Parents and educators are asking how to engage their 2e students in online and hybrid learning. Never mind having to learn under the stressful circumstances of today, engagement in online learning is almost always tough. We are social creatures and we crave meaningful interactions. If we don’t have a balance of in-person and online interaction with peers and mentors, zoom fatigue sets in. Here are five tools to help set reasonable expectations and increase engagement during this time.
- Make Personal Connections
If you never met your student or her parents in person, now is the time to make great efforts to connect. Depending on where you live – if you can schedule five-minute socially distanced “meet and greets” at your students’ homes, just to say hi and see each other in three dimensions, it can make a huge difference. If this is not feasible, schedule 5 or 10 minute one on one meetings with your student and her parents. Plan to play “Favorite, Favorite, Blech” – a game where you ask two favorites (ice cream, book, movie, board game, color for example) and one least favorite (vegetable, pet, season, etc. ). Make sure they are ready to ask you your favorites and least favorite. This is a great ice breaker and a way to learn about your student and share about yourself. It gives you an opportunity to fold in some favorites into your lessons and conversations.
2. Create Community
Everyone is starving for meaningful interaction. Bring your students together to identify causes that are important to them. Then mobilize the class or groups within the class to address needs identified. Getting everyone to work toward a common goal and focus on someone else’s area of need, will not only create community, but address loneliness and depression. Give lots of leeway – the goal is to get your students working together (even if online), on something meaningful that helps them feel as though they are making a difference and allows them to see that others have needs greater than their own. This “Charity Navigator” might be a good place to start identifying charities or brainstorming types of charities your students may want to support. These projects may lend themselves to extension activities within writing, science, social studies and math.
3. Give Choices
While many gifted and 2e students benefit from structure, it’s also extraordinarily important to allow students leeway to tweak their online experience to address their own needs. Encouraging students to identify needs is an excellent way to incorporate executive functioning. Some 2e students are overwhelmed by keeping their video on all day. Can you accommodate them by having them check in and choose whether to have their video on or off? If you share concerns, they can help brainstorm solutions. For instance, if your concern is whether they are attending and focusing on the class, they can commit to actively posting in the chat feature. If they need to move during class in order to pay attention, but you find their movement distracts you or other students, they may choose to turn off their screen at that time. If doodling allows them to attend, and therefore they are looking down while in class, they might share their “daily doodle” with you.
4. Normalize the Not-So-Normal
Zoom fatigue, frustration, anxiety, depression, distraction – these are all simultaneous occurrences during distance learning. We have to make space and allow for discussion about these feelings. Further, we need to encourage students to take breaks, get a snack, move and practice self-care. Rather than continuing typical expectations, we have to acknowledge how trying this time is for our gifted and 2e students. Give space to hear what’s going on for them, acknowledge the challenges and ask what will help.
5. To engage online, get them offline
Before Covid I used to preach the importance of strictly limited screen time. Now that distance learning is more the rule rather than the exception, everyone’s screen time has increased. Further, since there is limited in-person contact, social interaction is via screen. If children are young and parents are working from home, screens may be the best solution they’ve found to get any of their own work done. Have you noticed the glazed-over look in your or your students’ eyes? Look for ways you can decrease screen time beyond classroom interactions. Can homework be offline? Can part of your class time incorporate outside time or time not looking at the screen? Can you take brain breaks where students are timed to find certain items (a fruit, coat hanger, a book they never read, etc.) in their house and bring them back to show you? Whenever it’s possible for you to decrease or eliminate a screen, do it. You may see increased online engagement if you encourage and provide off-screen time.
A word to parents. So many clients are asking what to do about classroom engagement for their 2e children. They share that their once successful student is suddenly failing some or all of their classes. Trust me, your child doesn’t want to fail, but she may also be overwhelmed in many different ways. It’s important to make sure your child’s teacher knows what’s going on, but apart from that, your job really is to be there to acknowledge the difficulty of this time. Make space for her to share her feelings. Make space for her to take ownership. The more you try to “frontal lobe” for her, the less she will try for herself; worse, you will give the impression that you don’t think she can. If she comes to you to talk about what’s going on, ask questions, wonder aloud what she thinks she should do about the situation. There is likely a worse time for her to fail, so if you let her fail now, perhaps she won’t fail then. Everyone needs to pay attention to their mental health – the sooner you allow for that, the sooner your student will feel capable again.