Last Thursday, I wrote a post about online schools in Minnesota and the validity of their educational model. At the end of my brief thought (929 words), I offered to answer questions in later posts if readers would post questions in the comment section. Today’s post is a response to one of those questions.
I would like to thank the reader who asked, “Can you please describe qualities of a student that make him/her either a good or not so good candidate for online schooling?”
Parents are key. The one quality that I see in successful students in the online setting has less to do with the students and much more to do with the parents. The more involved the parents are in the oversight of the students’ progress, scheduling, and prioritization, the more successful the students are in online programming. If parents see the online situation as one that allows for the students to put in hours of babysitting younger siblings, cleaning the house, or working outside of the home, the students will not see school as a priority and will also lack the support needed to complete the online.
There is a lot of reading in the online setting. Although this is becoming less of a necessity as curriculum authors integrate more screen readers and audio/visual aspects in the online curriculum, text remains the primary vehicle of getting information from author to student. In addition, email and instant messaging/chat rooms are primary sources for students gaining help and engaging in discussions with teachers and other students. Those who struggle with grade level reading may struggle with the online setting. With the entry of screen readers into the education world, this has decreased some but not enough to leave this concern behind. If students do not like to read, they may not enjoy learning online.
But there is more. The more descript answer to this question truly is another brief post. Unfortunately, some of the same qualities that make students great candidates for success in any classroom are what make them candidates for success in the online classroom. Self-discipline, motivation, and the ability to work well with little guidance are three necessary qualities that come to mind right away when I hear this question. And the same qualities that limit a student’s success in the traditional classroom will limit that student in the online classroom: lack of self-discipline, easily distracted, and unable to work well without constant redirection.
Does this mean that students without motivation should stay away from the online school setting? No. Any student can change patterns and become more appropriate in the online setting.
An illustration of a change in success would do well to prove this point.
As I have mentioned previously, my role as dean of students at Minnesota Virtual High School is to work with students who are not attending and help them to become in attendance by submitting assignments and making progress toward full course completion. If they do not improve their attendance, I report them to their county of residence and let a social worker, county attorney, or judge assist me. Sometimes this means that students learn how to be successful online students, and other times it means that they return to the traditional school with a daily (hourly) structure, constant in-person supervision, and more direction. Each student is unique, and it is my job to remember that.
About two months ago, I went to a diversion meeting for a middle school student who, at the time, logged on each week for about six hours. We recommend that students put in 25 hours each week in order to be successful. At the meeting, the student had many reasons (excuses) for not logging on to school, but the social worker did not accept any of those. We told the student he could have three months to turn around his behavior or be ordered to go to traditional middle school each day. For the first few weeks, the student’s behavior did not change. The social worker made inquiries into the student’s progress, and I shared his progress with her. We engaged the parent who was overwhelmed with this new way of doing school.
Because the student could not create a plan for himself and because his parent could not do this either, I created the plan. Our software actually does this for the students, but that – for some reason – was not enough for this student. To be honest, many students find the calendar difficult. And once a student is as far behind as this student, the calendar would feel overwhelming to anyone. Imagine not doing any schoolwork for the first half of the year and now having to do twice as much work in order to finish. This would intimidate most adults – and this child is in middle school!
I printed out the class outlines for the student, divided the assignments by the days left in the semester, and assigned work to the student each day until the last day in the semester. I paced the student to focus on one class at a time (because the student was so far behind) so that he could see successful completion of courses one at a time…cross the completed course off the list and feel good about it.
The outcome? We are now a week from the end of the semester, and the student should complete all but possibly one class – the art class. I wanted to focus on math and language arts classes rather than electives. If anything is not complete, we can deal with the art class. And the student can always take the art class during the summer as we are a year-round school.
When I emailed the mom and social worker to see if we needed to meet again, the answer was “no.” The county will remove the student from their truancy intervention program as soon as our semester ends. The student and the parent feel good about how to proceed now that they know how much time and effort it takes to complete school in the online setting. The student would rather be in our setting than the traditional setting because of a bullying situation (some kids put a snake in his locker!) at the school where he would attend.
This student made a choice to change his behavior. Although that is not always the case, it can be done. Students who come to the online setting with self-discipline, motivation, and a hardworking attitude will do well. Students who lack those qualities can definitely change their behavior. If they do not change, then we counsel them back to a setting that will support them more appropriately.