Moving in the Right Direction [Guest Blog Post by EdPlus]
When I first began working at a start-up cyber charter school, I had so many questions about what my day would look like and what my students’ day would look like. What I have found is that after two years, our school is still molding the answers to those questions. Our school design is one that meets students’ individual needs and learning style, leading to the many wonderful strengths and opportunities of our program, but with that come many challenges. It is not easy to develop a sound blended learning model that works for students’ needs. Education Elements’ summer design workshop and continuing support this year has greatly helped us move our model forward to support these needs. From choosing the appropriate platform menu to ideal weekly scheduling, these exciting challenges will continue to take shape as we dive deeper into our students’ needs.
One of the biggest challenges we have begun to tackle this year is small group instruction. With students attending learning centers across Pennsylvania or working solely in their home environment, small group instruction becomes a challenge when most of the work students are doing is online through our platforms. Small group instruction is a vital piece to the success of our program but to do that piece effectively requires a very thoughtful and clear process. Providing our learning coaches with the knowledge and skills to access data within each digital content for each student, organize that data into meaningful groups for instruction, and then execute those groups with the appropriate resources, takes a great deal of time and training.
Our first step in tackling this challenge was to ensure that our learning coaches are comfortable with the digital content and accessing the data they provide. With multiple platforms to manage, this can be difficult for some. Consistency in products from year to year so learning coaches do not have to spend time learning several new platforms each year will help to ease this challenge.
Our second challenge was helping learning coaches organize the data to create sensible groups for reading and math skills. Some digital content provides very detailed and useful information on students, others do not. Learning coaches have to rely on this information to determine what a student needs more assistance in since they do not have the traditional interactions other teachers have with their students to determine strengths and weaknesses. This is an ongoing training need for our new teachers this year.
Scheduling and executing these groups becomes our last challenge. As a cyber charter school, students do not have to attend learning centers. Learning coaches communicate often with parents to let them know when tutoring is available for their students, but consistency is an issue at many of our centers. Online tutoring is available, but our students benefit most from that face-to-face interaction and reinforcement. This challenge will never subside, but we can continue to communicate and emphasize with parents the importance of these small group sessions.
As my school approaches the second half of its third year, there is still plenty of work to be done but we are moving in the right direction to provide our students with a unique and personalized learning experience. We are looking forward to solving these challenges and finding new ones as we fine tune our model to make it work for our students.