Parents are asking,“How Can I Tell If My Kids Are Really Learning Something In Online Classes?”

I’m hearing from many concerned parents who are more and more worried about online classes. They wonder if their kids are taking their work seriously and really learning what they’ll need when they return to in-school classes. These are critical and deeply important concerns, so here are 2 strategies that effective teachers use in every lesson, strategies that can help you know if your child is learning what s/he is supposed to learn.

The first strategy effective teachers use is telling students what they are to know when the lesson or unit is completed. The second is providing activities to practice the learning and later to show how much they’ve learned. By using these 2 strategies, the teacher (and you too) can know how to ask questions that check the expected learning.

What Is The Expected Learning?

Without exception, the effective teacher begins with a statement of what the students are supposed to know and be able to do when the lesson or unit is completed. An upper grades and high school learning objective might be, “By Friday, students will show that they are able to compare and contrast the 2 main characters in (supply whatever book they’re reading)” or “By the end of this unit, students will be able to write a persuasive essay.”

Notice the objective is specific and does not say such vague things as “pass a test,” “write a paper,” or “read Chapter 12.”  These are activities, and what parents and students need to know first is” what is the learning expected from doing activities.” If your child does the activity of taking a test, what is s/he supposed to show that s/he knows and is able to do (explain how the war of 1812 started, explain why the US became involved in WW I, etc)? If your child writes a paper, what is s/he supposed to show s/he can do (write clear topic sentences, support statements, etc.)? If s/he reads a chapter, what is s/he supposed to know or be able to do when s/he finishes the chapter (explain why following specific steps to create a lab experiment is essential, describe what might happen if…)?

For lower grades and littles, the learning objective might be, “When you finish listening to the story about ‘Denise The Dragon,’ you’ll be able to describe what Denise the Dragon does when he gets really angry.” Or an arithmetic lesson objective might be, “When I show you two numbers to add, write the correct answer on a card, and not show your answer until I say, “flip.” Notice that part of the learning objective is to be able to follow directions.

How Will The Learning Be Demonstrated?

The second very important strategy to look for is the teacher’s description of HOW students will demonstrate the learning. What activities will they do to show their learning?  Examples might include any or all of the following: attend each online session and participate in discussions, meet 2 times with your group to share your part of the group project,  take an open-book test; and for littles, explain why a story character did something or how something a character did hurt someone else. The list of activities to demonstrate the learning of the objectives is actually unlimited. When the learning is a whole unit, there will be several objectives and several activities for students to demonstrate their learning.

Now here’s a HUGE requirement for effective activities — effective activities (including tests) have to show that the students can do more than just memorize information. Students must show they understand the information by applying it in a meaningful way, by analyzing it, by evaluating it, and by using it in a creative or imaginative way. Such activities show how much has been learned and what areas still need work.

How Can I Know If My child is Learning?

Now that you know what your child is supposed to be learning, you can check progress by asking questions that require thinking and explanation. Questions that begin in any of the following ways are very effective:

  1. HOW  “How did that happen?” “How do you do an experiment like that?” “How do you write a persuasive essay?” “How did you decide on that answer?” “How are these people different and how are they similar?” “How might you do this in a different way?”   
  • WHY  “Why did the Mayflower land on the Cape?”  Why does this process work more effectively in this situation than the other one we studied?” etc.
  • WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF…   “What would happen if we used this formula instead?”  What would have happened if England had won the Revolutionary War?”  etc.

Responding to questions beginning with How, Why, and What would happen if, requires kids to go beyond simply memorizing information to analyze information, evaluate information, and think creatively.In this way, you will know if your child is just attending class or if s/he is really learning.

Copyright Judy Harmon Holmes 2020

A companion piece to this blog is “Two Steps Parents Can Take to Help Their Children Learn” April 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s