How to help students become their own best advocates

Even in the best of times, it takes care and effort to engage kids in their learning process. Students do better when they’re able to make active choices about what and how they’re learning, set ambitious yet achievable goals, and get meaningful feedback from assessments that help them grow. All of these approaches require initiative and follow-through.

But how do we pull this off in the midst of a public health crisis that’s putting schools and families through a crash course in online learning? Every day, we’re learning new things about what students need from us at this time. With a mix of innovative methods and tried-and-true best practices, schools are making the most of a tough situation, helping students stay connected to their teachers, their peers, and their own learning.

Setting goals, staying connected

The virtual learning environment is one of isolation, but it doesn’t have to feel that way. One of the best ways to keep students feeling connected is to engage them in goal-setting conversations early and often. Setting realistic goals helps motivate students, gives them a feeling of ownership over their learning progress, and fosters pride. And it’s not just their academic progress that’s at stake: Research shows that when students are actively involved in their education, they see gains in self-confidence, resiliency, and accountability, among other life skills.

The keys to successful goal setting include:

  • Starting early. Even as early as kindergarten, kids like the feeling of working toward something. Meeting goals provides a sense of accomplishment and sets expectations for future grades.
  • Connecting goals to assessment results. A good assessment is more than a report card: It’s a snapshot in time that measures skills and illuminates specific areas for improvement, helping students set meaningful goals that are closely linked to academic performance.
  • Providing choice and a voice. Students are individuals, and research shows that their academic performance improves when they are treated accordingly. Through goal setting, students feel empowered to map out their own educational paths.
  • Getting families involved. Family members have a key role to play in students’ academic success—especially now. Seek out ways to make collaboration with families easier during remote learning.

In addition to these keys to goal-setting success, frequent check-ins are essential. By checking in with students at least once a week—or even daily—teachers can help them stay on task while identifying any issues that may hinder their progress.

Of course, checking in looks very different in the context of remote learning. But the same technologies that make remote learning possible can also be used to open channels of communication that keep teachers in close contact with students and their families. For example, teachers can:

  • Schedule weekly phone or Zoom calls so that students receive individualized attention and support in working toward their goals.
  • Send periodic emails to students (and their guardians) with personalized feedback and guidance.
  • Ask questions to understand each student’s home situation and needs. For example: How is your internet connection? Is your device reliable? Who’s around to provide support as a learning coach?

And given the reality of learning loss since the sudden interruption of school last spring, it’s a good idea to check in with families about how their kids were doing academically before the pandemic began. This information will provide important context for students’ assessment results and help teachers determine what kinds of resources and attention will benefit students most.

Focusing on the fundamentals

Now that the 2020–21 school year is underway, teachers are seeing the evidence of the learning loss mentioned above, as well as the “summer slide” in academic skills that occurs for many kids even in a typical year. To help students stay on track across the curriculum, check out these resources from NWEA:

Learn more

To learn more about the ideas in this blog, download our white paper, “Assessment data gives students choice and a voice.” You’ll pick up detailed strategies you can begin using today.

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