You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

9 February 2021
By Zoe Enser

Increasing Pupil Participation in a Remote World

Currently we hear a lot of discussion around the idea of engagement with the learning that is taking place remotely. I often wonder how we can measure something so nebulous and we often rely on proxies for engagement, such as which way our students are looking, if they are completing the task we set and if they have slumped on a desk in despair. We use attendance to sessions, participation and think ratios and various other techniques to try to maintain their focus and this can give us some indicator of how students are engaging. But often, we have to wait until a student has produced something substantial to really know if the learning has stuck and can know how much they really engaged in their learning. However, If like me, you have had a student who has appeared not to be listening to the lesson, only to then ace it in the subsequent test or vice versa, you will know how difficult it is to know exactly what is going on inside a student’s head. This was something that Graham Nuthall’s The Hidden Lives of Learners really highlighted to me as he examined how students engage with the learning presented to them, and even more importantly how they create meaning from this information. But what can we do in a remote world in order to keep students on track and ensure students are getting the best from these sessions?

1. Notice the Positives

Ensure you are noticing, acknowledging, and praising those students who are engaging. Give a personal mention to those who have turned up, answered a question, completed a task and do so publicly. This will not only make them feel more visible to you and their peers but will also help to narrate the narrative you want - students participating in the session and their learning. Share the successes from independent work too and take a moment to thank students for work they have sent. Feeling successful will also have a positive impact on how motivated students feel and make them more likely to want to participate again.

2. Provide Different Modes of Engagement

Allow students to use chat, Jam boards, Padlet, whiteboards, Google form quizzes and Google docs as well as the microphone to respond to questions and complete tasks. This allows those who would feel shy about speaking in front of their peers remotely an opportunity to participate in the lesson and give you feedback on how they are doing. Quick tips like putting a question in chat which they can give either thumbs up or thumbs down to, or short cuts like ‘T and F’ for True and False, will allow them to participate quickly and if worded correctly you can gain a lot of information around what they understand. True or false questions, or even simple questions around the independent task will show who is participating and who might need more help.

I also really like the tip from Doug Lemov about using cold call in chat boxes. All type their response to the question, but don’t hit enter until you call their name. This means students can’t coast as they never know if it will be them next, just as you would with no hands-up rules in class.

3. Build in Collaboration

When I run sessions for adults, I know some are keen to be a bit of a passenger on the call. This is understandable as they are often tuning in after a long day at school and their cognitive load and tiredness levels are already at high. However, one thing which makes the difference to how people then participate is knowing they will be talking to their peers. Again, using chat and Jam boards to build on each other’s ideas can be a good way to see how people are participating, as can polls. Break out rooms, with specific tasks and questions to explore increase how much people participate and often the feedback after says this was the part of the session, they valued the most. This will be the same for many students and knowing that the gentle pressure is going to come from their peers is often more powerful than a teacher telling them yet again to shape up.

4. Make the First Move

Being the first to comment, even in chat can be hard. The same for in break out rooms and sometimes you need to take a short cut around this. I use the ‘first/ last name in the alphabet speaks first’ rule in breakouts as it means there isn’t a long and awkward wait for who will be prepared to speak first, wasting valuable time. In chat, feed someone a question or comment to add first, so this is already underway, and nobody needs to be the one to break the silence. Often a flood of questions or comments will follow once that first one is in there. The same can be done with Jam board and Padlet or other modes of recording ideas. In some classes of course this won’t be necessary and keeping them from interrupting can be the main issue, but where there is reticence this can be a good way to break down that first barrier.

5. Tackle Issues When They Arise

Just as with face to face teaching there will be students who don’t want to participate, and this may an impact on their learning. Not only may it prevent them from developing ideas through articulating their thinking, but it also makes it hard for us to know what they do and don’t know and give support. Tackle this quickly but privately. If students are not coming to lessons or completing work schools will have systems in place to follow this up. There may well be some significant barriers students are facing which we won’t know until we speak to them. Communication with home is more important now than ever in ensuring students are continuing to learn. However, making time for a quick email or chat at the end of a session, just as you would in class (safeguarding procedures in place of course) can be important to show you are aware where participation isn’t taking place and that you care if they do. Doing this publicly will start to focus on the negative and could make students less likely to want to log on or complete work, but focusing on it from the angle of their learning and recognising that some will be facing different challenges is even more important. Positive relationships will make a difference.

Finally, remember we can’t control all aspects of learning as not all of it is visible. Engagement as I have already said is a problematic thing to measure, and often the proof of the pudding is very much in the eating. Some students may not be actively participating in sessions but are still learning and we can gauge this when we see what the students can actually produce independently in the longer term. In the meantime, we should focus on those things we can control and try to make the most of them, so that when students do get onto the independent work, they are in a better position to do so.

Further Reading

Stay up to date with our blogs by receiving notifications!