When children are surrounded by peers, they learn and apply social skills that have developed over the span of their lifetimes. For younger kids, this may mean learning how to share toys and take turns, and as children get older, peer-to-peer socialization develops into knowing how to be empathetic, how to interact with peers, and how to develop meaningful friendships. When kids don’t have an opportunity to engage with peers they lose the ability to form these relationships, which could result in psychological and social development delays or gaps.
Most teachers and parents think of peer socialization in the traditional model of in-person interaction, so when Covid-19 closed school buildings and cancelled many youth activities this spring, there was tremendous concern about students’ mental health and social development. In reality, school-based socialization does not have to occur solely in a traditional classroom setting—students of any age can effectively engage with peers and collaborate, even from a distance.
Educators have to rethink what peer-to-peer socialization looks like in the virtual classroom. By offering multiple opportunities for student collaboration, students not only receive the health benefits of peer engagement, they prepare themselves for a future and a global workforce where they can be effective communicators and collaborators in any setting.
To increase the focus on student collaboration, educators can employ a few strategies to help their students learn how to socialize in a remote setting.
Model positive social skills and relationship building in the virtual classroom.
Modeling is one of the most effective strategies in education, and it applies even more so in a virtual classroom setting. When teachers can model student expectations such as good listening, questioning, paraphrasing, and other expectations of online learning, it shows students not only how to be an effective learner, but how to work with peers in the virtual classroom.
Teachers can model strategies such as effective wait time, asking clarifying questions, and responding in a way that shows good listening. When students understand what effective participation looks like in the remote classroom environment, they are able to effectively participate because they know what being an online student looks like. By modeling these online learning behaviors, the overall classroom community becomes more inclusive to all learners and students feel more comfortable engaging with peers because the teacher has set norms and provided examples.
Engage students with relevant, real-world problems that they must solve with a group of peers.
Research has proven time and time again that students are more engaged and ultimately perform better when they are interested in the content and are motivated to learn. By embracing a Project-Based Learning or Problem-Based Learning model of instruction, students will be required to collaborate with peers to complete a unit of study. In classrooms where teachers have modeled effective collaboration or communication, and where an online classroom feels safe and collaborative, students are more open to working together which allows them to have social interactions with peers. The 3Dux GlobalFutures Design Lab offers multiple opportunities for elementary and middle school students to collaborate as they design and build models of solutions to real world problems.
Allow your virtual, live classroom to be driven by student dialogue versus “teacher talk.”
Teacher talk, or the idea that a teacher lectures or merely just talks much more than students, tends to be a traditional model of instruction, and in many virtual classrooms this spring, teacher talk became more prevalent. Education researcher John Hattie found that on average 70-80% of instructional time is taken up by teacher talk, and students have gotten used to sitting quietly in classrooms (virtual or in-person) and waiting for the lesson to be over.
By thoughtfully switching to a model of instruction that requires student dialogue and significantly limits teacher talk, students will start to lead classroom discussion and they will move to a model where they rely on peers to learn and not just the teacher. When teachers model good questioning strategies and discussion starters, and when they use student questions as a way to spark discussion instead of providing answers, dialogue occurs naturally.
It’s no surprise that students need to interact with peers, especially in a time when health and safety needs have kept them at home with limited social interaction for months. But for schools who are still facing an online or hybrid teaching model and for the many teachers who worry that school buildings could close again this fall, thinking about the ways to encourage peer-to-peer socialization in any setting will help support the collaboration efforts and socialization needs of all students, no matter where their learning occurs.
Gonzalez, Jennifer. “In Praise of Think-Pair-Share,” Cult of Pedagogy (blog), January 13, 2015, https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/think-pair-share/.
Hattie, John. 2012. Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Tucker, Catlin. “8 Ideas Designed to Engage Students In Active Learning Online,” Catlin Tucker (blog), July 9, 2020, https://catlintucker.com/2020/07/8-ideas-designed-to-engage-students-online/.
Ventura, Michelle. “3 Highly-Effective Instructional Strategies to Engage Students—Both in the Classroom and Virtually!,” Advanced Collaborative Solutions (blog), August, 2020, https://www.steveventura.com/blog/3-highly-effective-instructional-strategies-to-engage-studentsboth-in-the-classroom-and-virtually/.