Supporting Online Students: Best Practices for Grades 6–12

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If you’re an educational leader running or building a virtual program for your school or district, you already understand what may work in the classroom won’t always work in an online setting. Effective virtual instruction requires a different approach to teaching with strategies that consider how social, emotional, and academic learning can best be delivered in a virtual environment. In a previous post, we discussed best practices for supporting online students in grades K–5. Now we’ll take a closer look at students in middle and high school, sharing best practices for supporting online students in grades 6–12. 

Keep the lines of communication open with students. 
Communication is one of the most important aspects of any student-teacher relationship. Start by regularly staying connected with your teen and pre-teen students by reaching out to them using methods they’re familiar with, such as texting. You can use texts to send reminders, conduct quick check-ins, and send celebrations and kudos. “Celebration texts are like a remote high five,” says Megan Grothman, Global Partnership Manager for ASU Prep Digital. “This form of validation makes kids feel really good, and it helps to keep the lines of communication open if and when they are struggling.” 

Create authentic opportunities for group work. 
For older students, small group work is a solid strategy often used in online learning. It allows students to dive deep into a concept, work together, and understand how concepts connect to the real world. Plus, today’s video conferencing software makes grouping your students into breakout rooms easier than ever. However, you want to ensure you have a plan before group work begins. “Think about scaffolding the group work over a series of days or weeks so that students can learn how to work in a group dynamic and get things done,” advises Grothman. She recommends providing students with a list of tasks so they have a clear idea of the goal and encouraging students to work together to divide up and complete tasks. “What we don’t want is students getting in a breakout room together, saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. Do you know what we’re doing?’” 

Use technology tools to provide feedback and encourage discussion. 
Discussions are one classroom practice that translate quite well into an online learning environment. However, developing open dialogue during a video call takes some practice and guidance. Many older students may feel self-conscious about speaking up, so be ready with prompts for students to use and share. Nowadays there are also technology tools that can help teachers build a welcoming learning environment so students feel safe sharing. One of the tools Grothman recommends is Pear Deck, which integrates seamlessly with most online classroom environments, making it easy to connect with students and collect feedback to see where they are in the learning process. “Teachers can use Pear Deck to pose questions to their class and ask for feedback,” says Grothman. “Since student responses are anonymous, it is a great tool to help students practice and begin inserting themselves into the lesson in a non-threatening and comfortable way.” 

Provide asynchronous activities for deeper learning.
Because students in middle and high school are capable of working independently, it’s a smart strategy to create asynchronous tools you can use to enhance and personalize your online lessons. A good place to start is with hyperdocs and playlists, which allow students to work independently while they explore concepts, think through problems, work on projects that interest them, and more. However, Grothman advises balancing asynchronous activities with plenty of feedback and communication. “The most critical factor in an online environment is maintaining the teacher-student relationship and the relationships between students and their peers,” she says. “It’s the conversations you have, the feedback you give them, and an instructor’s unique understanding of the bigger picture that will make an online learning environment successful.”

Guide students in becoming thoughtful, autonomous learners. 
One major benefit of online learning is the flexibility. But that freedom can also pose a challenge for students who need routine and structure to thrive. That’s why it’s so important to help students understand themselves as learners and practice how to manage their schedules and set goals for themselves, especially when they’re not in a physical classroom environment. Try setting a weekly or daily routine where students review their schedules and check in on their goals. In addition, provide opportunities for students to analyze their learning strengths and struggles. “Help students reflect and identify what activities are working and add value to their learning,” advises Grothman. Start by asking questions such as “How is this activity helping me to learn?” or “Did this game help me understand the concept or was it just fun to play?” This will help your students practice becoming thoughtful and intentional with the ultimate goal of becoming lifelong learners. 

Partner with ASU Prep Digital
ASU Prep Digital is an accredited online K-12 school providing districts with single online courses, full-time virtual programs, innovative learning recovery solutions, and professional development options. We would love to collaborate and develop a customized program for your school’s needs. For information about partnering with ASU Prep Digital, please email