Practices for Success

Preparation | Teaching | Support | Curriculum | Summary

Support student learning

Quality school-based support is another critical practice for student success in online courses and programs. Depending on the program or use model, this person may be locally available to the student or accessible online. Various titles (mentor, learning assistant, student support specialist, academic advisor) are assigned to this person who plays an active part in helping the student set and achieve goals in their online course while facilitating the process with the online teacher.

Effective School-based Support Staff

  • Create relationships with students and parents—some who may feel displaced from the public school system.
  • Understand and advocate for the students in alternative learning situations. Are compassionate but hold students accountable.
  • Do not need to be content experts, but offer active facilitation by helping the student set goals and persist through course completion.
  • Competently use technology in multiple systems, possess organizational and efficiency skills, and keep accurate records.

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Preparing School-based Support Staff

  • Use provider resources related to start up and ongoing professional development.
  • Hold regular meetings for school-based support to coordinate with counselors or other roles such as nurses, community wrap-around services, etc.
  • Provide new support staff the opportunity to observe a synchronous web session with a student, a proctored test session, or other support practices to gain awareness of the role and expectations.

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Interaction and Intervention

Typically, support staff must stay in touch to keep a student engaged. Many make daily contact—weekly at a minimum.

  • In general, face-to-face or synchronous contact has more success, but support staff need to use whatever method works best for a student. Email is recognized as less effective than chat, text, or phone.
  • Most programs “build anchoring” by starting loose, then adding more interaction requirements as performance becomes a concern. The interaction could include requiring regularly scheduled check-ins or attending onsite lab sessions.
  • Interventions typically increase direct personal contact, and may include a student-mentor meeting to implement a work plan. Including parents is advised unless it is a situation where parent involvement is not beneficial. Effective interventions include: a new schedule, attendance at onsite sessions, or identifying a need for tutoring.

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Helping the Student find Extra Support

Students may need extra support or tutoring in the course subject matter. Students may also need tutoring in foundational skills for a course. Some tips:

  • Encourage a student to seek help from the teacher during office hours (onsite or virtual).
  • Encourage a student to attend lab sessions when tutors are present (onsite or virtual). The tutor may be a certificated teacher or recruited volunteer tutors: community members, college students, parents, or peers.
  • Show the student how to access online tutoring 24/7 (if it is an option for your students).
  • Provide information on using GEAR Up (if it is an option for your students).
  • Advise the student and family on the option of private tutoring according to your district’s practice (families would need to arrange this on their own).

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Support for K-8

Most school districts do not offer online courses for K-5. Online options for these grade levels are typically managed through a parent partnership program. Middle school use of online courses varies among school districts. Some focus on high school students. Others only offer online courses for middle school students who want to accelerate. There are school districts seeing growth in their local middle school programs. Registrations are carefully reviewed, and support for this group has a strong focus on working with parents on how they can better coach and motivate their students.

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Lessons Learned

  • Support plays an integral role for student success with online courses. Many students need ongoing support to stay engaged.
  • Students rarely respond to email and can be more successfully contacted by chat, text, or phone.

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Support Challenges and Strategies

Each listed challenge includes a brief statement on how it is dealt with in general.

  • Lack of response from the student. Administrators make sure each student has a mentor that is persistent, caring and solution-oriented to intervene and help get the student back on track.
  • High caseloads with students coming and going. Administrators provide resources for the support function as the budget allows.
  • Lack of understanding of the support role. Administrators invest time and resources in training support staff.
  • Dealing with multiple providers. Schools may decide to limit the number of providers they work with. Administrators hire organized and efficient support staff.
  • Getting proper help for a student. Support staff establish a network of contacts within the school and the community that can be called upon to work with students. Administrators assist with time and compensation for extra support.
  • Breaking a student’s cycle of failure. Support staff builds confidence back through guided practice and cognitive coaching.

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Innovative Approaches to Support

  • Seek staff for this role that have a demonstrated track record of success with students and technology.
  • Coach parents how to support their student. They may be uncomfortable with technology. They may need tips that may include how to coach good study habits, how to look for accurate signs of progress, or how and when to seek help.
  • Set short-term goals (1-2 days) and have the student demonstrate the results.
  • Work towards creating a “global online community” where students can seek help and exchange ideas freely with teachers, other students, college students, and professionals.
  • Keep the connection with students fresh by calling when an email is expected or making unannounced home visits.

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