By Jay Hall
In the past week I spoke with parents in WNY and throughout America regarding e-learning platforms. Their feedback proved that many different platforms, from Google Classroom to Schoology, are currently used by districts to educate their students from a distance. Different districts and schools use different e-learning platforms because educational leaders and classroom teachers are future minded. They seek novel and useful learning tools and the best new ways to incorporate modern 21st century technologies in the classroom, not to take over the class for the teacher, but to supplement learning and streamline classroom processes like taking attendance, researching, innovation, student assessment and grading.
Although e-learning platforms are helping, they can be challenging, especially for parents. Teachers receive professional development and training from certified, NYSED approved facilitators. They turn that training around to their students. Then, together they design, build, and facilitate e-learning communities. America’s teachers and students are ready to roll with new e-learning. Many parents are not.
We can fix that. Let’s get started. Let’s keep going!
This week is a big week in WNY for students, parents and teachers. Most districts are rolling out what they call “new learning” which translates to a new set of activities and assignments to complete at home and online in a specific e-learning platform. As my daughter’s amazing teacher in the Ken-Ton school district stated in his parent email, “We can no longer wait…we must start addressing new learning.” He went on to define the district’s definition of new learning as the “new expectations of students moving forward in all areas of study as well as specials” and added that new learning will be “taught for math and language arts through programs designed to teach electronically.” The Ken-Ton team has done an absolutely amazing job of organizing their new learning approach. As in Ken-Ton, school administrators and teachers across WNY are sending very similar correspondences as the one quoted above. This means that new learning has arrived here in WNY. And, the most important parts of it will be delivered through e-learning platforms.
As a teacher coach I have spent the past five years coaching teachers, and having them coach me, about all the fabulous things we can do in the classroom to get students up and out of their seats, face to face, to work in small groups on things like projects, skits, and presentations. Now, looking into the future, we are going to have to change the way we envision what we call collaborative student engagement protocols, especially when it comes to e-learning. And, we do not have any time to waste. Our children will be engaging in their new e-learning this week, starting Monday, and they will be expected to collaborate every day with their classmates.
Since WNY educators are working diligently to make these platforms as engaging as possible, WNY parents can help by preparing our children for this upcoming new learning phase, especially when it comes to collaboration. I have some ideas about how we can do this, which I will get to shortly, but first I’d like to share with my WNY parent friends something about education that we call 21st Century Skills. These are learning skills that include the four Cs, i.e. collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. In our world, the New York State Teaching Standards describe effective teacher practices while the NYSUT Teacher Practice Rubric reveals even broader state standards in very specific and focused terms. In terms of the teaching of 21st Century Skills, a classroom teacher is rated as highly effective in New York State if he or she “plans on-going opportunities for students to engage in…collaborative critical thinking and problem solving that align with 21st Century Skills” and “provides regular opportunities to…engage students in 21st Century Skills” that help students “initiate collaborative, problem solving opportunities and ensure that all voices and ideas are heard.” Many of my WNY teacher friends are rated highly effective in this area because many were guiding daily instruction using the four Cs. But how might the first C, collaboration, look in an e-learning platform where it will not be possible to collaborate in person? If mostly all experts agree that the purest and most effective form of collaboration exists in a human based, close-knit, face to face environment, how are we going to practice valuable, human based collaboration in the new e-learning platform world? I think I may be able to help.
Below are the Awesome Collaboration 7 tips for success in e-learning platforms. These seven tips will help your student at home become an awesome collaborator when it comes to e-learning, not just a student who merely logs on and is a passenger for the ride. These tips will prompt your student to be an active member of the classroom crew, or even a captain on the journey. They will automatically boost your student’s ability to display flexibility and willingness to accomplish team goals, share responsibility for classroom project work, and value individual contributions made by the teacher and classmates during e-learning pursuits. If e-learning is here to stay, awesome e-collaborators are going to be steering the ship. With your help, it will be your student!
The Awesome Collaboration 7:
- Establish a purpose driven environment.
Model as much as possible. If the opportunity exists, let your student watch you work and collaborate with your colleagues online. While doing so, model steps 2-7 below so that you are able to refer to specific examples. Show your student current collaborative projects and inform that practicing tech literacy and e-collaboration skills will come in handy, not only in their current class, but also in the future in both school and life, especially now in our new form of e-learning and education. Say things like, “You’re going to take online courses in college. This will be excellent practice!” or “The better I become at collaboration with my co-workers, the more responsibility my boss is going to give me.”
- Be ready to roll.
Collaboration works a lot better when people are ready to collaborate. Ensure that your student is up early, properly dressed, has eaten breakfast or lunch and is ready to roll before e-learning sessions begin. Establish an uncluttered, somewhat private, and quiet learning area with a plug close by for a power charger. If anything, provide a water-based beverage or a small snack during the class, but be careful of spilling and making loud noises with wrappers. Also, practice beforehand any tech skills that will be needed for e-learning, such as mouse skills, keyboarding functions, etc. If possible, run software programs beforehand to ensure they work. Send test messages or practice invites. And, most importantly, do your best to ensure that your student has completed all assignments before going into the online class. If the work is not done, collaboration may become impossible.
- Know course commitment requirements and learning objectives.
Some teachers and school districts are very specific about the amount of collaboration necessary for success in the course. For instance, my daughter’s teacher, in his email, wrote that students would have a series of “buckets” of work to complete and they are to follow “general time buckets for each area of study and what exactly students should do in that bucket” and that it is “imperative that students follow these time buckets and compete assignments.” Look for language like this in emails and any correspondence from school or your student’s classroom teacher. If it is unclear what is expected in terms of time on task and learning outcomes, send a message or email to the teacher seeking the specific information you will need to promote success at home.
- Ask questions, frequently.
All e-learning platforms come with chat options or message boards and all teachers go out of their way to collaborate with and provide contact info to students and parents. If you or your student do not know what is required regarding collaboration, time on task, learning outcomes, or anything mentioned herein, ask the teacher. Teachers are out there waiting to help. The more you understand as a parent, the better the e-learning experience will be for your child, the teacher, and the entire class. Ask questions and keep asking until you are absolutely clear on how to best support your student, especially when it comes to collaboration.
- Boost the conversation.
Inspire high collaboration and activity! Make a small poster for your child’s e-learning area that reads, “Comment! Reply! Repeat!” Insist that your student is making comments to other classmates, replying to other classmates’ comments, and repeating the process a few times each session or as required by the teacher. This is your student’s opportunity to lead the way! One well-written comment can inspire an entire classroom conversation, so prompt your student to shoot for quality over quantity, but comment and reply often.
- Observe and monitor participation.
Is your student applying sound time management skills? Are collaborative assignments completed? Is your student using grammatically correct, appropriate writing and language to collaborate? Are his or her classmates using appropriate language to collaborate with your student? Does your student sufficiently participate and collaborate at the rate of proficiency determined by the class teacher and course objectives? You don’t have to look over your student’s shoulder to observe and monitor their work. Ask your student’s teacher, “What are all the ways that I might be able to observe and monitor my child’s production and collaboration in your class?” I’m sure their answer will be very helpful and allow you to observe and monitor quite easily without disrupting your student or their new e-learning environment.
- Celebrate success and inspire persistence.
Try capturing screenshots of completed work and great collaboration comments made by your student during e-learning. Print out the screenshots and hang them on the fridge. Build a “Keep going!” mindset and award persistence. Provide timely feedback and remember to be kind, specific, and helpful in doing so. Saying to your child, “Great job!” is nowhere near as impactful as saying something like, “You did a great job collaborating on that project because you listened to your teammates, specifically about redoing that section of the report, and the report turned out even more amazing. Use the same strategies next time with your new group so you can keep doing such an awesome job collaborating on these projects!”
Let’s go WNY! Start using the Awesome Collaboration 7 tips! I guarantee the e-learning experience in your home will be much better and this will naturally benefit the learning community that includes you, your student, the teacher and the entire class.
I even included my newest Awesome Collaboration 7 anchor chart below for use at home!
As always, I’m here to help. Let me know how it goes. Please email questions or comments about these tips, or anything else I have shared on WKBW Channel 7, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Awesome Collaboration 7 anchor chart: