How can teachers improve engagement in a virtual setting?

This article provides educators with a manual on how to utilize positive and proactive behaviour management strategies to improve student engagement in virtual environments using platforms like Zoom or G Suite.

Key Takeaway: This article provides educators with a manual on how to utilize positive and proactive behaviour management strategies to improve student engagement in virtual environments using platforms like Zoom or G Suite. Consistent, clear routines and expectations, explicit teaching of the desired behaviour and opportunities for communication between students and teacher have resulted in higher engagement and learning outcomes. —Frankie Garbutt

“High-levels of classroom engagement and on-task behaviour have been linked to positive outcomes for students,” says Renee Speight (University of Arkansas) and Suzanne Kucharcyzk (University of Arkansas) in this article of the Journal of Special Education Technology. The authors argued that strategies of Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports (PBIS), used to” facilitate improvements in student engagement,” should be adjusted to the virtual environments as part of teachers’ “instructional repertoire.”

Speight and Kucharczyk outline that PBIS is a “system of support involving direct instruction of expected behaviours and modification of the classroom environment through antecedents and consequences to promote student demonstration of expected behaviours.”

The following strategies have been identified as “high-leveraging practices for inclusive educational environments:”

  • Creating clear routines: This applies to aspects of a lesson like readiness to learn, instructional routines as well as task submission. Such routines will “minimize the labour required to re-create learning processes with the shifts from in-classroom to virtual learning.”
  • Explicit instruction on expected behaviours: “Teachers should identify three to five behaviours critical to a positive and productive virtual learning session” and “steps should be taken to explicitly teach” these. This could be complemented by visual depictions of the expected behaviours
  • Prompting and acknowledging expected behaviour: Once behaviours are identified and taught, teachers should “use precorrection” (like prompting) “at the onset of instructional sessions or shifts in teaching arrangements, such as when students move into breakout sessions.” To individualize prompting, teachers could use the chat feature in Zoom or G Suite.
  • Opportunities to respond: Teachers should consistently create opportunities to respond “to increase active engagement” by using tools such as “polls and participant nonverbal responses” as well as “Google Forms.” To allow for equal participation, students should be given wait or thinking time prior to responding.
  • Access to reinforcers: Reinforcement of “desired behaviour changes” ought to be “guided by student preferences which can be determined by using preference assessment” through tools like Google Forms. In virtual sessions, it is crucial that access to reinforcers are regular and miscellaneous.

The authors concluded that the practices of PBIS, embedded into the virtual learning setting, can result in students demonstrating expected behaviours and facilitating “high levels of engagement and learning.”

Article summarized

Speight, R., & Kucharczyk, S. (2021). Leveraging Positive Behavior Supports to Improve Engagement in Virtual Settings. Journal of Special Education Technology, 36(2), 90–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162643421992704

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt — Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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