RISE Educators Finding Creative Ways to Keep Students Engaged

Grade 9 Success

Earlier in May, Manchester High School Grade 9 Science Teacher Bryan McCain hosted a Google Meet for his students to catch up and chat about their favorite T.V. shows. For Mr. McCain, this was the first time since the move to distance learning that he felt like he was back in the classroom. Mr. McCain’s students enjoyed it, too!

“I had a mom email me saying she hadn’t seen her daughter that happy in a while,” says Mr. McCain.

One of the numerous challenges educators face as they navigate distance instruction is keeping students engaged in learning. Additionally, we know engagement is integral to students’ success and equity must be at the heart of our engagement efforts. Educators across the RISE Network are working tirelessly to understand and address students’ unique barriers to engagement in this new remote format. For example, some students and families are struggling with housing instability, food insecurity, unemployment, connectivity issues, and myriad other concerns that prevent students from meaningfully engaging in online learning.  These factors disproportionately affect low-income students and students of color. According to national data, one in three low income students are not engaged in distance learning. This data point shows how COVID-19 school closures are likely to exacerbate equity concerns for the students we serve.

Mr. McCain isn’t the only RISE educator experimenting with new ways to ensure all students stay engaged in the remote format. Middletown High School teachers are using data from an engagement tracker developed with RISE to determine which students would benefit from home visits, a phone call, or some other form of outreach. The engagement tracker combines information about teacher and counselor touchpoints with students, assignment completion, Google Classroom login activity, and other metrics of engagement to identify which students require targeted outreach. At Middletown High School, students with lower levels of engagement are assigned to one of seven adults who then contact the student and their parents through a home visit or phone call. So far, the administration has made 37 home visits. Middletown High is providing asynchronous instruction, making these one-on-one connections very beneficial. 

On-track coordinators (OTCs) are also thinking outside of the box. OTCs are mailing cards to students to celebrate on-track achievement and provide encouragement for students who are almost on-track. Avery Washington and Sharina Jimenez, OTCs at Brien McMahon HIgh School in Norwalk, first tested this idea during winter break. On the latest mailings, Mr. Washington provided his contact information and asked students to text him when they received the card. Students have responded, texting Mr. Washington back looking for guidance with assignments, and time management tips to help them complete their assignments on time. 

Distance learning can feel overwhelming for students and educators. Mr. McCain at Manchester High School reminds us to keep trying new ideas. He says he’s pitched ideas to his students to hold movie and video game assemblies and even a trivia night! You can view Mr. McCain’s trivia night template here. Mr. McCain says these assemblies cut through the transactional nature of distance learning and are morale boosters for everyone.

“It all starts with getting their minds off school and just letting them be people again,” says Mr. McCain.