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How to Effectively Engage Your Remote Learners

It can be quite difficult to engage our remote learners, especially since most of us have less than six months of experience in this “new normal.” While remote teaching is a very different experience, our approach to how we engage our students can be quite similar to how we engage our in-person students.

Before we dive into how we effectively engage our remote learners, I’d like to explain how we engage our in-person learners. Understanding these parameters will help set the tone for how we can transition into our “new normal.”

What is Effective In-Person Engagement?

When teaching the traditional way, I have always advocated for creating a clear-cut, tangible set of expectations that can be easily recognized and evaluated. If we create, teach, and reinforce these specific actions, it is quite likely we will significantly minimize perceived laziness and apathy.

While developing these clear, definable actions is important, student engagement will improve exponentially when we incorporate the concept of self-assessment. Students need to understand the expectations, practice them, and learn to hold themselves accountable.

Here are some of the specific skills and actions I teach and reinforce in the traditional classroom. 

  • being on time to rehearsal
  • being prepared to rehearsal
  • being focused from the opening bell
  • giving maximum focus during sight-singing
  • making proper markings in their music
  • singing with proper body alignment when standing and when sitting
  • staying focused throughout the entire rehearsal

There are a total of 10 actions within a rehearsal that I have on my self-assessment rehearsal rubric for my choirs. I adapted it to be used in all circumstances and all grading systems. Based on the way it is set up, a student who has some weaknesses can assess these weaknesses and still earn a high score.

What is Effective Remote Engagement?

When teaching remote students, I recommend the same concept: finding clear-cut, tangible expectations and actions that can be easily recognized and evaluated. From there, we need to teach these expectations and provide the opportunity for singers to continually self-assess.

Thanksgiving/Fall Gratitude Round – Teaches “Th” along with other tricky consonants

Here are specific expectations and actions I teach and reinforce in the remote classroom

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-being on time for class

This means they log onto Google Meet, Google Classroom, or any required meeting place at the appropriate time.

– keeping their camera on for the entire rehearsal

If we are on Google Meet, I expect all students to remain visible. If I see their camera off without a message that they are going to the bathroom, I will ask them to please turn their camera on. At the same time, I will explain why it’s important for them to remain visible.

If I post a video for them to watch or give a quiz, I expect their camera on. Engagement works two ways; a student who we cannot see is not one that we can properly engage.

– focused from the opening moment of rehearsal 

The student is fully paying attention when class begins. If we use Google Meet, they are expected to arrive within on time to class. If it is an asynchronous rehearsal, are they logged onto their assignment immediately? If we are on Google Classroom and give them a written assignment, for example, we would be able to see which students are logged onto their assignment.

-being prepared for the rehearsal (proper materials out, workspace clear of cell phones)

Students should be prepared with what they need, which also means being distraction-free. They should only have work out for our class and should be free of cell phones, just as they would in person.

 -participating in any rehearsal to the best of their ability

Every student’s home life is different. If we are live streaming our in-person rehearsal and expect our students to participate, we must be flexible and understand their parent may have a work call in the next room, their sibling may be taking an online class 10 feet away, they may be relegating to a shared space with other family members, or a family member may be sick. We must understand every workspace and family dynamic is different. With that said, students do know what “participating to the best of their ability” entails. If it takes some one-on-one conversations to help students figure out their best practice, I would recommend having that discussion.

-demonstrating proper body alignment when singing

If students are singing, they should be focused on their alignment. It is important to develop good habits at home. Keep in mind students at home likely can sing unmasked and therefore demonstrate certain visible techniques that we are currently unable to see and correct with in-person students.

Additionally, I ask my students to record a daily Flipgrid practice video. In this video, I have them sing along with our in-person students (we are hybrid so most students attend in-person school two days per week). As a result, I receive a 5-minute video from all of my home students each day where I can assess their body alignment and technique and give them feedback. As mentioned before, their volume is not part of my assessment due to my lack of knowledge of what is happening in their house.

-making markings in their music

Learning how to make markings in a score is a developed skill. We must teach this skill to our students. From there, students must implement these skills. Do they make corrections on their own whenever they make a mistake or do they require us to tell them when to make markings? Do they even make markings when we ask them to? One thing that I do is post all sheet music on google classroom as an “assignment”; this way, I have access to their individual copies, that are stored in Google Classroom.

-maintaining an open mind

This is a crazy, difficult time for everyone. We know, as teachers, we are doing the best that we can to provide a great experience for our singers. We ask that our singers do their best to be open-minded and willing to try new things.

Why Self-Assessments Work

When we hold students accountable, many will try to live up to our standards. But when students hold themselves accountable, it translates into a higher level of success for them. Their mindfulness sets a different standard than our policing of their actions.

Students shouldn’t have a fear of “being caught” doing the wrong thing. Instead, they should have a desire to want to exhibit successful habits. This comes from teaching awareness and by allowing our students the opportunity to learn why each skill is important, and how they can become more aware.

During this period of distance learning, it’s our responsibility to properly engage our students; if we stay focused on teaching and enforcing these clear-cut expectations, our students will be set up to learn.

I have created a simple, adaptable written rubric that allows each teacher to academically grade differently. In my blog post, “Self-Assess Their Way Toward Rehearsal Success“, I explain different approaches to grading self-assessment. This self-assessment, along with all other ones, allow for each teacher to grade differently with the same information.

I’ve written self-assessments for daily participation, remote participation, small group participation, pre-concert participation, post-concert participation. I also have a bundle available for all of these rubrics. All of these rubrics are provided as a pdf and as an editable word document, so you can modify to your individual specifications.

Whether you choose to use my rubric or create your own, I believe proper engagement begins with setting clear expectations and ends with self-assessment. I hope your remote students will learn to self-assess their way to remote learning success!

By | 2020-11-18T23:06:19-05:00 November 18th, 2020|Distance Learning, Rubrics, Self-Assessment|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 21-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.

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