Dialogue in blended learning: top tips for communicating with students online

Ever set a task online for students, left the platform open for their comments and suggestions and then wondered why no one responded?

Dialogue in learning and teaching is crucial for both teacher and students.  But what is genuine dialogue? Is it feedback? Can feedback lead to dialogue? Is it personalised? What about class dialogue or group dialogue? Can it start in one form and transfer to another – what about the synchronous and asynchronous aspect?

Teachers check on students’ understanding and misconceptions all the time in face to face classroom lessons and have constant conversations. This is more difficult online. We need to make sure that 

  • Children and young people know that their work has been seen and what the teacher thinks of it. 
  • We’ve given them some explanatory feedback
  • We’ve checked that they understand
  • The child or young person has a way to ask us questions and feel like they can have a conversation with us
  • The emotional wellbeing of the young person is noticed and known about and they feel listened to. Students can take responsibility for their learning and reflect on what they’ve learned or struggled with

Teacher Mark Martin, who faced exactly the silence described above in an online class, has been reflecting on his experience of encouraging dialogue with students in lessons online and offers some tried and tested tips. 

Mark Martin’s top tips for dialogue in blended learning

Build up confidence: young people can feel awkward or embarrassed to speak in live lessons. They may not know what to do – they may have been given a platform to use but not been shown all the functions. Building up confidence is critical. One way that’s worked for Mark is to give them a ‘cheat sheet’ detailing how they navigate online, giving them different options, almost like a dialogue menu.

Consider communication channels: how do students contact you? It might be email, VLE chat messaging or another channel, perhaps voice messages. How do you respond to that and give feedback effectively online? Think through those pathways. You can even roleplay them so that students are happy that they have a way they can respond to the teacher and the work if they are confused or stuck – or proud and want to share!

Think beyond words: dialogue doesn’t need to be words, whether written or voice. Be creative with the different functionality of online tools. Mark has used emojis successfully – a thumbs up if things are going well, a thumbs down, a heart if they really enjoy the activity…

Put in a pause: don’t rush through! Think about putting in a poll or activity at certain milestones to give students a chance to stop, think, digest and respond. There are lots of different routes for responses, such as polls or a Padlet.

Be creative with tools: think about the variety of tools you can use where students can write something to showcase their understanding or can act as a working space where students can throw in comments and suggestions as they work. Padlet offers possibilities for dialogue in a simple low bandwidth way and there are lots of setting options so, for example, the teacher moderates comments first or children can comment on each other’s work or not.  For older students tools like Miro offer voting emoji systems.

SeeSaw offers a lot of opportunities for dialogue. For Lauren Carter and Louise Peplow, teachers at Hitherfield Primary, SeeSaw has been a “game changer” for them. As well as using it for remote learning they also use it in school as a way of evidencing work, being able to upload activities rather than taking pictures and sticking them in books so that parents can see what the children are doing. They point out that without the dialogue with parents at the gate it opens up a nice route of contact, it’s much more personal than email and is great for blended learning when children are off.

For younger children, dialogue may well range beyond questions about tasks and activities. HereJanneke Moeleker and Bram von Mil, teachers at Snijders School, Rijswijk, the Netherlands talk about how important it is to have regular one-to-one communication with the children, using something like Facetime or other video calls, to chat not just about their work, but also to be shown their pets and around their house.

Finally, dialogue around blended learning will also involve parents, too, especially with younger students. We’ll be looking at that in more depth in a future blog post.

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