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Connecting with Students Is Key to Engaging Reluctant Remote Learners

A young girl with a big smile and bigger headphones sits at a laptop.

Remote learning makes some kids anxious, but connecting with students and building relationships with them can make them feel safe and secure.

Connecting with students in a traditional classroom setting is difficult enough. Remote learning makes forming those connections even harder.

Reluctant learners pose challenges amplified by physical distancing. Some students get distracted and lose interest. Some even refuse to participate because they feel too much anxiety.

Further Reading: Journal Writing Creates Connections and Sparks Interest

Educators must invest the time and energy to engage their students during online learning sessions. When they do, students reap the benefits.

Here are some key strategies for connecting with students.

Build Meaningful Relationships

When you build relationships with your students, your students feel safe and secure. It's the simplest and most powerful thing an educator can do.

My daughter is like a lot of students—she's very shy with anything classroom-related, and speaking in front of others makes her anxious. I thought she would come out of her shell during remote learning because she was in the comfort of her own home. But a screen full of faces staring back at her was just as intimidating as a room full of her classmates.

 

Once her teachers get to know my daughter, they built strong student-teacher relationships with her. One teacher personally called her. Another bonded with her over their shared love of writing and drawing. Seeing that her teachers were invested in her made her feel like she mattered, and that helped her feel more comfortable participating in online classes.

Create Relevant and Purposeful Assignments

Students are unlikely to engage with lessons and classmates when they're bored or overwhelmed. When you're designing your online lesson plan, think about what you'd be doing if you were in the classroom. If you usually use cooperative learning strategies to enhance student participation in the classroom, use them online, too. Google Meet and Zoom offer breakout rooms where students can collaborate in small groups.

Be mindful, too, of how much work you're giving your students and how many classes they're taking. The more work students have, the more reluctant they might be to complete it. Make your assignments relevant and purposeful. When you can activate existing knowledge and give students a purpose for the assignment, they will be more likely to complete it.

Maximize Student Interest

A student-centered approach could help you connect with reluctant virtual learners. When students can make their own choices about their topics and projects, it increases their ownership in their learning. And when students are interested and invested in an assignment, they're more likely to complete it.

If you have a student whose camera is always turned off or who doesn't participate as much as you'd like, it might be because they're uninterested in the lessons or topics. If you let students choose their assignments or reading materials, you're giving them the chance to engage themselves and to thrive. You're catering to each student's unique learning style—and showing them that you care about their education.

Keep Social Outlets

Many students use social media every day to connect and share with their friends and family. Augmenting the remote classroom with a social media experience could also help students stay connected in the online classroom.

A safe platform that lets students connect academically and socially is key. A tool such as Flipgrid could give students a safe place to record and share videos, and that could help kids who get nervous when they have to speak to a live audience. (It's also free to use.)

Further Reading: Challenges Student Teachers are Facing during Remote Learning

Switching to remote learning has changed many parts of how teachers teach and students learn. But connecting with students is still the most important thing. Connecting with them through screens isn't the same as connecting with them face to face, but if you follow these tips, you'll give your students the best opportunities to succeed.