As we return to our “new normal” after the holidays, some of us are returning from extended breaks due to closures. Some of us are returning to a hybrid model of learning. Others will be returning to a fully online model. Regardless, we are all faced with equally challenging situations. We are faced with challenges involving health concerns. We are faced with anxiety from students, coworkers, and parents that we must somehow overcome for learning to take place. Perhaps the most challenging issue of all is keeping students motivated in a less than ideal learning environment.

New Challenges in the Age of COVID-19

In the age of COVID-19, virtual classrooms have become the norm. Another norm we have adopted during this time is what we refer to as “hybrid learning”. Hybrid learning can mean any combination of traditional and virtual learning. For example, some students may be in person while others choose to attend virtually through Zoom, Google Meet, or some similar application.

Some schools have opted to keep students in-person but in smaller groups by having half of the students attend two days a week, while the other half attend on another two days. This allows teachers to see students in person while also allowing them to keep numbers small. This model also allows teachers a day between for cleaning and sanitizing. However, the challenge this presents is keeping students motivated enough to continue their own learning on their “off” days. As we have all learned, there are no right answers in this unprecedented situation. We are all trying to figure out what is best for our students as we go along.

While we can be grateful for the different models of learning and the technology we have that allows us to continue teaching and learning during this time, it can present some challenges for teachers and students. It is so easy in this kind of environment for students to feel disconnected and isolated. Therefore, students can lack the motivation necessary to be engaged and successful in the classroom.

Strategies for Maintaining Student Motivation

Setting Goals for the First Day Back

Start by having a plan for that first day back after the holidays. Make it a relaunch day. As you spend time reconnecting with students, set goals. Get your students actively involved in setting those goals to help them focus on the tasks at hand. Also, fill the day with fun lessons and review games. Offer points and/or prizes for teams or individuals.

Incorporate Games into Your Lessons

As a continuation of those fun, first-day activities, incorporate fun and games in lessons throughout each week. Games are a fantastic way to keep students motivated and focused at any age. Games are exciting and fun. Many games provide the context necessary for students to internalize the information and truly gain understanding.

Also, a lot of classroom games require teamwork, providing an excellent opportunity for students to collaborate with each other. Struggling students can really pick up a lot from the more advanced students’ participation in the games. Another benefit to games is that it helps students understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Being able to understand and accept that is a critical life lesson.

There are so many ways to incorporate games into your classroom. You can do whole-group or small-group games, teacher-created games, or online games. These can be adapted to subject and skill-level quite easily to meet the individual needs of your students.

Prioritize Reconnecting with Students

Connecting with our students should always be a priority, because it is through that connection that meaningful relationships develop. It is very difficult for learning to take place without those meaningful relationships in place. So, as we return to school after the holidays, we should remember to prioritize reconnecting with our students. That’s why it is so important to have a fun-filled day planned upon returning. Spend some time laughing and learning together. Also, look for reasons to chat with your students individually. Find out what happened while they were out on break. While it is not something we like thinking about, the truth is that some of our students only feel safe and loved at school. Some of them may need to talk about some of the things they experienced over the break. Some students may just want to hear about what you did because they missed you. Regardless, it is very important to be available to lend an ear as we return.

Utilize Brain Breaks

Brain breaks are a very important and very effective way to “reset” the brain for learning and focus. Brain breaks can consist of a wide variety of activities, but I like to incorporate short bursts of physical activities to break up the scholarly pursuits of the day. This is a great way to keep students motivated and refreshed. If they know they will often get a short break to move around a bit, they are more likely to stay motivated and focused during academics. I like to use for short physical activity breaks.

Virtual Field Trips

Since COVID-19 has become such a concern, it is most likely the case, wherever you teach, that field trips are out. Field trips can be a great motivator for students. It gives them something to look forward to and a reason for focusing on a particular unit of study. Therefore, it is unfortunate that this resource is not available to us at this time. Instead, utilize virtual field trips to keep motivation up and to vary your activities. Perhaps you can begin a unit with a virtual field trip to help students visualize what they will be learning.

Social Time

Allow students time each day, whether in-person or virtual, to spend talking with each other, sharing ideas, and asking questions. Another idea is to allow students to have some time before class starts or to stay after class is over and talk amongst themselves without direct teacher involvement. It is important that they develop social skills and cultivate relationships with one another.

*Updated January, 2021