How Can Students Self-Advocate in Online Learning?

A student doing her homework

Shifting students’ classes from a physical setting to online has led to a drastic shift in learning demands of students.

We see many excellent examples of teachers who have taken steps to innovate and stay determined to overcome the challenges of online learning. But some hurdles remain. The most prominent of those is the instructor’s limited ability to assess a student’s level of understanding of a concept.

When teaching in a classroom setting, teachers can get a sense of their students’ understanding through their body language, facial expression, and how well they perform in different tasks. As a result, they’re able to re-teach, speed up, or pivot their focus on a concept depending on how well or poorly the class responds to formative questions and activities. However, in online learning, an instructor’s ability to catch non-verbal cues is lost or impaired.

Fortunately, teachers have discovered fun and effective ways to collect student’s feedback, like using a chat waterfall. But that’s only the first half of the equation. The second half entails teachers empowering students with self advocacy skills.

A student taking online class

Teach Self-Awareness

There will always be a knowledge gap. This especially holds true in online learning. Some students exert a lot of cognitive effort to stay focused in online classes despite distracting home environments. As a result, they don’t always pay attention to their comprehension.

When they sit down to complete their homework, they find that there are a lot of misunderstandings that still need clarification. Therefore, leveraging a student’s metacognition is the first step teachers can take to teach self-advocacy to students. Simply put, metacognition is assessing your own understanding and performance.

Students can learn metacognition via activities like stop-and-jot, think-aloud, and pair sharing. Teachers can help accelerate these activities by asking questions about the students’ thought process. For instance, instead of asking, “What is your prediction about the story’s end?” teachers can ask, “What cue is your brain picking to help you think about the ending?” Teachers can also ask students to explain and visualize their thought process instead of asking a simple question like, “Any further questions?”

Another facet of empowering self-awareness is helping students physically manifest the confusions that they’re facing in their body before realizing it through their mind. This includes learning about usual indicators of confusion and frustration like sweat, increased heart rate, and tension in the body. Then, teachers can empower the students to identify these feelings in their bodies and take a break to think about what’s causing those feelings of frustration. This kind of self-awareness can help students recognize that they may need help before they start feeling overwhelmed.

A student taking an online class

Promotion of Self-Advocacy

As teachers can’t easily recognize a student’s need for help, they must teach them how and when to ask for help. When kids learn to self-advocate, they assuage the anxiety and cognitive load that can plague their developing or new skills.

Here’s how teachers can empower and teach students to seek help:

In live class sessions:

  • Provide students with verbal frames to ask questions like, “Excuse me, Mr. David. I don’t get this point.”
  • Clarify when it’s not and is OK for a student to interrupt the class with a question. If you encourage students to ask questions whenever they need, you must tell them periodically.

Via email or after class:

  • Provide students with some sentence frames to ask for help.
  • Teach students how they can address the teacher in an email.
  • Focus on specificity by helping students point out the exact issue they had understanding a concept.

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Alt text: A student writing an email to his teacher

Treating Students’ Questions as a Gift

Just like in a physical classroom, when a teacher detects a pattern in students’ way of asking for help – for instance, when everyone asks the same specific math question – they should realize that they need to re-teach the concept. This may be an added task, but teachers must challenge themselves to reframe their explanations.

Another way teachers can treat students’ queries as a gift is to differentiate between process questions and content.

If a student needs clarity on a concept, it means that they require more support in understanding the content.

If the students need to know how they can submit their responses on an online portal, it’s a process need.

Making sense of the nuances of what the students need can help teachers address the assignment via email clarifications or quick re-teach, and facilitate them in adjusting their future plans of teaching a lesson.

A student doing her homework

Encouraging Students to Ask for Help

If you have a student who is self-aware and brave enough to ask for your help via email, present them as an example and encourage other students to do the same. You can begin your email with phrases like “That’s a brilliant question!” and end your email with “You did a great job asking this.” This will encourage students to ask more questions and instill confidence in them for seeking help.

Another effective way to ensure that students practice self-advocacy is to offer bonus points and live praise. When students see that their peers are getting positive feedback and reassurance on asking for help, the students who shy away from speaking up will be encouraged to speak and practice self-advocacy to garner bonus points.

The Best Online School for Children

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