Key Takeaways from Remote Learning: Poudre

Ninth Grade Success | 06/22/2020

Judith Martinez
Director of Colorado Center for High School Success

In the last of our three-part series, we talk with Ninth Grade Success leaders from Poudre High School.  We will hear from Erin Gilbert, MTSS Coordinator and ninth grade success team lead and Cassie Poncelow, M. Ed., Freshmen Transition Counselor. We discussed actions taken as school buildings closed and classes suddenly transitioned to distance learning.  There was an immediate need to ensure that their students had the equipment and access to the internet.  They shared how vans with hotspots were deployed to neighborhoods without access - check out details on how they did this.  It was also encouraging to hear about the progress Poudre High School made during the period of distance learning. Erin highlighted the work of their ninth and tenth grade Pathways teams and shared results - 128 of the 9th and 10th grade students who were failing courses at the end of the third quarter raised one or more grades to passing!!  This is big news, because course failure is highly correlated with dropping out. Research shows 70-80 percent of all students who fail 9th grade will not graduate from high school.

To reach students and engage them in their courses, Erin and Cassie share some terrific ideas that will be of value as educators plan for next fall. You can see our previous blogs here and here.

What activities were successful in reaching students who didn’t initially engage in distance learning, but you were able to find them and re-engage them? 

These activities and practices led to more engagement:

  • Reflection assignments
  • Assigning more creative/fun assignments led to more engagement.
  • Projects and experiments that students create at home and share via photo or video
  • Question of the Day activity- not for grade and not related to content; helped students stay engaged by responding and commenting to each other.

Making personalized connections made a difference.  Examples:

  • Sending Birthday cards to students
  • Sending reminders of  “on-track” (counseling video) and info about summer school
  • Helping students plan and schedule work time and to-do lists (teacher/counselor templates available)
  • Working with students 1:1 to make a plan and prioritize assignments.
  • Meetings with student, counselor, and teacher (also meetings including parents and case managers)
  • Special deliveries (like care packages and senior signs) to student homes
  • Sending non-school/grade focused email to check-in and ask how the student is doing emotionally, etc. Using that as an entry point to discuss school, grades, assignments. (Focus on relationship first)

Special attention to multi-method communication was important:

  • Emails from teachers addressing specific student needs, assignments, and course requirements and cc’ing parents on emails to students
  • Emails from support staff (MTSS and counselors) to follow up and encourage participation
  • Using platforms other than email to communicate, like regularly scheduled meet times (Google or Teams)
  • Using Google created phone number to text students (reminders or ask for student to name one specific task)
  • Additional phone calls and check-in’s from counselors

 What were the most common challenges voiced by students and families?

  • Lack of internet (or spotty/weak connection)
  • Parents struggled with helping their students with academics and navigating teacher’s individual styles and structures.  Examples:
    • There were multiple online platforms to figure out (the use of multiple platforms was meant to support teacher choice, but resulted in student/family confusion)
    • Variation in recording grades (missing vs. Zeroes vs. blank). At times, parents struggled to understand grading differences between teachers

If distance learning continues next year or re-starts with a second wave of the pandemic, what advice do you have to ensure that off-track students are engaged in school? What have we learned from the past two months?

Here are things to consider:

  • Focusing on the “learning” that is taking place- letting go of traditional ways we hold students accountable (due dates, on-task, behavior, etc). Can students show they understand content without “checking off” teacher identified criteria?
  • Standardization of class structure and teacher systems
  • How to be an ‘online teacher’- learning from best practices from those who have done online learning prior to this
  • Research and study models of online learning

Here are examples of specific practices and strategies:

  • Students need to learn and practice email etiquette - Teachers need to reinforce through consistency and high expectations.
  • Opportunities for group or collaborative work, even if it is online. Students miss interactions with peers and this could draw them in and increase engagement.
  • Engaging students in peer feedback, using rubrics, to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction (could be in response to group projects, discussions, or individual work)
  • Exit tickets for Google Meets (can be used to show attendance at a meet or as a replacement activity is a student didn’t attend a meet)
  • Each teacher taking on small groups of students needing additional support to provide extra targeted support.

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