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  • Erica Reardon

In Place of Turn and Talk, Ways to Monitor for Engagement When Working With Students Virtually

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

A friend of mine texted me yesterday, “I just quit a Peloton ride midstream. Not engaging. Nothing that made me feel like it was for me. The instructor was in her own world. There has to be something to grab me or else I quit!” Now, I must admit when I first read her text, I thought, “NO WAY!” I have a serious love for my Peloton and my instructors. I couldn’t believe she didn’t feel connected and engaged. But then I realized there have been a few (although rare) instances when I too didn’t engage with the instructor and wanted to quit.   

This of course made me realize how critically important engagement is when doing anything, but it seems like through a screen the need for engagement is compounded ten fold. Now add the extra element of teaching children through a screen and, well, I don’t have to explain the challenges related to that. We are all living that right now!     

What does engagement mean?  

When talking about engagement, it is important to first clarify how I define it. Engagement isn’t about a teacher running a circus act in hopes that learning will be fun or entertaining. That may be important, but real engagement is about getting students cognitively involved in the content or learning.  One of the many mottos that I teach by is, “Whoever is doing the talking, is doing the thinking.” Therefore, I’m always asking myself, “How can I get the students doing the talking, the thinking, the practice?”  

Distance Learning has certainly thrown me a curve ball and has really forced me to reflect more critically about ways to engage students when teaching through a screen. It has also made me realize that my go-to engagement move of “turn and talk” isn’t so easily accomplished as it once was. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of ways to engage students virtually and wanted to share my collection of strategies here in hopes they help you. 

In place of turn and talk:  

  • Mute yourself and talk out-loud to your stuffy or to yourself.  Prompt kids to get in close to the computer so you can watch them talk.

  • Whisper in your hand.

  • Unmute and say it aloud synchronously. Yes, this could be a little chaotic, but everyone has a chance to lift their voice and to engage with the content. 

  • Use the chat box to respond.  You could ask students to chat to Everyone or ask students to chat only with their partner in the chat box.  (important note: if using zoom, you will not be able to see the partnership chat until after the meeting is over.) For our youngest learners, possibly just typing a letter as a response would suffice (t for true and f for false).

  • BREAKOUT ROOMS (set timers) and let students talk, practice, and try the strategy.  If you are using Zoom, breakout rooms are a great tool to support students with engagement.  Pro tip: be sure to set up breakout rooms as students are logging on for the day. One easy way to set up breakout rooms is to ask students to rename themselves with a certain number or letter in front of their name. This makes it a lot easier for you to quickly match partners or groups of students.  If you aren’t using Zoom, I hear that Google Meets is working on that feature and it should be available this Fall. 

For more information on setting up break out rooms check this out:

  • Tap into tech tools: Padlet, Jamboard, or shared Google Documents. Use one of these platforms for students to engage with the content you want them to practice.  For example, set up a jamboard for students to do a picture/letter sort or for older students they can  do “play your post-it” game.  Padlet is an amazing tool for students to record their thinking because of its accessibility for students. Kids can write, voice record, make a video, or take a picture to respond.  

Here is a sample Padlet I created to have teachers respond during a recent staff development session. This will give you the idea of how students can engage in either a synchronous or asynchronous conversation.

  • Stop and Jot in notebook, on post-it, in digital notebook, on shared google document.

  • Give students white boards. Have students jot responses and hold it up to the screen. This method works great with phonics, math, or any time you are looking for quick responses from students.  Pro tip: have students hold up their boards all at once, prompt them to hold still, make sure you are in gallery view, take a screenshot.  This would be a great way to get quick data on kids.   

The silver lining of this pandemic is that it has forced me to reflect on my teaching practices. I am forever changed and will think twice before going back to the oldie but goodie “turn and talk” strategy. I’m excited to continue to play around with these techniques, but I would love to hear more from you.  What engagement moves have you been using lately? What seems to be working for you and your class?   

Check back soon for part two of our series on engagement for more tips and strategies!

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