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HomeLearning DifficultiesLearning Disabilities & ADHDManaging ADHD

Online classes: A choice for your middle or high schooler?

Page 3 of 4

By Kay Johnson , Linda Broatch, M.A.

What are teachers' qualifications, and how do they interact with students?

Teaching is an interactive process. Or, as Rick Perkins, Instructional Leader at FLVS puts it: "Curriculum doesn't teach itself. Students still need the guidance of an instructor." In high-quality online schools teacher-directed instruction plays an important role. Regular student-teacher and parent-teacher check-ins are required, and students can contact teachers as needed. Timeliness of teacher response to students is also important. The rule of thumb at FLVS, Perkins says, is to return assignments within 48 hours and to respond to questions within 24 hours.

This one-on-one relationship with a teacher has potential benefits for kids with learning difficulties. "Sometimes in a regular classroom," says Kay Johnson, "those quiet students are the ones who have learning difficulties, and regular contact can bring those to a teacher's awareness." Individualization of instruction is also possible. "It's often said that every student has a front row seat in online learning," Johnson says, "and it's true; teachers can individualize instruction in ways that just aren't possible in a classroom of 30 students."

"We're essentially teaching for mastery," she adds. "That includes repetition of important content; many instructional approaches for learning the same material; hands-on learning; immediate feedback on errors, and other methods that may benefit students with learning difficulties."

Here are some suggested questions to ask about teacher qualifications and teaching approach:

  • Are teachers credentialed?
  • Are they highly qualified to teach their academic subject(s)?
  • Are there teachers on staff with special education credentials?
  • How many students is each teacher responsible for?
  • How much of the instruction will be teacher-directed?
  • How much of the instruction will involve a group of students?
  • How much and what kind of contact will a student have with the teacher?
  • How quickly will the teacher get back to my child if he has questions or gets stuck on an assignment?
  • How will my child's learning be evaluated?
  • Will the evaluation include mastery in real-world applications?

What are the courses like? Will my child work all alone?

To assess the quality of an online course, it's important to look beyond the "whistles and bells" of the website to the substance, organization, and basic presentation of content. "Coursework should be fun and engaging," says Rick Perkins, "but be sure the 'gee whiz' factor doesn't overshadow everything. Content should be challenging, dynamic, clean, and visually organized. And look for assignments that get kids away from the computer."

As is the case in traditional schools, a student's online learning will often benefit from interaction with other students. Hearing and responding to other students' questions, ideas, and opinions can enrich a child's understanding of the topic of study. "The online learning experience shouldn't limit a student's interactions or ability to work with others," says Rick Perkins. "In fact, it should enhance them."

What about practical and financial concerns?

It doesn't matter how good an online school is if it's not compatible with your family's schedule, technical capabilities, and budget. Look for maximum flexibility and choices in any program you're considering for your child.

Scheduling

  • Does the school operate year-round?
  • Can students begin courses at any time of the year?
  • How long does a student have to complete a course?
  • What if my child gets sick or we go on vacation?

Cost

  • How much does each course cost?
  • Does that figure include everything my child will need to complete the course?

Technical

  • What kind of computer and other equipment will we need?
  • Can you tell me if and how your program will work with my child's assistive technology tools?
  • What computer skills are required of my child?
  • What computer skills are required of parents?
  • Do you provide technical support?
  • What is the response time for technical questions?

Since most online schools are for-profit enterprises, and since their regulation varies from state to state, parents should view the decision to secure online academic courses for their child from both an educational and a consumer perspective. Taking time to ask key questions can result in an educational experience that benefits your child and your family.

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/6/2012:
"i really want to take online courses but my mom refuses to let me. She won't take anything to homeschool me either. She said schools are for teaching. Doesn't she realize it says homeSCHOOL. I'd much rather be homeschooled or take online classes then go to an actual school. Do you know of anyways I can convince her? "
11/2/2011:
"I always had my doubts about online courses, but this changed ever since my daughter learned touch typing online (typekids.com). "
10/26/2011:
"im a middle schooler how much does online classes cost for me im in 8th grade "
05/16/2011:
"My son has taken, in addition to school classes, via BYU, he gets HS credits, college credits and enjoys them very much. He just finished PSYchology 101 made a B and not easy classes. He will have his AS in 12 grade. Cost around 180.00 bell worth it. We love it, it allows him to skip HS classes and take more."
12/7/2009:
"As a child with a high IQ and ADD I move at a strange pace, very different from what most teachers have the patiance for. Not only that, but kids often bully me, tease me, and are very racist. Online schooling is perfect for me, and many others who are not comfortable with the way regular schools are. My parents are against it because they want me to socialize, but they do not understand that I need this. "
11/9/2009:
"I really wish my mother would let me do this, but I think I would miss my friends to much. Although, this is better than attending regular classes. I keep falling asleep , and that makes me fail. This is a better advantage."
11/2/2009:
"I have been having trooble in school with the kids, teachers and my principle saying i need ais i told my mom that me being 7th grade i could do this. thankyou for the extra information so maybe my mom would let me try. :) wish me luck!"
07/23/2009:
"I'm really interested with this online classes. I'm trying to find other ways to help my son with his learning disabilities he has ADHD. He is entering High School and he is struggling in all subjects and he is at a very low grade level. As a parent I'm trying to find out ways to help him get to that higher grade levels that he needs to be at. To be honest I just don't feel that the schools system here has the classrooms and teachers to teach and help our children with learning disabilities and are struggling because they are put in regular classes, but get pulled out for certain subjects that they need help with in a recource center. I am at my wits end and feel like I have no faith in the school system and I'm just ready to home school my son."
04/15/2009:
"if this helps my chikld youd be my hero"
03/12/2009:
"hi my daughter wants to take classes online next year can she do that?"
02/5/2009:
"im not in school so im trying to get back in school but i want to to take classes online instead and i hope i can do good cause im really not that smart at all but ima do my best to learn everything and get smart."
09/17/2008:
"thats seems really good to learn. How to speak and write and other stuff...about different types of writting level"
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