Who Learns Best Online Learning High School

On November 11th, high school students were deployed to the Internet to learn – for FREE. And boys weren’t going to be left out.

When I was a kid, learning was a little more teacher-led. Some colleagues were summer students at the school that opened every summer in Barnum, the family’s personal school, but there was little contact between them and the teachers. Students would make a morning trip to the school and leave for the weekend to visit the next day, other times they’d be offered extended lessons.

Now I teach remedial reading and social studies in a school with two teachers and 16 sophomores and juniors. Three teachers teach English and social studies, and others take on foreign languages, computer lessons, and other subjects. I am responsible for curriculum.

But while this is a school with basically the same staff as in my former summer school experience, new technologies have changed how students learn. In the old days, if a student needed help in one subject, the teacher would ask him to stop in and help another class, then make plans to find tutors for that student. Those plans are now more like:

“Okay, OK. Go stay and work on writing instead. Then come back and finish that fifth-period math exercise.”

But then there is the web, where opportunities for supplemental help are endless. Offering lessons online lets teachers spend time on students, instead of outside of class. That means fewer decisions from teachers to students about what help is available.

Sophomores and juniors have access to video tutorials on almost every subject. Much of what is available, usually for a fee, seems to be available by clicking on the video link rather than an actual link to an expert who would offer free help. In general, we tend to make tentative plans to schedule a help-seeking session with many students in mid-term or semester, only to find that many of them aren’t interested in homework help.

This is true, too, of two other online learning options we have—the early high school that requires all students to take classes or take a home prep course; and the CIE High School, which gets students off school at age 13 and charges $18,000 for an eight-month summer boarding program.

I know people who feel that, because they don’t trust the info they get from teachers on the web, they’ll be well served by organizations like Piedmont K-12 or New Technical College. Parents worry that a single teacher could make a bad decision about what a child needs help with and that if schools let teachers use the internet they could be overruled in important decision-making. But rather than try to filter each and every user of information, what if schools could share information?

What about peer reviews? This would help explain why some school districts have moved in this direction. So I asked Julianne Sherwood, a board member of the CIE High School, and one of the founders of the program, about peer review for teachers and administrators. Sherwood confirmed my long-held theory: “Teachers and administrators should ask students and administrators if they’re receiving good advice.”

In fact, this has already happened at the CIE. Several teachers checked each other’s responses to implicit statements and explicitly stated that student tests were being taken in a way that supported what was being taught. According to Sherwood, “There was a direct correlation between what they taught and their tests.”

The new knowledge that some students have gained from watching instructional videos on the web and emailing each other about it has been an inspiration to the staff. Just getting kids off the gate means they can make more effective decisions, and help them make better decisions at home.

Perkinson is a writer for the Ellington Advocate and instructor at the Ellington Adult and Career Training Center. He blogs at iedllingtonmag.com.

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