Uplifting virtual learning

In these unprecedented virtual times, teachers may struggle with receiving engagement from their students. California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the MAESTROs Project hosted a workshop for those currently working with students on March 19. The workshop aimed to provide classroom management strategies, as well as tips on how to encourage student engagement during a virtual classroom setting. MAESTROs field placement coordinator Alma Uribe introduced CSUMB professor Scott Ross who led the discussion. 

The event was interactive as Ross modeled methods of gaining student participation. Ross stated educators must do “everything necessary” to keep kids engaged. He took a poll to see where listeners were currently teaching from and the answers were varied, as attendees were spread out all over the country. Ross emphasized the strategies he uses are tried and true and evidence-based. Noting the success of his strategies, he said they will always need modifications and customizations depending on the environment and grade level.

It is recommended that teachers set the expectation for students to respond. Ross likens this to “rapid-fire” and provided the idea of offering students three seconds to respond after posing a question. 

Ross proposed four basic levels of behavior management. The first level is for teachers to express expectations explicitly and establish the rules of engagement. Arguably this is the most important level. Ross said implementing only the first few levels of behavior management will be enough to make a big difference in any classroom. Ross suggested having the rules posted in a place that is easy for students to access. In addition, he recommended keeping the list of rules short, with three to five rules or learning expectations. 

Ross recommended explaining to students why the rules are in place and to state the rules in a positive manner. This brings the childrens’ focus to what they should be doing, not what they shouldn’t be. The rules should also cover all problematic behaviors.

The second level necessary for student success is to keep students engaged. This can be done in a variety of ways, but establishing high energy is a must. The students should have a task to be working on at all times, leaving no idle time. Doing so will keep them from becoming distracted and assists in maintaining behavioral momentum. Work should be challenging, but kept to the appropriate grade level one is teaching. There should be a variety of tasks because students have a tendency to get bored if made to do repetitive work. 

Ross modeled an activity called the Alphabet of Praise where participants were asked to come up with words for each letter of the alphabet. Opportunities to respond is another evidence-based strategy that will assist in classroom engagement. 

Ross emphasized the importance of praise as a form of positive reinforcement. The third level of behavioral management is to use attention and praise efficiently. Ross said if educators were to switch to positive reinforcement, they would notice a difference in the disposition of students. Lastly, the fourth level is the practice of adding other incentives to positive reinforcement for specific positive behaviors.

Ross advised teachers to use methods their students think are funny. “Get them excited to learn,” Ross said. 

Ross created an interactive workshop that allowed opportunities for the attendees to practice the various methods described. Ross asked the attendees to act as if they were his elementary school students. He’d ask them questions, then demonstrated the kind of positive reinforcement that works well with students. 

All in all, the event was a successful workshop that provided evidence-based strategies to achieve a successful virtual classroom. 

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