Students who attend online school today range from homeschoolers, to those seeking an alternative to in-person public schools, to learners who want to mix virtual schooling with in-person learning. Also, some districts have decided to keep an online option open for students who choose that method.
And while numerous parents and students have chosen to make online learning part of their education, the transition can be challenging. As someone who’s been involved with online schools for more than eight years, here are five common areas of concern and tips for how teachers and parents can navigate these challenges successfully.
Organization and Scheduling are Vital
While the idea of controlling the time and pace of a child’s education sounds freeing, this can be a major impediment for students unused to making their own schedule. Studies show that students’ executive functioning, the part of the brain that governs planning, organizing, and paying attention, is not fully formed until high school or later.
The first thing a parent or teacher should do for students new to online learning is create some type of calendar, whether online or physical. This will give learners a go-to spot to view what’s due, when, and allow them to organize. A planner can also help parents track their children’s tasks, especially if they have multiple children in different grades.
Also, students need a routine that includes both time and place. Make sure your students have all the tools they need, from computers to notebooks to headphones, and a place that signifies it’s time to learn. Headphones are vital, especially if the learner will share space with other children.
Don’t Forget Manipulatives and External Rewards
Online learning doesn’t have to be only screen time. Students should incorporate manipulatives into their routines, from younger students learning math basics to older students who may be completing lab work. Scan Pinterest or other social media sites if you need examples. Also, note that these tools don’t have to cost a lot.
Like most of us, children are extrinsically motivated, so don’t forget to build in ways to say, “good job,” even if you just use stickers or a self-made chart that monitors their progress. Some children think that without the structure of a physical school, they aren’t learning. Create concrete ways to show students they are progressing toward a goal and that they are mastering skills.
Help is Always Available, If You Know Where to Look
It can be frustrating to hit a brick wall when you are learning online, so teach your learners where to get help if they need support. Teachers usually post office hours, libraries can be accessed virtually, and even message boards can help them ask questions of their classmates.
If your student frequently waits to reach an instructor during online office hours, teach them how to write their questions down or note them in online materials, so they will remember what they want to ask. Also, set realistic expectations by letting them know it is normal to ask for help.
As a parent, or even an online teacher, don’t forget about creating a support system for yourself. Chances are any question or roadblock you face has already been solved by someone, so seek out others who are taking the same journey.
Create a Support System for Yourself (and Your Child)
Even though this is online learning, that doesn’t mean students need to be on their computers all day, every day. Allow for breaktime activities to give the brain a break, and schedule in time for book reading or other activities that don’t require constant screen time.
Encourage your learners to interact with their classmates, either through chat options or meeting at physical locations. This will allow students and teachers alike to create their own communities.
Advocate for Your Child’s Needs
Just because the method of learning is different online, parents should remember to advocate for their children’s needs. This is true if you have a child with special needs who needs directions written out or advanced materials to stave off boredom. Even if your child doesn’t require an individual education plan, communicate their likes and needs to their teachers, information that you would probably share in a back-to-school night. Create a relationship with their online teachers and it will be easier to make small requests, such as extra materials or advanced tutorials.
Similarly, remember there will be times your child needs more support from you as a caregiver. Preview a complicated lesson to ensure you understand what’s being asked of the student, so you are ready for questions when they arise. And avoid the temptation to teach your children “the old way” if you learned math or another subject differently. This will eliminate confusion when a teacher uses a different method or requires an explicit answer on a test.
Adjusting to a new learning environment takes time. By applying the practices outlined above, you can ease the transition for your student and set them up to thrive.
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