By Ashley English, Teacher-Tutor at TbT
Monitoring student progress as a classroom teacher can be challenging any day of the week. Yet doing so in a virtual environment can pose an even larger challenge as educators must rely on students buying in on the materials and participating wholeheartedly. Fortunately, this has become easier with the introduction of digital platforms and tools that provide essential outlets for teachers, and resources that make learning both engaging and fun for students.
It is up to the teacher to provide an environment that is both educational and inclusive of all students. With the growing popularity of the digital classroom, both in times of necessity and by choice, traditional face-to-face interactions between teachers and students have significantly diminished, in turn impacting an educator’s ability to consistently monitor students. This shift requires the development and implementation of effective strategies to monitor student progress in a virtual classroom.
Monitoring student progress in a virtual classroom requires a combination of proactive strategies and consistent feedback. A few ways to monitor student progress in a virtual classroom focus on the importance of establishing clear expectations, assessment methods, technological applications, and student-centered approaches, while also fostering communication and collaboration. Here are a few tips to help teachers in virtual environments combat some of the issues that may arise in their classrooms.
Establish clear expectations for students
Set clear learning objectives:
- Define clear, measurable learning goals for each lesson, and communicate them to students. This helps both you and your students stay focused and on track.
- Articulate the learning objectives, grading schemes, and expectations regarding participation and communication. The clarity of these aspects allows students to understand their responsibilities and strive to meet those requirements.
- Provide rubrics for assignments and projects, so students have a comprehensive understanding of how their work will be evaluated and empowers them to analyze their performance.
Teachers should consistently reinforce these expectations, encouraging students to take ownership of their learning journey.
Consider different assessments
As an educator, one must look at the assessment methods in place and determine what percentage of classes are excelling, and which need additional support – but doing this virtually can prove tricky.
In virtual classrooms, there may be students who check out as soon as they check in to class. Maybe their style of learning is not being tapped in the virtual environment with the usual methods of instruction. In a virtual classroom, relying solely on traditional exams and quizzes may not be sufficient to gauge student progress effectively, so consider other options, such as:
These types of assessments are short, frequent checks for understanding that let you know how well students are progressing and help identify gaps in knowledge, so you can provide specific feedback to improve student understanding. They can comprise quizzes, discussion boards, interactive polls, and collaborative group projects.
Summative assessments, such as end-of-unit tests and final projects, give insights into a student’s overall understanding of the material.
Teachers need to create a diverse set of assessments to cater to different learning styles, thus ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of each student’s growth. This can involve the integration of various technologies that make student learning fun and also give students the opportunity to demonstrate depth of knowledge on the subject matter.
Implement engaging ed tech tools
Advancements in educational technology have provided teachers with a plethora of innovative resources to monitor student progress. Many virtual learning platforms provide analytics tools that let you track student progress and engagement, and it is worthwhile to spend time understanding how they work and what they offer you as an educator. Use them to identify struggling students and adjust your instruction as needed.
Beyond everyday tools like learning management systems, there are several ed tech tools, to administer interactive and engaging assessments, including:
Teachers can also leverage video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams for synchronous discussions and activities, enabling them to observe and assess student participation in real time.
Many of these ed tech tools offer incentives for progress, whether it be modifications for avatars or badges they can post onto the personal pages showing how well they have done in their assignments. Whichever tool you choose, each of these applications give students access to vital resources while allowing the teacher to track their progress.
Monitoring student progress virtually necessitates a shift towards student-centered learning. This approach promotes interactive and personalized learning experiences, directly addressing each student’s needs and goals. Differentiated instruction involves modifying the content, process, or product of learning to cater to the diverse learning styles of students. Teachers can create tiered assignments, flexible groupings, and provide choice boards, allowing students to work on tasks that align with their abilities and interests. Implementing project-based learning encourages critical thinking and collaboration, enabling students to demonstrate deeper understanding and application of learned concepts.
Ed tech tools that support these approaches include Peardeck or Nearpod, which allow the creation of interactive slideshows that link to other resources to aid in the learning process.
Fostering Communication and Collaboration
Communication and collaboration are crucial in online education, ensuring student engagement and support throughout their learning journey.
To begin, schedule regular check-ins: Set aside time to meet with students individually or in small groups to discuss their progress and address any concerns or questions they may have. Teachers should set up regular one-on-one and small group conferences to discuss progress, address any concerns they may have, and maintain open channels of communication through email and discussion boards. Encouraging peer interactions and teamwork also creates a sense of community, facilitating student accountability.
Provide ongoing feedback: Regular feedback helps students stay motivated and engaged. In the virtual classroom, this can take the form of written or verbal comments on assignments or discussions. The use of structured classroom blogs can be beneficial to student communication and may allow the teacher to gauge students’ points of view on class topics.
Students can use apps like Flipgrid to record short videos of themselves explaining their understanding of a concept or even debriefing at the end of the lesson as an exit ticket. Having students score each other on the presentation of the blog can help them become active listeners and pay attention to fine details. Hearing things from other students can be easier sometimes than listening to the teacher’s explanation. This is because students will use some academic vocabulary but ultimately converse in words or phrases that are more commonplace to other students.
Consider student self-assessment: Giving students the opportunity to self-assess can help them take ownership of their learning and identify areas where they need support. Consider using self-assessment tools like rubrics or checklists.
Whatever you choose, creating opportunities for peer and self-assessment is essential to empower students to evaluate their learning and engage with their peers. Students can give feedback using rubrics and perform self-reflection exercises, enhancing their metacognitive skills. These activities support student autonomy and provide the instructor with additional insights into the students’ thought processes and growth.
In the words of John Hattie, “Cooperative learning is most powerful after the students have acquired sufficient surface knowledge to then be involved in discussion and learning with their peers – usually in some structured manner. It is then most useful for learning concepts, verbal problem-solving, categorizing, spatial problem-solving, retention and memory, and guessing.” In short, having students engage one another creates a much more fruitful learning environment – even when it is online.
Putting students into small learning groups or message boards will allow them to communicate more effectively about what they have learned without feeling the pressure of the entire class on their screen. The most intimidating thing to a student or any person can be being in the spotlight to answer a question when they are unsure of their response. Small groups can formulate answers to reposted questions to prepare a response to be delivered by a selected representative of their peer group. This will ensure discussion has taken place and each person’s ideas have been heard.
The digital age has not only provided educators with new tools and methods for teaching but also reignited the importance of fostering close connections and support systems within a virtual classroom. To maintain a comprehensive, accurate, and effective understanding of student growth, teachers must set explicit expectations, incorporate diverse assessment methods, harness technological tools, prioritize student-centered approaches, and foster strong communication and collaboration.
Monitoring student progress in a virtual classroom can be a challenging task. Overall, it’s important to remain flexible and adaptable in the virtual classroom and to be willing to adjust your strategies based on your students’ needs. However, by implementing these strategies, educators can support the holistic development of their students, regardless of the constraints imposed by distance learning. In the end, virtual learning does have to be tedious for the educators or even a poor environment to learn for the students, it just needs to be visible, engaging, and a platform for students’ interactions to be genuine.