By Jeremy Vidito, Starr Commonwealth Educational Services
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors and caregivers: thank you for all of the endless hours of support you provide the young people in your lives. As a teacher, school leader and former AmeriCorps tutor, as well as mentor to countless youth, I see the impact of your efforts every day. Our students need supportive adults in their lives who can challenge, mentor and push them to meet and exceed their potential. My goal is to provide you with Do’s and Don’ts regarding online learning programs that will help guide you in how to best assist the students in your life. I hope you find it helpful.
Note: There are a lot of terms for describing the use of computer-based technology in education: asynchronous and synchronous learning, blended learning, digital learning and online learning. For simplicity, I will refer to all computer-based instruction as digital learning.
Do:Find out if the school has any digital learning programs. At the beginning of each year, ask for a summary of your child’s curriculum and any instructional resources. It is important that your school has a clearly defined instructional program, and if it's using digital learning programs, the school should be able to clearly define how those programs support student learning.
Don’t: Assume that because your child is getting good grades, they’re on grade level. Unfortunately, in many classrooms, teachers are not asking students to complete work that is aligned with the grade-level standards. Get a copy of your child’s proficiency results from state or district benchmark assessments. These results can help you select additional digital learning programs to support your child.
Do: Get regular reports on your child’s progress with digital learning programs. If it is important enough for your child to spend class time working on digital learning programs, then it is important enough for you to get a report on your child’s progress. Many reports will have the following information:
How much time your child has spent on the program and how much progress your child has made;
Your child’s areas of strength and areas of growth; and
How your child is performing on grade-level standards.
Don’t: Assume that just because your child is using a digital learning program that they’re learning. Some digital learning programs aren’t very good and just review material that your child has already mastered. Other programs are too hard and your child will just sit there frustrated because there is no instruction to guide them through the material.
Do: In the same way that you may read with your child, you should use digital learning programs as another opportunity for you and your child to work together. Sit with your child and have them explain the problems and their thinking. As appropriate, support your child with challenging material while ensuring they they’re doing the heavy lifting. For example ask questions such as:
Why did you select that answer?
Could there be another possible solution?
Can we solve that problem together?
Don’t: Assume that the programs selected by your school are the best for your child. There are hundreds — even thousands — of instructional programs, games and apps available. Effective programs are engaging, are aligned to content standards, differentiate materials so that your child is working at their instructional level, and provide easy-to-read reports.
Do: Allow yourchild to select instructional programs that fit their interests. My nephew loves rockets and outer space, while my niece is currently in love with “Frozen.” They were both able to find apps on the iPad that were designed to meet content standards as well as aligned with their current interests. My nephew solved addition problems as he launched rockets, while my niece worked on one-to-one correspondence as she picked outfits for the princess to wear. Neither app was used by their school, nor as a school leader would I endorse schools to purchase those apps, but for free choice, they were a great addition.
Don’t: Use the computer as a babysitter. Monitor your child’s time online. In the same way you monitor your child’s homework, you should monitor their progress online.
Do:Limit the time your child spends on the computer. Online instructional programs are great; they can expand your child's skills and reinforce concepts, but they do not replace social peer interactions. As a school leader, I know that interpersonal skills and the ability to work and play with others are just as important to your child’s academic progress as their content knowledge.
Depending on your child’s age, they may only be able to focus for 10-15 minutes while older students may stay focused for longer periods.