Keeping students motivated, engaged in blended learning

FETC speakers Angelica Casillas-Wortham and Tina Cole from Istation share important insight on how educators can boost energy for themselves and those they teach.

Education during a pandemic has presented a host of challenges, not the least of which is motivation.

Students are not the only ones struggling to engage. Teachers at times are finding it difficult to keep their kids on task, come up with creative lessons and maintain their own wellbeing.

But there are strategies and tips that can help, and two former educators – Angelica Casillas-Wortham and Tina Cole of Istation – shared them during an upbeat session Wednesday at the virtual Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC).

The three big takeaways from their conversation Motivated to Learn: Keeping Students Engaged with Blended Learning were simple ones: take time to have conversations with students, celebrate the little things and have fun using technology. The driving force, of course, should be the betterment of students.

“We have to be energized, and we have to be ready to bring that energy to our students,” Cole says. “Before I start to engage with my students, what is that I am hoping to accomplish? Is it to keep my student energy up with me? Is it to put smiles on everyone’s faces? What is it that that I need to do?”

Motivation is key. For teachers, that should mean asking a number of self-reflective questions, Wortham says, including:

  • “What motivates you?
  • How do you feel when your students get what you’re teaching?
  • What are you doing to get yourself ready to receive information from your students?
  • What is it that motivates me? Is it getting recognition? Is it seeing my students’ scores grow? Is it the excitement of sharing great grades with my students?
  • What are some of the things you need?”

Those thoughts can help lead to goal-setting and motivation in students, as well. Tracking progress is crucial to any students’ development, and updating them frequently on those goals is imperative. Wortham says teachers must have students “understand how they feel, where it is they need to go and how they can get there.” And ultimately, how much progress they’ve made along the way.

By being included, students are far more likely to engage and have agency in their work moving forward.

“As they track their progress, they’re going to work even harder,” Cole says. “They need to be looking at their data.”

Wortham agrees, saying, “We want students to have ownership of that data, because it’s about them. Their learning is on them. We are simply there to help guide them along that process.”

Charting their progress through data, such as Istation’s priority reports, can show the areas in which students are doing well and in others that might need improvement. It also allows for teachers to address specific subject areas that might need further exploration, either with one student or many. For struggling students, it is important Cole says to not let a poor test score define them.

Beyond simple self-reflection, there are many tools teachers can use to help get those students – and themselves – energized, including Google Jamboards, and others suggested by the large educator community during the chat session – Nearpod, Scattegories, Padlet, Mentimeter, Flipgrid and SMART Learning Suite Online. There are a slew of enjoyable activities that educators can turn to when students have succeeded such as dance parties and the allowance of one high achiever to choose the genre of music to be played.

Wortham and Cole also noted a simple lunch with students, talking with them about their food and what they’ve been thinking about, can spark further interest in school.

“A meal shared just bring about so much more conversation,” Cole says. “And that’s part of the social-emotional learning, feeling like we can talk about life. Right now, children need to get to talk about life, and they need to have a safe place to have those conversations.”

For teachers, motivation can come from celebrating birthdays with others on a conference call, recognizing and pointing out the growth in a fellow teacher or sharing ideas for instruction.

The goal: to find value in the work you do so you can empower students to celebrate learning.

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