Preferred Activity Time can be a challenge in this time of distance learning and we all know that we have to get creative - but creative doesn’t have to mean ground breaking. Don't put extra pressure on yourself to "wow" the students with every activity. The trick is to keep it simple and keep it relevant. Remember, Preferred Activity Time is part of Responsibility Training. The purpose of Responsibility Training is to teach the students to cooperate - with you and with each other. So as we develop new virtual PAT practices let's ask ourselves, what types of cooperation do we need and how is it different from a regular classroom?
The feedback I’ve been getting from teachers when it comes to distance learning is that they need participation and engagement. This doesn’t differ too much from what you need in a regular classroom, but it may look different through a computer screen. Make sure the students know what behaviors you expect in your virtual classroom and then reward those behaviors - and don’t be cheap. We’re all familiar with the phrase, “The more you give, the more you will get in return.” Remember, when it comes to PAT, the role of the teacher is that of a giver.
Let’s jump into an example. One set of expectations may be as simple as having your camera on and being on screen - let’s call that being present. When the entire group is present, hand out bonuses. But, what type of bonuses? How about an automatic bonus for everyone being present at the start of class. Then, an added bonus for every five or ten consecutive minutes everyone is present after that. Now, we are not only encouraging a positive behavior but we are encouraging the continuance of that behavior. If the behavior stops, simply reset the clock to zero and start the timer again when everyone has returned to being present. From a Tools for Teaching perspective, we are using an Omission Training technique, designed for one student, and applying it to the group. This is only one example, but it is the virtual equivalent of "being in your seat when the bell rings." What other behaviors or expectations do you usually use PAT to encourage and reinforce? How can you translate those expectations to your virtual classroom?
The next question is, what activities will the students work for? Or, from the students’ perspective, “Why should I?” Now, the best way to find out what motivates your students is to ask them. PAT shouldn’t be some mysterious reward that just happens, it should rely on input from your students to help guide your decision making and give them some ownership of the process. To that point, I’ve been picking the brains of teachers and parents to get a general grasp of what students are missing from their traditional school experience. The consensus is that students are yearning for social interaction, and parents need a break. So, let’s have this input guide us as we build our PAT menu.
While Tools for Teaching prescribes that PAT should serve an academic purpose as well as providing fun for the students, don’t think that “academic purpose” can only serve the curriculum. Mental health is a big part of academic success and sometimes you just need a dance break, a virtual art project, or an in-home scavenger hunt. Anything to give the students a mental reset and a chance to interact with their classmates.
You can also play around with lightening the academic load through PAT. Have you ever considered eliminating a homework assignment instead of playing a game? To some of you this may sound like borderline malpractice, but let’s make the argument that if the students are working harder during class time, then they may not need another assignment. When you are getting the cooperation that Responsibility Training creates, students are learning and accomplishing more during “regular” class time. This is the logic that allows you to give them PAT in the first place - you are simply giving them back the time they've saved by cooperating because that cooperation allowed you to accomplish more. So if learning during class time has increased, then rewarding them for that hard work with one less homework assignment here and there seems like a fair trade. Plus, adding these types of choices to your PAT menu will give parents an occasional, appreciated break.
Let’s look at examples from a real classroom. Below Kristi Bates, a 3rd grade teacher in Santa Cruz, CA, has shared some of the adjustments she’s made to her virtual classroom and PAT. She’s replaced long, large group Zoom sessions with shorter, virtual class meetings supplemented by small group “office hours” and addressed new ways to earn and spend PAT. Let’s take a look:
Ways to Obtain PAT Points in Distance Learning
Keep in mind, the ways can change week-to-week. The key is to find what motivates students to show up, participate, and be active learners via Zoom/Google Meets.
Ways to Redeem PAT Points
During a class meeting, the students come up with ideas for redeeming points (teacher would approve ideas). Then, the teacher creates a PAT menu for the students to choose from and posts that into google classroom. At the next class meeting, announce the winning choice for that round of PAT points. Some ideas are posted below. Another thing to consider is the role of PAT points. Students wanted (and needed) more time to interact socially with one another, have a shared experience (movie or virtual dance party), or a break from the online work.
PAT menu example: