How to Get Online Students to Work Hard

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am now teaching third grade online, and I have come upon a problem. Real-World Workshop is a fantastic way of managing independent work time in my classroom, and it works great online– unless students just refuse to do what they have to do (Nows), and they go straight to what they would rather do (Laters). What do I do when this happens? -Jennifer, Columbus, Ohio


This is perhaps the most common question I have received since so many teachers have had to transition to online learning. For the good of the cause, everyone should know that Real-World Workshop consists of, as you teach new material, assigning activities necessary to practice what was just taught (Nows). Then, once completed, students can choose to do other activities that are also aligned to common core standards. At least some of them should have no definite endpoint (i.e. Read, Play Multiplication Board Games) and most of them should be very, very fun. The entertaining nature of these educational activities should drive students to be much more likely to get done with their Nows. Kids work for the same reason adults do 99% of the work that we do: to get it done so we can move on to something we’d rather do.

But your point remains: you can stop kids from moving on to their Laters in class, but you can’t when they are online. How I would deal with this is described below. Notice that, just like in class, there is a Mystery Later: an activity, at first signified with a question mark, that will be revealed near the end of the day that should be utterly awesome, and does not have to be academic.

With thirty minutes left in my online day, my Real World Workshop board looks like this:



Multiplication Practice Page #s 1-17

Write Personal Narrative, Paragraph #1

Reading Questions #1-8



Write letter to Senator Jones

Play math challenge game

Do PE physical challenges


Kid Whisperer: As always, feel free to do your Laters as soon as you have completed your Nows.

Kid: Like I have said a million times, I’m just going to do my Laters! I don’t have to do anything you say! I’ve been writing to my senator all day, telling him how stupid my stupid teacher is!

Kid Whisperer: Alrighty. I am going to erase the question mark and unlock the Mystery Later. Those of you who have completed their Nows will get the code to unlock this:

Play Vampire Spaceship Arcade Dynamite II

Kid: NOT FAIR! I mean, I don’t care anyway. I’m going to start making rude sounds! That will teach you all!

Kid Whisperer: Alrighty.

Kid Whisperer mutes Kid’s mic.

If parents happen to be on board and are able to attend to Kid after school is over, they can make sure that the school day extends until bedtime until all Nows are completed. (Dinner still needs to be served.) If parents are not in a position to extend Real-World Workshop, that’s fine too.

It is not the teacher’s job to force students into doing their work (because that is impossible, in person or online). It is the teacher’s job to present excellent instruction and provide excellent, appropriate, and differentiated learning opportunities. Trying to do the former can make it impossible to do the latter.

When we allow the real world consequences of not working hard to befall students, they tend to work harder, even while they are still in their own bedrooms.