There is no doubt that many students find virtual learning tough. And why wouldn't they? Many of their reassuring routines have gone, they have no friends to socialise with during the school day, and there is more to think about. This is set against the backdrop of the global pandemic, which itself is causing young people great stress.
Therefore, it is crucial that we teachers provide them with support and reassurance. There are some very simple things that we can do:
Greet each student on entry to your call, ask how they are, and smile (if you don't have to wear a mask)!
Make yourself available for drop ins, either with an appointment or not (your judgment call). Breaktimes or once a week after school work well. Students should feel that, just as they pop in to see you or stop you in the corridor for help, they can approach you with any issues they face.
Create an environment in the virtual lessons that makes students feel safe. Some may be very nervous about contributing to discussions, so use tools like chat functions and Peardeck to give them anonymity.
Make sure that you give students feedback that encourages them. Ensure your feedback focuses on the positives as well as what needs improving. Remember to use your school rewards system, and get into the habit of contacting parents to say just how proud you are of the students. I cannot say how important our system of 'well done postcards' has been for student confidence.
Source: Katyal, Prateek. Unsplash, 2019.
Every school has students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) (this is the UK terminology). They will most likely find the virtual environment just as hard, if not harder, than other students. Hopefully your school has an inclusion or SEND team. Their advice at this time will be invaluable. In particular, ask your colleagues to what extent they can adapt students' Individual Education Plans (IEPs), pupil passports, curriculum plans, etc. for the virtual environment. These documents should be your starting point.
I have found that an asynchronous learning process suits many SEND students better than synchronous. Some SEND students find it incredibly difficult to join video calls. Others simply do not want to. Instead, highly structured, 'chunked' worksheets with instructions for students seemed to have worked well, and I've been fairly flexible with deadlines so long as they communicate with me.
However, for more concrete ideas I am very happy to defer to the experts, and the one below is a useful starting point, with some illuminating case studies:
Another consideration is how to challenge the students identified by you or your school as very able. There are three ways this can be done:
Differentiating activities to make it harder for more able students.
Providing extension tasks to stretch able students once they have finished the core tasks.
Providing extension tasks that students can attempt in their own time.
Once again, these sites have some useful resources (the second requires you to sign up, for free, to download the pack):