By Christy Ruth and Cassie Brusch
Today, many students are digital natives with early exposure to technology across multiple devices and platforms, but they are still developing important executive functioning skills. As we navigate our way out of the pandemic, most students have had a virtual learning experience unlike any generation before them. While there have been varied experiences with learning in virtual environments, it has become clear that we must move beyond just teaching students how to simply use, or operate, the technology. They must understand its value, its role, and how it influences their interaction with the world.
The following is one example of how MCIU’s Montgomery Virtual Program team is approaching the work in support of student success.
Why Top Tips?
Montgomery Virtual Program’s Top Tips for Student Success focus on simple, yet, essential digital skills that grow successful virtual learners. While initially designed as a collection of support for our special education learners, it became quickly apparent that the skills highlighted in the Top Tips were essential for all digital learners.
1: Set a Schedule
2: Create a Learning Space
3: Use the Supports
4: Take Pause
5: Successful Communication
Support exists within our platforms with opportunities to communicate with teachers and concept coaches through email, synchronous appointments, and chat, but many students need explicit instruction around the executive function skills needed to navigate these channels of support. The question became, “How can we grow virtual students who are comfortable advocating and communicating for themselves when they might need extra academic support?” Designed to be clear and quickly accessible for students, the Top Tips consist of linked platform demonstration videos that explicitly teach the students the necessary executive functioning skills to become independent and successful digital citizens.
Also built with learning coaches in mind, Top Tips seeks to empower learning coaches with skills and strategies to support their virtual learners. The learning coach is the adult that is present while the student is engaged in their virtual program. While more involved at the elementary level, all virtual students benefit from the structure and contributions an involved learning coach can provide. MVP asked the question, “What would a learning coach need to support their student in this environment?” In addition to downloadable resources such as schedules that learning coaches can use to help structure their student’s day and examples of how to design a learning space, the Top Tips highlight for learning coaches the importance of supporting the development of these skills in their students.
Considering the diversity of our learning population, accessibility of the Top Tips was important to MVP. Editing with the user experience in mind, the brevity and specificity of each video was a priority. Video creation and editing included adding closed captioning and visual enhancements in the form of directional arrow overlays. Following the creation of the Top Tips, they were translated into Spanish to provide our partner districts with a resource to support their Spanish-speaking community.
Understanding the need for multiple points of accessibility across different devices, the Top Tips were shared with families in a variety of ways such as periodic S’more newsletters, social media platforms, and through email. With an intentional rollout of each top tip, MVP was able to strategically use the resource to support the most pertinent needs of our learners throughout the semester. For example, Tip #1, Set a Schedule, was released supporting students (and learning coaches) in starting the year off with ideas to help schedule their asynchronous time. With the conclusion of the first semester, it became apparent a focus on social-emotional health was needed, resulting in the release of Tip #4, Take a Pause, containing mindfulness and brain break resources.
The MVP Team’s vision is that all students complete our program having developed the essential executive functioning skills to self-advocate and successfully navigate the ever-changing digital landscape.
While simple and easily accessible, MVP’s Top Tips for Student Success empowers our students as digital citizens with the tools necessary to succeed as virtual learners.
Montgomery Virtual Program works in partnership with districts and schools throughout Pennsylvania to provide online learning opportunities for their students. MVP enrollment consists of students in grades K-12 learning virtually, year-round through a variety of program options including full-time, part-time, credit recovery, course advancement, summer school, homebound, AP, and dual enrollment.
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