Fortunately, there is a lot of interactive software available that allows me to view what students are doing in real time and provide visual elements to their curriculum. However, I’ve found that even once students are comfortable using the technology, I still face the task of keeping them entertained and motivated. Young learners are big on achievement, so I started researching apps and games that have varying levels of achievement or offer other reward systems that help them concentrate and build confidence. Students of any age have to view working on the computer as a positive element of their education.
When working on a tight budget (like I do), utilizing cost-effective technology is a must. Skype and Google Hangouts have their technical difficulties, but they are both free and easy to use. Originally meant for business, Join.Me is free and great for keeping track of a student’s computer screen. And YouTube provides great one-way communication for circumstances when my students and I can’t meet in real time. In fact, I can sign up a whole classroom of kids in different places and keep track of who watched what by looking at the View Counter on my private YouTube channel. Google Docs allows me to see what my students are writing in real time, and I can loop parents in when necessary, and Self Control cuts out social media so students can concentrate.
Building Rapport and Developing Maturity
Building a positive relationship between online teacher and student is important to overall success. Although instructional minutes are important, it's also essential that a student and teacher develop a good rapport so they can engage in conversations as they would in a traditional classroom environment. If students feel that the person on the computer is “real,” they are more likely to follow directions and take advice.
Although traditional study tactics can work well with older students, if I ask young kids a closed-ended question, I find they're not fully participating in the session. They start looking around the room or disconnect mentally from the session. Instead, I try to encourage them to figure out the best way to use the technology based on their independent learning habits. They need to play an active role in their sessions, whether it’s something as simple as rearranging their work spaces, or something more complicated like researching new apps or finding information that will help them learn proactively. Many young students are great with technology and can actually show me ways to make our sessions more effective.
One of the most common pitfalls when working with elementary school kids online is their ability to deflect away from the task at hand. They know that their teacher isn't actually in the room with them, so they look for ways to avoid completing tasks. In many cases, students spend more energy stalling than they would have if they jumped right into the assignment. For me, managing a one-on-one session is a lot more challenging online unless the student has developed the maturity to be a self starter.
When working with a high school student, I can get by talking to a parent on the phone once a week — after a regular schedule and set of goals are determined. College prep students should transition to independence at this point anyway. But while a 16-year-old can reasonably concentrate during an online SAT session, a third grader is more likely to leave the session or avoid paying attention to my instructions. When working with younger kids, a parent (or any other responsible adult) can help them get situated and check in periodically during the lesson.
Nevertheless, even with educators and parents working together, patience and practice are both key elements to making online supplemental education work — for students of any age.