Any teacher who has taught in a synchronous classroom with students in front of them while simultaneously teaching students remotely via a video conferencing platform (such as Google Meet) knows the challenges of engaging all students.
One of the biggest challenges is when students turn off their cameras. Being virtual, students also have the ability to hide in the background behind the students who are participating. In addition, some students just don’t feel comfortable with their cameras on.
To address this issue, teachers in the Wheeling Community Consolidated School District 21 (opens in new tab) in Wheeling, Illinois, a district with 6,200 students in Pre-K through 8, have implemented multiple modes of communication to ensure all students participate.
“We make use of our chat feature for students to share comments without having to turn on their camera or microphone,” says Megan Hintz, a student teacher at Wheeling Community Consolidated School District 21. “We have also started rewarding students by having a student/teacher lunch bunch at the end of week for students who have repeatedly kept their camera on throughout the week.”
The school also piloted the Nureva HDL300 (opens in new tab) audio system to help students hear clearly thanks to the multi-microphone array. The Nureva HDL300, designed for classrooms, captures the audio of everything happening in the classroom without any feedback or delay so students at home can clearly hear what the teacher and in-person students are saying during class. The system installs on the wall in minutes, and its plug-and-play connectivity and auto-calibration makes setup simple.
“This Nureva multi-microphone device helps pick up the in-person students’ voices so at home students can hear equally, as if they were in the classroom as well,” says Hintz. “This has allowed for a true hybrid experience without me needing to constantly repeat what students have said in class to the students participating online.”
Clear communication is crucial for all students, but those with IEPs or English as a second language can truly benefit from natural sound to follow along.
“A common characteristic of ELL students is that they are very soft spoken using their second language,” says Hintz. “This product really made it easier for me to pick up some of my soft-spoken students, even in a noisy environment. Now students report being able to hear better in my class than in other teachers’ classrooms.”
Hintz suggests the following tips to make the most of synchronous classrooms:
- Missing Assignments: Because most assignments are sent through Google Classroom, it can get overwhelming and sometimes students forget to turn in work. Hintz uses a Google Sheet, organized by date, with all of the assignments that should be turned in that day. Then on Fridays, she builds in time to give kids the chance to turn in some of those assignments. Once everything is turned in, the kids earn a game day!
- Organization: Organization is key for keeping students on track. Hintz makes sure students know where they can access every resource and keeps the process consistent so that when she asks them to open a document, they know exactly what to do and where to find it. Google Classroom has been very helpful with organization.
- Parent Communication: Hintz emphasizes the importance of keeping families involved with what is going on at their child’s school. Hintz makes sure to send parents weekly emails with the class schedule for the following week so that they know what to expect.
- Material Struggle: It can be a challenge to ensure the students at home have the same resources as the students in the building. The teachers at Wheeling have learned to get creative, using several different online programs to engage students such as Google platforms, Word Clouds, FlipGrid, and Seesaw.
- Build in Breaks: Hintz incorporates a few breaks in the day for kids to get up and move, instead of being sedentary all day. For example, she gives the kids a “brain break” with GoNoodle.com. This online dance and movement program, which offers activities that can be done standing in a socially distant designated spot or at home, aims to “infuse fun into the classroom, boost student confidence and offers the opportunity for peer-to-peer connections.” “Adding the clear audio from Nureva helps kids feel they are having a fun time together,” she says.
“Using the Nureva HDL300 was seamless and really didn’t require me to change what I was already doing, other than just plugging it into the base station,” says Hintz. “Adding an audio tool that made all students feel part of the class helped encourage participation.”
Although the past year has been challenging, Hintz stays positive: “Never give up! Where there is a will, there is always a way,” she says. “Whether teaching remotely, in-person, or both simultaneously, always plan for the unexpected and always have a second and third way to teach the same lesson.”