Thursday, November 19, 2020

Participation Points for Synchronous Lessons in Distance Learning


By this point in distance learning, we all have a pretty good idea of which students will participate in a synchronous lesson and who won't. Before COVID, there were always those few students who were just flies on the wall. They were physically present, but did not contribute or participate. The same is true in distance learning. They're logged into the Zoom or Google Meet, but they do not engage. 

I really wish there was a magic wand or magic bullet to get 100 percent of students participating all the time, but let's be honest, so such thing exists. Dealing with this reality, I have found participation points as an idea that has helped get more students involved in synchronous lessons. 

One way the powers that be are holding schools accountable is through the gradebook. Teachers have been instructed to submit, weekly, copies of assignments and grades. This is meant for auditors to see how students are engaging in distance learning. By no means I am I a fan of this, but it is reality.

Daily assignments is not something all teachers do. Finding something to grade daily can be a tedious thing. Below are some of the ways I use participation points as a method of "daily grades" for the auditors and to keep students engaged during a synchronous lesson

Checking for understanding is just good pedagogy whether in distance learning or not. Back in the day, I remember teachers using popsicle sticks to randomly choose students to demonstrate understanding. I remember closing my eyes hoping I wouldn't get picked. When I didn't hear my name, I tuned out. Technology has made it so we don't need popsicle sticks anymore. Apps such as Quizizz, Pear Deck, Nearpod and more allow teachers to have every student answer checking for understanding questions. These tools offer informal, authentic formative assessment. 

These apps all provide reports of student answers and responses when a lesson has ended. Those reports can be used for those daily grades auditors are looking for and as participation points. Students who participate can get a little boost to their grade. For many students these days, a little boost in confidence might be just what they need to push through these troubling times.

Exit tickets are simple, daily participation points activity. Exit tickets can be facilitated easily in Google Classroom via the Question function. A way I use the Question function weekly is to have students reflect and write a real life to content connection before leaving Zoom. Google Classroom scores can be imported to our grade system (Illuminate) so entering those grades for the auditors is simply a few clicks of the mouse. Below is a screenshot of a Google Classroom Question activity that I use weekly as an Exit Ticket. 

If you're looking some other quick ways to have students earn participation points, check out two of my favorite Eduprotocols, Thin Slides and Iron Chef. Both can be done easily within an hour long synchronous lesson. Click here to see my blog post on Thin Slides in distance learning.  Click here to see my blog post on Iron Chef in distance learning. 

The chat in Zoom is another simple way to track participation points. If you are using Zoom, you can set it to automatically download a record of the chat when the Zoom call is finished. Student responses in the chat could be used for participation points purposes. 

If students are working independently during a synchronous lesson, another way to give participation points is to give them a "minimum progress" goal. For example, in Google Classroom, you could have students working on a Google Slides activity where you made a copy for each student. Students could mark the text or complete tasks on each slide. Booksnaps is a good example of this. You can set them a target of completing a certain number of slides during class time as a way for them to earn participation points. While students work independently, you can look in on their progress and provide feedback as well.

The COVID crisis and distance learning has changed the way we teach dramatically. Accountability and auditors are a reality whether we like it or not. Participation points are not a new idea, but they can be leveraged to help better engage students while giving the powers that be what they are looking for. How do you use participation points in your synchronous lessons? If you have some ideas, I'd love to hear them.

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