Interaction is key to successful learning. Dr. Jana Echevarria, one of the authors of the SIOP® Model states that:
“Learning a language requires engaging with that language; capitalizing on opportunities to practice through discussion around text is essential for building language and literacy skills.” – Dr. Jana Echevarria
This is not only true for English language learners, but for all learners. But how do we foster interaction in a digital world more effectively?
While interactions occur rather naturally in brick and mortar classrooms, in an online or hybrid learning environment opportunities to collaborate and share ideas must be carefully and intentionally planned. Studies show three types of interaction that are crucial in online learning: 1) student to student, 2) student to teacher, 3) student to content.
Here are my 4 practical tips to increase interaction in a digital landscape.
1. Use breakout rooms
Breakout rooms have become a staple over the past few months in remote learning. As SIOP® Feature 16 emphasizes the importance of rich instructional conversations, a virtual space to engage in these meaningful conversations is a crucial and best practice for remote learning. What helped me when designing my online lessons was to carve out and dedicate at least half of my class time to collaborative work in breakout rooms. This will empower our students with more opportunities to share ideas, discuss a problem, negotiate meanings, and actively interact with peers, content, and the teacher.
2. Create structured dialogue opportunities
The success of the breakout room tasks depends on the level of support and structure we provide. We need to up our scaffolding game, especially when working in a remote setting. Instead of giving students a broad discussion topic, provide additional scaffolds like sentence stems, graphic organizers, or visual prompts to guide the dialogue about the text.
In this team-building activity, students got to know one another in breakout rooms. The guided questions gave them much more support than just releasing them with a task, “introduce yourselves in your group.”
3. Create low-stress check-ins and community building opportunities
Relationships matter. Building trust and meaningful relationships take more time in an online setting. Also, virtual fatigue is real and we should recognize how hard it is for students to stay engaged during lengthy online sessions. SIOP® Feature 25 calls on teachers to engage students 90% to 100% of the class period. Of course, this does not mean they need to be involved in highly active academic learning the entire time. Keep motivation and virtual engagement high by creating frequent low stress, catch and release tasks like SEL check-ins, brain breaks, doodles, or trivia questions. Lay out low-key, ice breaker activities frequently throughout your sessions to check-in, build connections, or promote healthy competition between peers.
Ask quick and fun questions like this one to break the ice and lower student anxiety.
4. Use Google Slides as a collaboration tool
If a breakout room is where students negotiate meaning and process their learning, shared slides are where they would show their interaction with the text. Create a class Google slides deck with a collaborative assignment like the one below, and then share the link to all students with editing access. While all of your students are on the same deck simultaneously, each student or group works on the assigned slide to show their learning. This strategy gives all students a much-needed space to showcase their learning while interacting with each other.
In this shared Google Slides, students work together to complete the plot diagram or co-create a story. They can talk, ask questions, and support each other as they complete the task.
Online learning can become extremely isolating for our students, and meaningful interaction between students, teachers, and content is needed more than ever. And it is possible with technology tools and some out-of-box thinking!
About the author: Esther Park @MrsParkShine is an ENL/ELA teacher, curriculum writer, and an online adjunct faculty member in Northern Virginia. She has been teaching high school English language learners for 15 years both in private and public school settings. She is passionate about creating innovative digital content and integrating technology into instruction to promote active learning, engagement, and literacy for all learners. Esther earned her B.A. from the University of California Irvine, and an M.A. in TESOL from Biola University.