

What about creating a space for students to connect about anything?

When I was supporting one teacher this week she mentioned students saying hello to each other in the comment box during lessons. High school and middle school teachers are allowing time at the end of lessons for students to chat and ask questions about anything. This is trickier with younger students. This is where Padlet can help out. Create a Padlet for “Classroom Connections.” Encourage students to post about anything and encourage everyone to contribute. You can use this video to explain the task to your students.

Don’t forget the obvious forms of communication.

Finally, when all else fails, send your students a postcard in the mail. Pick up the phone and call a student to see how they are doing. Any little thing you do to keep those connections alive will be appreciated during this challenging time.

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