Student stories come in all shapes and sizes. I haven’t taught an online course to students that was mandated for them to take. I’ve provided professional development via an online portal (Moodle) that was optional for teachers to take. Students are the product of their past and present. I’m not sure how much teaching in an online environment differs from a face to face, however, I do have some experience with student stories that are both uplifting and downtrodden.
Depending on each student's story you have to differentiate your approach to various situations, including late work and poor test performance. I can think of two specific students from past years that demonstrate how you need to adapt your approach. One we will call Summertime and the other George.
Summertime’s work quality, attendance, and behavior began to diminish near the end of December. When school resumed in January she wasn’t there. She didn’t return for three weeks. When she did she was extremely skinny, and even more inattentive towards school and class. We decided to give her more positive attention both during class, and when we saw her in the hallways. She eventually improved in both her physical appearance and school work. At the end of the school year she wrote me a letter. In the letter she explained that she had attempted suicide at the beginning of winter break. She thanked us teachers for helping her heal, and become fixed, due to the attention we gave her. George came from a broken family. His father, George, was (and probably still is) in jail for first degree murder. His two older brothers, both named George as well, dropped out of high school. To put it bluntly, he didn’t care. At all. He looked at school as “doing his time.” Personally, I think it was a way to have a connection with his father, both are “doing their time. We had to adapt our approach to him to interest, explain, and make what we were learning relevant to his home culture. He eventually earned a “D” from me, which was impressive because it’s the highest Social Studies grade he earned in his entire Middle School Career.
Access to the internet has been declared a human right by the UN (David 2011). Our society lives on the internet. Shopping, academics, socialization all can (and do) occur online. From ordering dinner to meeting your future spouse, the internet has become a staple of almost all facets of life. “In recent years, students increasingly communicate at school through their own wireless electronic devices such as cell phones, iPhones, and Blackberrys.” (Kermer & Sansom 2013). However, not all students have ubiquitous access to the internet. Many are dependent on school machines and networks to digitize their voices.
So how do we reach students with limited access in an online class? The answer can be as simple as making a detailed calendar for the class and then never deviating from it, so the students can plan ahead. We went on a more creative path in my former school district, in which we were 1:1 Chromebook in grades 6-12. In exchange for limited advertising rights, Verizon provided a mobile hot spot for students who are on free or reduced lunch to allow them internet access. This let us continue to enhance our classes with online materials and activities and not worry about students ability to access the internet.
The internet is a superb resource to help students explore their interests in more depth. One of my favorite youtube videos deals with students trying to get more information from a book. It is called, “Joe’s Non-Netbook” https://goo.gl/fLFXyu. I will embed the video into my weebly site www.mrohagan.com for all to see it, if you haven’t.
It is my firm belief that if we keep our eye on the ball and stay student centered, we can overcome any barrier to student learning in our classrooms. The key to reaching our students is to get to know them.
David, K. (2011, December 3). U.N. Report Declares Internet Access a Human Right. Retrieved July 11, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2011/06/internet-a-human-right/
Kemerer, F., & Sansom, P. (2013). California School Law Third Edition. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.