While many people know whether or not their child is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, I wonder how many know by which Myers-Briggs’ personality type their child most closely operates? Is your child (or student) an introvert or extrovert (and to what extreme)? Is he big picture focused or detail-oriented? Is she a thinker or a feeler? Does he judge or perceive? And, does any of this matter in terms of whether or not a particular child is a good fit for online schooling? In addition to personality, to what degree does organization, maturity, and self-discipline play a role in a student’s success in online-schooling? How much is the supervisor’s responsibility in keeping a student on task? Parents, online school graduates, education consultants, and school leaders share their insights and experiences in six major areas affecting students in online education.
Motivation, Independence, and Technology:
My sons have all been hi-tech, fairly-independent workers, and most of the time motivated to get their work done. If they had a course that was not in their area of interest, the grades might have gone down or the work delayed longer than usual to complete. The most challenging area of discipline for them, I think, came in not being tempted to do other things on their computer. If they were researching something for an assignment, I had to give them a time limit or they would wander over to something more interesting to read online. If I turned off chat and internet capabilities, then they would compose emails offline, or stories, or poetry. Because online school is done independently and not in a live group setting with a teacher leading/directing the class, students’ minds can easily get off track. Not necessarily on unhealthy things, but not what they are supposed to be accomplishing.
“I think kids who are self-motivated and independent do best with online school. Parental involvement could be kept to a reasonable level. Also, some students may do fine in some online classes and not others. For example, if a child generally doesn’t do well in math, an online course in math could be very frustrating, as there is no teacher to repeatedly go over things face to face.”—Chris, a mom of NorthStar graduates
“I think that online classes have been a very good experience for our daughter because she loves to work on the computer and she is very technologically savvy and a good independent learner. The online courses she has taken often have assignments in which she has had to use her creativity in computer graphics, which she loves. Online courses would probably be best for a student who is already disciplined with their studies and who likes to spend time on the computer. These courses help equip the student with a better understanding of computer technology which plays such an important role in everyday life nowadays.” –Christine, mom of a NorthStar and Sevenstar student
NorthStar’s website offers an extensive list of what type of student is successful in the online-distance environment. The first three things on their list include 1) the ability to work independently, 2) not needing much adult supervision, and 3) not needing a great degree of social interaction.
Organization and Deadlines:
My personal experience with three children who have used online schools is quite similar in this regard to another mom who says: “I think it would be helpful if online schools used deadlines like a normal school does. I think a great deal of problems could be alleviated if there were deadlines. All my kids have done well in “regular” school, but struggled in online school. Grade wise they ended up doing okay, but what it took to get there was frustrating.” — Chris, a mom of NorthStar graduates
“Personality type plays a BIG role in success in online courses. Both of my children are P’s (perceivers) on the Myers Briggs indicator, which contributes greatly to their contentment living overseas; however, it is frustrating for the parent at the end of the semester, when they haven’t had real deadlines until the very end. We were usually standing over them at midnight of the last possible submission date, making sure they completed everything. This year they are attending a public US high school, and both have expressed preference for the short term deadlines given by their teachers and the freedoms felt after the assignments are turned in on time.” –Carol, mom of NorthStar students
“Families with good discipline and structure in the home seem to do better. Organization, maturity and self-discipline are huge in whether or not a student can ‘succeed’. The parents have to stay on top of things and help the kids stay caught up. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, ‘If you fall behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up.’ So, the parents need to be organized as well. In one instance a family had very limited discipline over the child, so when he started struggling and falling behind they let him quit and viewed it as the curriculum’s fault that he didn’t succeed, not his (or theirs).” –Patti, an education consultant
“NorthStar works best with a typical firstborn child…one who is organized, disciplined, and self-motivated. That has been our experience at least. And, floating deadlines are a two-edged sword. We have needed them for times of illness, visa runs or when our unreliable internet has become completely out of order for days on end. However, it is extremely stressful for a student to feel behind for months of a given school year should they need that flexibility. Morale about school gets pretty low around here when they are not on the current week. Also, if you happen to have a perfectionist in the house, that student can fall behind simply because they have the option to over study for a test, even if their grade in the class is 100% going into it. I’ve had to tell my student, ‘You ARE taking that test today!’” –Stacey, mom/supervisor
I, too, have a perfectionist in my house and have experienced the very same thing. I actually had to make him turn things in unfinished (for a bad grade) to help him learn better time management. 100% is great if you can achieve that grade AND get the work done on time. In college and in the work world there are deadlines. If you work at a sandwich shop and build the perfect sub-sandwich yet it takes you an hour to put it together, then you will have no customers! Reality check!
“There are a variety of levels of parental involvement in schooling, time spent with the kids, assisting with assignments, explaining difficult subjects or assignments, helping with projects, homework etc. It might be helpful for parents to consider their preferred level of involvement and which curricula work well with that level of involvement when making curriculum decisions.” –Robert (father of students who have attended NorthStar and The Potter’s School)
Here is what the director of NorthStar says: “Our program is not a turn-key solution to education. Parents or an adult supervisor must be involved with the students’ learning process to provide accountability and encouragement.” Please see their website for an explanation of the type and level of parental involvement expected.
The differences between online schools do not make one necessarily better than the other; it often just means a different approach, which can be a good thing. Parents should consider their child’s needs and personality as well as consider their needs as a family. Look at all the requirements for receiving a diploma from a particular school and make sure that you are in step with those requirements. Most online schools allow a student to transfer in a certain number of courses, as long as those courses come from an accredited school.
Here is what one mom says about two online schools: “Our daughter has taken online courses with two different schools, NorthStar and Sevenstar. Both of those particular schools have a different approach to their courses and there are differences in the way the student learns, but both have proven to be good options for her. The classes with Sevenstar do not use any textbooks, but some classes require a book or two to be purchased. Most of the course materials are found on recommended websites or are available through the school’s own online lessons. We have had a very positive experience with online courses.” –Christine
“Online schools that actually meet in an online, real time classroom with the teacher are rather different from NorthStar. The Potter’s School is one of them. It might work well for students who wouldn’t do well with NorthStar. There probably need to be different categories of online schooling for parents to make a good decision. TPS is really not at all like NorthStar or Sevenstar so it’s tough to compare them.” –Robert (father of students who have attended NorthStar and The Potter’s School)
There are challenges with real time classes, too: the time of day the course is offered is one of those challenges, as is the lack of flexibility some families need. Real time classes do address two issues faced by students in other types of online programs. Real time classes allow actually being able to interact with the students and teacher in a live setting. They also require you to keep to a schedule.
Full load v. Partial load and Heavy v. Light:
Some students cannot handle the intensity of a full load of online classes and prefer to take just a few online courses and take the balance of courses in another format. For example, some students take a DVD correspondence course from an accredited program, and then transfer it to the online school. Others take courses through NorthStar’s home school program. Christine likes the aspect of having teachers other than herself do the grading and give the feedback. She also says, “Some online classes allow the student to work at a normal or advanced pace so it is nice to have that option for a student who is more motivated.”
Our family has found this to be true for more than just some of the classes. Many online classes tend to be geared toward the advanced student. It can be challenging to find “light” classes to balance with the intense ones. Even a course such as PE can become an intense course because of the amount of reading and reporting one has to complete to show that he has completed the workouts. For this reason, our youngest son ended up dropping PE to lighten his academic load (and then took it later in a live classroom). Personally, I think online PE should require a lot less written reporting. A student, teacher, and supervisor should agree upon a particular workout regime, and then the student and supervisor report in a simple email each week whether or not the activity was completed 100%, 90%, 80%, etc. Yes, some instruction is necessary, but should be kept to a minimum. In a traditional school, how much of a PE class consists of the student reading and writing?
Another mom had a similar experience involving PE: “PE class was a booger. We ALL took PE that year–a little ridonkulous. Our athletic son who has climbed mountains, played all-star baseball and medaled in a climbing competition got a B in the class because of his reporting.” –Stacey, mom of NorthStar students
Stacey also advised against having kids take more than five classes “so that high schoolers will be able to have a balanced life with sports and friends, and not just hours in front of a computer every day for four years!”
Boys v. Girls
One consultant I know observed that girls seemed to be “a better fit to the style of teaching and doing lessons that NorthStar expected.” Since I brought three sons through NorthStar, I cannot really speak into that and have not heard or observed it among the families I know who use NorthStar.
Carol, a mom of two NorthStar students writes: “I found no gender-based difference in success between my daughter and son taking online courses.”
Meeting the Social Needs:
“From my personal experience, even if online schooling works with a particular personality, it is crucial to get the student engaged in a social life outside of the Internet in some way, even if it means sacrificing an A until learning how to balance social life and homework. I say this because after three years of NSA (and not really getting involved in much outside of church and youth group nights) I felt really socially deprived; and, since I have been at college I intensely crave social activity. I know there have definitely been some times on both sides where it has caused some stress: in high school, from not having enough social time and in college, from craving it so much that my need cannot always be met. Because of my often quiet and introverted feeling nature, people sometimes can’t tell how intensely I crave social time.” –Josh, sophomore in college, graduate of NorthStar Academy.
“Parents need to be familiar with the social forums and chatting of students on the respective school sites. Unmoderated sites even at Christian online schools can be both habit forming and dangerous. NorthStar’s forum wasn’t a “safe” place for our girls to hang out and even after they complained to the school, nothing really changed. Parents shouldn’t assume that the forums or “social” and extra-curriculars are safe at these schools. TPS has only moderated forums which have an entirely different “flavor” to them. We’ve been pleased with those, but watched awhile ourselves at first before we felt we could trust the moderation. Whichever online option is chosen, it seems like a good idea to get kids away from the screen for reading books, studying math, exercising, helping with household cleaning, etc. Perching in front of a computer 7-8 hours a day cannot be good for our kids. Help them order their day to include breaks and stretches of time away from the computer. Remind them to pursue real relationships with people and keep dialoging with them about online “friendships” and the limitations, hazards and also the rewards.” –Robert (father of students who have attended NorthStar and The Potter’s School)
“We live in a fairly remote area with only two other expat families and we have strongly encouraged our children to take part in local sports or other activities in the non-internet world, and to have local language lessons. I think it is fairly unhealthy for a teenager to be sitting at a computer all day, only having conversations with others via chat/Skype and trying to relate with only people they have never met in person. We are moving to another city and will be placing our kids in school there. While people tend to see NorthStar as a good option where there is not a school, there is much more to be learned during the teenage years than pure academics and that is the only thing NorthStar can truly offer. Our kids need relationships with other adults and friends outside our home in order to continue to mature and develop into Godly adults, so while NorthStar was an okay fit for a time it does not work well for us in our remote location anymore. It’s just too little contact with flesh and blood people for our kids.” –Stacey, mom/supervisor
A mom whose students have used both NorthStar and Potter’s School writes: “Online students need to find their social outlet somewhere ‘live’ and not via the computer. It’s fine to chat and have friends around the world, but that is unhealthy for that to be their only social outlet.” –Elizabeth
Another mom I know works at a boarding school and wrote me saying: “I recently spoke with a student who did a semester of online school. She said she would only recommend it to those students who already have a very secure social circle, because it was very lonely. We also had another student who did NorthStar and said she felt like she was in a cubicle all day. She was extremely social and needed lots of extra-curricular activities. So, perhaps online works better for introverts and people who like to stay home more.” –Laurie, a worker at a boarding school
This assures me that it has more to do with personality and learning style rather than gender. One of my three sons is very introverted. We do work at finding him healthy social outlets to stretch him, but he is quite content spending most of his time at home. Though all three of our kids have been able to make NorthStar work (at least for part of their high school years) our middle son has been able to make it work for all four years…and not just make it work, but not feel like he missed out on getting adequate people-time.
There are no perfect schools…online, real time, or live. Each school has its own set of challenges for students, parents, and administration. There are some things that online schools should consider doing to broaden their effectiveness. And, there are things that parents can try to make the best of an online school experience when they have decided to go that route for a particular child or season.
What schools can do—
1) Encourage teachers to have elements of their lessons require interviews or group activities. Some assignments could have an element of choice. Other projects may be extra credit or an opportunity for bonus points. For example, you dissect a fish by yourself, normal grade. You dissect a fish with one or more other high schoolers, extra points. More bonus points if they are not a family member. Yes, in some remote areas group projects would be challenging or impractical (maybe even impossible). In those situations, the parents/supervisor could work out an agreeable solution with the teacher.
2) Utilize bullet points for lesson instructions or use audio files to reduce the amount of reading that adds time at the computer.
3) Require students to complete modules in one week (unless it is a long term project like a research paper).
4) In addition to making changes to the PE program and possibly lightening up some of the courses to balance with heavier courses, perhaps an online school like NorthStar will look into creating an elective class called Cross-cultural Community Outreach (or some such title). This course could have very basic once a week reporting as well as suggestions for community outreach/volunteer projects that teens could attempt in their area. This would get the kids away from the computer more, let them earn elective credit for it, and develop a passion for helping others. Many students I have talked to would really enjoy investing more in the local community but just do not have the time to do that when they spend all day (and night) on the computer doing school. Kids online in the US could be tasked with focusing on a lower income area or work to reach out to internationals in their community.
What parents can do—
1) Don’t use social activities as an avenue of grounding a student who is not making the grade or not getting work done. Most online students do not have the “problem” of having too many opportunities for social interaction. If your student is an exception to this, then this suggestion does not apply.
2) Encourage students to be involved in community outreach activities, ministry opportunities, and other outings.
3) Only allow them to connect to the internet at a certain limited time period each day for uploading, downloading and research.
4) Ask teachers for a list of assignments that will typically take more than one week. Then, require your kids to submit everything each week (other than those special assignments). It may initially mean submitting incomplete assignments.
5) Have them work a 50 minute period on each class with a 10 minute break. If they do not complete everything, they can jot down homework to come back to. If they complete early, then they can start the next day’s assignment. If later in the week the class finishes early, then they can use that 50 minute block to work on another subject. You can also set 2-3 fifty minute homework blocks for the late afternoon and evening, if needed.
If you found this helpful, please see these companion articles: