Why engagement is even more important for students during Covid-19

News stories tell of students having to adapt to new teaching strategies, learning environments and digital ways of connecting with their teachers and peers. But with all these changes and uncertainties, it’s sometimes forgotten how this turmoil can impact students in the most fundamental of ways - by diminishing their ability to learn.
Why are students struggling to learn during the pandemic?
If you factor in the rollercoaster of changes students have faced in 2020, it is no wonder that they are distracted from their studies. The constant breaking news of each new development feeds into the notification-addicted world in which we now reside. So take a moment to empathise with students who are trying to comprehend their “new normal” alongside understanding the latest educational topic presented to them in the classroom.
This level of distraction can only be exacerbated for students who are continuing to learn remotely. For those of us who work in front of a laptop, we know the trillions of rabbit holes the internet can deliver on an hourly basis. A digital gateway between a teacher and student provides a connection chasm that is a challenge to cross in a 50 minute online class for 30 children. And this doesn’t begin to factor in the external distractions of a distance learning environment for a student.
How can we enhance student learning during Covid 
The repercussions of this level of distraction have already been seen in schools throughout the world. The bottom line is that learning is suffering, and especially for vulnerable children such as SEND students.
Students need to be provided with engaging and motivating methods of learning to combat distractions and get them to focus onto what they need to achieve. An example of this can be in the form of competitions, which provides a challenging yet positive environment for children to push their educational boundaries, while interacting with their peers in a fun environment. Online maths resource provider Mangahigh recently found that 93% of students felt more confident in their studies, after taking part in a recently organised online maths competition. The variables of setting up a competition for students are endless, but the benefits are the same. 
How competitions can help:
Help Build Resilience - In a competition, getting things wrong or failing aren’t seen as negative setbacks, but help drive a student to overcome their learning challenges faster and better. Wrong questions are seen as opportunities to try again, which helps to develop a child’s growth mindset.
Reconnect With Their Network - One of the main things that 2020 has deprived most of us of is social interaction. Studies have shown that a student’s progression is also being hindered by them not being able to interact and develop their social skills as they usually would be able to do. This feeling of isolation is even more so with students who are currently having to self-isolate at home whilst their classmates continue to attend a physical classroom. Competitions can help bring students together, whether they work as a team or enjoy the camaraderie of being in a race together.
Regain focus - Using the extrinsic motivation of competitions, students can focus on the challenge set before them, and progress their learning in a fun way. With the right format, even less competitive children can acknowledge their progress and participation in competitions, which in turn encourages all students to develop their knowledge.
Motivation to Learn - Have you met many children who voluntarily want to learn? If you place a worksheet in front of a child, there are few reasons why they would be compelled to do it except through obligation. Providing a competitive element (e.g. beating their score from a previous exercise for a reward), means students will voluntarily want to get involved with their learning in order to win.
As teaching strategies adapt and learning locations shift, both teachers and students are continuing to navigate uncharted waters through 2020, and will most likely continue to do so in the new year. It’s important that teachers can rely on traditional concepts such as competitions to provide an extra dose of motivation for their students. Using these tools can help improve the engagement and outcomes of students, but also provide a happy distraction that currently many of us are eager to have.

Alex Cull, Director at Mangahigh