As the research piles up about how students learn and develop, we have a much better understanding today than we've ever had before about where public education should meet the unique needs of individual students. The term student-centered learning refers to a wide variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. The flexible online format at Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow allows for many students to get the personalized attention they need and deserve. To get a better understanding of how students and teachers connect and learn in the online environment, we caught up with a third grade math and science teacher from ECOT.
Lindsey Lindsay spent 11 years teaching in brick-and-mortar schools around the country – seven years in Florida, and the last four in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. When her family decided to move to Cincinnati after last year’s school season, with two young children, Mrs. Lindsay wanted to find a job that would allow a healthy balance between teaching and being a mom.
At the recommendation of several people – both teachers and students – who had good experiences, she applied for a position at ECOT.
As her first year at ECOT draws to a close, we chatted with Mrs. Lindsay to compare the online classroom with her experience teaching in brick-and-mortar settings.
Q: What has been your biggest surprise about teaching at an online school?
A: My biggest concern going into it was that I’ve always grown very attached to my students. My students are my ‘kids.’ They become part of your family, and I didn’t know if I’d have that same experience teaching online, where I wouldn’t physically see my students every day.
The biggest surprise has been just how much that is still true – how much of a connection you can feel with your students. We’re on webcams every day. We get on our microphones and talk about if we’re having a good start to our day. I’ve even been able to meet some of our students in person.
That connection with students is just as strong with students at ECOT as it was at brick-and-mortar schools.
I wasn’t really expecting that. It’s been an eye-opening experience to be in a different type of educational environment and see the benefits that come from a different way of learning.
Q: How does the format of online school help you be an effective teacher?
A: Hands down, one of the biggest benefits of being in ECOT is the small group instruction tailored to each child’s needs.
We, as teachers, are doing progress monitoring on a bi-weekly basis to make sure our students are getting instruction in the way that best suits their learning needs and different learning styles.
Whether it’s small groups within the normal teaching time, three levels of LIFT groups for extra help during breaks, or our “Homework Help” session that we offer several times a week, we are able to set up lots of small groups with the appropriate resources.
It’s fantastic because I can move kids in and out of LIFT groups depending on how they’re responding to the lesson each day. If I see them struggling or getting answers incorrect, I’m able to say, ‘Why don’t you join our group today so you can get some extra practice?’
What would have taken much more time and money in a brick-and-mortar school is possible to achieve on a daily basis in our ECOT classroom.
Q: How does technology help you assess each student’s needs?
A: You want to have physical data to be able to show progress. In brick-and-mortar, a lot of that falls on you as an individual teacher to track – to create worksheets or documents to track– whereas the programs at ECOT help tremendously with auto-generated data.
We use programs like Mangahigh and Study Island to automatically tell us if students have completed assignments, and monthly STAR assessments to see if they’re making progress overall and against specific standards. My teaching partner and I have a shared Google document that we update all day, so if I’m talking to a parent about math and they have a question about reading, it’s very easy for me to reference and share any of that information.
The access we have to technology as a constant tool in the classroom is so helpful. If we notice kids struggling with time management and going way too quickly through assessments, we’re able to have them share their screens with us. If we see they’re just clicking answers, we can say, ‘Slow down and think about the question.’ It’s neat to be able to see what they’re doing and be able to help them.
Q: What’s your favorite part about teaching at ECOT?
A: Definitely the collaboration with my team, our students and their families.
Helping our students achieve their learning goals is the most important thing to us as a team, and we’re able to work together with our students’ families to help them set appropriate, yet challenging, goals for learning.
The biggest advantage to the teamwork at ECOT is that you are together all the time online. You’d think that living on opposite sides of the state would make it more difficult for teachers to communicate, but it’s absolutely not. They might as well be sitting right next to me. We have our Moderator Chat on while we are teaching, so we’re constantly sharing with one another.
We’re in constant contact with parents, too. We take turns making check-in phone calls every week to see if there are any unspoken questions or concerns. It’s great because I’m able to work with the parents to recommend practicing at home. Sometimes we’ll even open a Collaborate session and go over lessons together with the student and their parents.
We do parent-teacher conferences once a quarter through Collaborate. We work with parents one-on-one to create specific plans to make sure students get all of their work done. It’s the same as any brick-and-mortar school; it just might be done in a slightly different setup. Instead of doing it physically face-to-face, it’s done through Collaborate, on webcams or over the phone.
Q: How does ECOT’s online format benefit your students?
A: One of the biggest benefits of ECOT is how many teachers we have whose job is specifically to tailor the instruction to kids who need something outside of the typical standards and expectations. It’s the job of myself and two other third grade teachers, outside of normal class time, to work with those students one-on-one or in very small groups so they can have the lessons presented to them in a way that they can understand.
In my ECOT classroom, there are 4 teachers who work with small intervention groups, in addition to the students’ normal class time, on a daily basis. Having that much support in a single classroom on a daily basis is a huge benefit to all of the students. It’s wonderful to be able to identify which group would benefit each of my students and to collaborate with the other teachers on providing those daily interventions. ECOT has an amazing staff, and everyone works together. It really is a wonderful learning environment for both the students and the staff members.
The other piece of it is that we live in a technology-based world that’s advancing every day. These kids are getting hands-on experience now that is going to pay off in dividends as they grow older.
It’s amazing to see how well the students work with any technology we offer them. They’re already learning how to communicate online as kids, gaining invaluable skills for their future careers.
Q: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about ECOT?
A: The biggest misconception I see is that kids who attend online school aren’t held to the same expectation as kids who are attending brick-and-mortar schools – which is absolutely not the case. There is more flexibility for students who attend online school, but we still have class every day. They still have homework assignments every day. There’s flexibility as far as when they can choose to complete that work, but they still have deadlines and they still have grades. It’s not just an opportunity to not go to school. They’re absolutely working hard to learn every day.