As the pandemic began, more teachers started using the check-in feature so that students could connect before engaging with content. Students can fill out a form to assess their current mood, choose the emo that reflects their feelings, or choose an image from a three-by-three grid that best reflects their mood: “What kind of hedgehog are you?”
Such activities can be a fun way for students to start classes, a ritual in which they build community, and an assessment tool that helps teachers see how students are doing. Community and well-being have always been important, but in the third year of Pandemic Education, they are more important than ever. How can we make check-ins a greater source of community and well-being for our students?
7 Ways to Improve Check-Ins
- Ask for Multiple Emotions, Not Just One.
We can feel many different emotions, sometimes simultaneously or in rapid succession. Students may be upset about what their siblings did, excited about the basketball game that afternoon, and worried about the math test tomorrow. You can even feel multiple emotions about the same thing, such as B. being happy and anxious about going to school in person. But asking students about only one emotion means they ignore or silence everything else they feel. Instead, we can ask questions that evoke multiple emotions.
- Which three emojis tell the story of your day so far?
- Thinking back over the past week, when did you experience each of the following emotions?
Questions like these push students to understand the complexities of their emotional experiences. When students notice and name multiple emotions, all emotions become a healthy, expected, and respected part of their daily experience.
- Change the Tone
Some check-in questions can be fun, like B. “Are school subjects in color?” or the famous online “If tomatoes are fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?” Other prompts can be serious, eg. B. Questions about student location, responsibilities, identity, and beliefs.
After a traumatic event, many amid Covid, racist attacks, and climate change, check-ins can create space for students to witness, mourn, and plan a justice-focused response. Other check-ins might spark celebration: “What was your proudest moment this week?” or “Who inspired you in class this week?” The different tone of the check-in means that students will go through a range of emotions together.
- Make it Culturally Appealing
This doesn’t just mean using more inclusive language, such as asking students how to celebrate the December break instead of Christmas. Although Christmas is an important holiday, Hanukkah is not considered sacred by many Jews, such as Sukkot and Pentecost, which are less well known because they do not coincide with major Christian holidays. To be more inclusive, try asking about family and seasonal traditions at different times of the year – not just December.
When designing check-in questions, be careful not to explicitly or implicitly refocus on historically dominant sociocultural groups—whites, cisgenders, heterosexuals, Christians, wealthy, able-bodied, and neurotic. Use tips that apply to all students and don’t assume knowledge or participation in mainstream culture.
- Involve Students in Creating Check-in Prompts.
Once students are familiar with the check-in structure and the types of prompts you use, ask them to create their own. You’ll have to look at student-created prompts first, but most students take it seriously and provide prompts that reflect their different personalities, stories, and interests.
You may find that students who speak little at check-in create prompts that lead to meaningful discussions among classmates. In this way, students can contribute to a healthy community and well-being.
- Incorporate Emotional Awareness into Academic Routines.
Checking in at the beginning of the class confirms valuable experiences that bring students into the room, and then we ask them to think about other things. Some teachers also conduct checks and ask students to share insights, questions, or feelings about the day’s work. These rituals guide students during class time, but if students share their feelings only before and after academic study, they may receive the message that their feelings exist outside of the school’s core business – academics – and are not so important.
Students need the opportunity to observe their own psychological experience of content, connect through content, and develop a willingness to engage in challenging content that serves their larger goals. Protocols like Emotions and Values Review in Two-in-One Teaching, a book I co-authored with Jonathan Weinstein, embed identifying emotions into academic teaching, allowing students to feel more about learning and learning self to self.
- Connect Emotions to Values and Values to Actions
Emotions indicate that something important is at risk. When we are sad, it means something important has passed. When we’re angry, it means something important has been taken away from us or someone we care about. When we are afraid, it means something important is at stake.
When students share their emotions, they need time to hold onto those emotions instead of folding them into a neat package and putting them aside in class. They also need the opportunity to discover the values to which their emotions point, and the opportunity to choose actions consistent with those values. The classroom is the ideal place for students to discover their values and apply those values to their studies, work and relationships.
- Use the Belonging Pedagogy.
When check-ins are the only way for students to share their emotions, values, stories, observations, and dreams, they have no reason to dig particularly deep. If students are to open up, these conversations need to be part of a larger culture where students feel seen, heard, respected, and supported. Protocols that ensure that each student makes a meaningful contribution and that all contributions are heard and valued help create a safe and affirming environment in which students can open up about content and themselves.
About the article
As the pandemic began, more teachers started using the check-in feature so that students could connect before engaging with content. In this article, we have discussed the ways to build a better check-in for the students in classrooms.
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