Earlier this month, Brad wrote about how every student can learn online. Online learning provides opportunities for student growth because it teaches academic maturity. Do students encounter challenges when they take their first online class? Of course - and that’s a good thing! Challenges beget growth. Not only are these the sort of challenges that are easy to manage early in an online course, they are also developmentally appropriate challenges for college-bound adolescents. But if you don’t address them early by putting positive structures in place, they can spiral. To help students stay on track, let’s talk about a few of these challenges, and the type of supports that help students get off to a good start when they encounter the unfamiliar in their online class.
The vast majority of our students are high achievers. They often “do school” very well and have a well-developed set of school skills that have never let them down. Enter the online class, which taxes this precarious system and often requires students to grow in their academic maturity. This is why “academic maturity” is a school-wide competency at One Schoolhouse, and something that we work hard to scaffold.
One inefficient strategy students often develop is filling up “extra” time to boost achievement. This polishes their resume, but at the expense of flexibility and balance. When something new gets added to the mix (e.g.: college applications, a concussion, an online class) there is no slack in the system to absorb the disruption. As Lisa Damour talks about in her recent book, Under Pressure, “slack” is essential in a functioning system. To help students manage time efficiently and nimbly, teach students not only to schedule their work in advance but also to prioritize their tasks so they do the most important thing or the hardest thing first. It may seem counterintuitive to them to build in slack time each week, but no one ever says, “I wish I didn’t have that extra hour on Thursday afternoon!” Instead, it’s a huge relief to have that extra time if it’s needed to complete an assignment or meet with their online teacher.
Diligent students don’t like to ask for help until the final hour, but this can leave them wasting time perseverating before running out of time to get the support they need. Teach students to anticipate challenges - whether skills-induced or schedule-induced - and to build in the time that allows them to book an appointment with their online teacher to work through it together. A well-crafted question and a ten minute conversation is almost always an excellent and efficient use of time, because it allows the teacher to pinpoint the problem and guide the student to a solution. Bonus lesson: every time you direct a student back to their One Schoolhouse teacher you implicitly teach that student how to use the most effective resource available to solve the problem at hand.
Generation Z doesn’t believe in the myth of multitasking, but the research is deep. With an average attention span of eight seconds, many teens struggle to stay on one task for any sustained period of time. Online learning invites students to divide their concentration between all the apps and tabs open on their devices, providing distractions that can entertain or isolate. So what happens when they have to take an hour-long test or have just one hour to work with their partners on a project? An underdeveloped ability to concentrate on just one thing compromises their ability to complete the task to the best of their ability. College professors - people who often research a single topic in minute detail for their entire careers - are unsympathetic to this concentration deficiency so we need to teach now. A key element of college readiness is surely improved singularity of focus, and the online high school course is the perfect place to practice.
Most of the challenges that students encounter in the online learning space have less to do with the online platform and more to do with the fact that the online nature of the class is surfacing self-management strategies that are inelastic - there’s no slack to absorb the new challenges. So what tools can we give students that reduce distractions and improve concentration? A good place to start teaching self-regulation is with media consumption - have students set goals around limiting use of particular apps or devices, and to replace that time with something more constructive, such as meeting with their online teacher or working ahead on a deadline.
Your partnership is integral to the full realization of this important element of academic maturity, because - for better or worse - you see daily what Damour calls the “stress olympics” of today’s adolescents. There’s no better time for high flying students to learn these lessons than in high school, and we’re glad to be part of the team that helps students summit this peak.
Over the last ten years, we’ve come to the understanding that online learning is part of the college preparatory experience — something that our students have to be guided and led into like so many other experiences while they are in high school. In 2017, 33.1% of college students took at least one online course, and that percentage continues to grow steadily. Online learning isn’t at the fringes anymore; it’s built in to the college experience.
For most of our students, their online course with One Schoolhouse is their first online course. So, in the same way all educators support new experiences, we put structures and safeguards in place for support. Most importantly, we’re intentional about the on-boarding process. One key to building success has been to engage our students in a deep goal-setting process that creates regular reflection on the metacognition of learning.
We’ve all experienced futile goal-setting exercises and we have prodded advisees through the goal-setting process. (Actually, let’s be honest: we’ve bribed them with donuts.) Even as we plod through those moments, we know we’re not reaching the goal of goal-setting! Goal setting needs to be authentic and engaging to each learner, so One Schoolhouse students begin by creating their own learning profile plan and understanding growth mindset. What makes goal setting meaningful is the usefulness and effectiveness of the accompanying plan to achieve the goals. MIT does a good job of giving us framework in the SMART goals approach, which we adapt here at One Schoolhouse as part of our quarterly goals and reflection cycle with students. We also integrate Jordan Peterson’s research that shows the powerful link between motivation and achievement, and promotes a goal-driven approach to motivation.
Setting goals and devising a plan to achieve them motivates students because the exercise helps them envision how they want to show up in the class and how they plan to tackle challenges. In essence, the students’ goals become the primary metric for their growth We begin the year with SMART goals, and establish a routine for reflection. Teachers invite students into metacognitive reflection, asking them to reflect not only on their own growth and success, but also on the process of learning: Was the unit inspiring? Did they make the best choices? What do they want to do differently? Finding the right balance between goal-setting and reflection is essential. When goals boost motivation, we’ve gained traction.
Reflection and goals are also embedded in our formal quarterly student report cards. Teachers report on the student’s progress towards her goals and often include the student’s own reflections in the narrative comment itself. It also helps teachers write authentic, meaningful comments. The benefits? We get to reinforce that we take our students’ goals and progress seriously as an institution, and parents love the comments they receive from our teachers. Comments bring the goal-setting cycle full circle--we celebrate achievements, honor growth, and build essential skills.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)