Changes in High School Rites of Passage

Dear Academic Approach Families:For over 20 years, the college admissions cycle for juniors and seniors has been very predictable. You could set your watch by it, but now those predictable rites of passage have changed, and so have the experiences of our students.Not Your Typical Senior or Junior Year With the dizzying array of changes to college testing and admissions in the last month, juniors and seniors are finding that their experiences this spring are defying their expectations and they may be struggling to process the impact of those changes on their own college admissions planning.Senior Year College Decisions Seniors are facing a very different decision-making process from what they may have anticipated. College admissions decisions were released in the last few months, and students are now facing deadlines to commit to schools (and submit deposits) without the benefit of admitted student visit days and with increasing uncertainty about completion of their senior year. NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) is providing a great resource to students that tracks the availability of tours, adjusted deposits, and changed enrollment deadlines by school. Many colleges are exploring creative options like virtual tours and video chats with students or admissions officers to get a sense of a school's fit.Opportunities for Juniors While the cancellation of April ACT and May SAT test dates may have thrown a wrench in many students' plans for college applications, the extra time can actually provide an unexpected benefit: more dedicated time to consider their own readiness for college, assess their skills, and better prepare for college entrance exams as well as college-level work.What's Most ImportantWe're continue to focus on student learning in this time and innovating around key questions:How do we ensure students maintain their progress during this school year? How do we keep students on track with challenging material and instruction so they are successful when they return to school and move on to college? We’ll continue to share our insights and the insights of our colleagues on these topics in forthcoming letters.Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-03-31T16:38:35+00:00March 31, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Changes in High School Rites of Passage

7 Ways for Students to Learn from Home

We know that you are experiencing transitions in your learning right now. We have created this guide to help you settle into a routine for academic work. Stay Organized You may notice that your organization needs to change at home. If you are finding that you are doing more of your schoolwork on an electronic device than you used to, it may be easier to keep things organized in a digital notebook. Your teachers may have recommended a digital note-taking app for you, but if they haven’t and you are looking for one, free apps that we like are Microsoft OneNote, Evernote, or Google Keep. Use a Calendar Tracking the due dates of your assignments will help too. You might have a calendar built into your school’s Learning Management System (LMS) like Canvas or Schoology. If you do, there are ways to import those calendars into your computer or phone calendar. If you don’t have access to an LMS, we recommend making a list of your assignments and due dates and putting those dates into a paper or digital calendar. Avoid Multitasking Multitasking can be really tempting when you are taking classes from behind a computer screen. We encourage you to try to avoid multitasking! Whether your school day classes are meeting as a large group or sending out individual assignments to complete, you will retain more knowledge if you give your full attention to the schoolwork in front of you. You will also find that you complete your assignments much more quickly if you aren’t trying to do two things at once.  Taking breaks, when possible, can also help you avoid multitasking. If you have a set of tasks to complete, try to give yourself 5- to 10-minute breaks every hour. If your school's e-learning schedule allows for it, try to take a five-minute break between classes. Knowing you have a break coming up can help you push through when you feel fatigued. Make the Most of Online Class Sessions During the School Day Find out how your teacher wants you to ask questions. If you are learning in Zoom or Canvas Conferences, there is a chat feature that your teacher has likely set up for you. Use that to ask questions. If you are learning in Zoom, there is also a feature to raise your hand so that your teacher can see that you have a question you want to ask. If your teacher assigns you to breakout rooms in Zoom, there is also a feature that will let you call your teacher with a question, if your group has one during your breakout room time.  No matter which platform your school is using, make sure you close distracting tabs, apps, and notifications on your computer, and set your phone to Do Not Disturb. Keep taking notes the same way you were taking notes in your classroom. If you weren’t taking notes before, this is a great time to get in the habit of doing that! If you [...]

By |2020-03-30T10:13:52+00:00March 30, 2020|Academic Approach, Covid-19 Resources|Comments Off on 7 Ways for Students to Learn from Home

School Districts Shift to Remote Learning

Dear Academic Approach Families: Spring break is at an end in my household, as my children shift back to remote learning. We’re doing our best to advance and adapt, as are the school districts we work with. Shifting to Remote Learning With weeks now of school closures and no clear end in sight, schools are looking at longer-term plans. There's been wide variation in what districts and schools are providing to students and families, with a large proportion providing access to resources but no direct instruction. Next Steps for Districts As districts move into this remote learning, each is taking into consideration the needs of its students and their access to technology. This week, for example, Chicago Public Schools rolled out its Remote Learning Plan, which will begin with instruction following Spring Break on April 13. The district is working to provide devices to more high-need students, adjusting its policies to allow schools to incorporate best-practice tools like Zoom, and delivering packets of enrichment work for families to engage in with their students. Similar moves were taken last week by the New York Department of Education, distributing devices to students that did not have them and allowing educators to take an approach that best worked for their students. Though the first day was rocky, students adapted quickly and so far, educators seem to be adapting quickly. What's Most Important We're staying focused on student learning in this time and innovating around key questions: How do we ensure students maintain their progress during this school year? How do we keep students on track with challenging material and instruction so they are successful when they return to school and move on to college? We’ll be sharing our insights and the insights of our colleagues on these topics in forthcoming letters. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-03-30T09:28:00+00:00March 30, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on School Districts Shift to Remote Learning

Gratitude and Resilience

Dear Academic Approach Families: As we head into the weekend—2 weeks into social distancing—the value of resilience is on my mind. Resilience has always been a critical non-cognitive factor in the success of our students: those who can persevere through challenging content and the most rigorous problem solving continue to grow academically—and emotionally. The Power of Gratitude Over the past several years, we’ve partnered with the University of Chicago to develop a strategy toolkit for students to reduce anxiety and increase resilience. One of our favorite tools is showing gratitude. While this may sound trite, neuroscience research proves that feeling gratitude directly leads to decreasing stress and increasing positive thinking. Moreover, those with increased positive thinking have increased ability for creative and flexible thought and are more able to learn and cope with anxiety. The Joy Collector I'll be encouraging my family and other families to start a concrete practice of writing down the joys—no matter how small—that we are grateful for each day in a Joy Collector journal. I'm also expressing my gratitude for those joys directly to those who bring joy. These practices are especially important right now in helping us to keep anxiety as low as possible and engage us in the process of building resilience through unexpected challenges. Further reading I particularly enjoyed this article that contextualizes the research showing the importance of demonstrating gratitude for our own mental health. I'd love to hear the strategies you are implementing with your own families to support them; please reach out and share those suggestions. Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO 

By |2020-03-27T17:14:54+00:00March 27, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Gratitude and Resilience

15+ Tips That Will Change The Way You Approach E-Learning

To support teachers transitioning from in-person lessons to virtual instruction, we've compiled some of our best practices to develop and deliver lessons to keep your students engaged and learning. Lesson Planning Break learning into smaller chunks (10 minutes or less) and focus on essential information. Establish a clear structure for each class to maintain student engagement. Prepare visible step-by-step virtual learning procedures in your slides. Script out questions and display them visually in your presentation. Plan varied and specific student actions throughout class (e.g. annotation, breakout rooms, writing reflections, online polls, independent work, etc.) Setting Expectations Acknowledge that virtual instruction may be a new experience for both you and your students. Patience will be needed on all sides. Adapt your class expectations to the online classroom (e.g. respect, engagement, participation). Model and practice classroom procedures using your online platform (how to answer/ask questions, how to show agreement or give praise, how to submit assignments). Engagement Emphasize student actions: Consider how much time students will spend just looking at their screen. Create additional student actions to eliminate extended periods of inactivity. Highlight real-world connections: Students may be more prone to distraction during virtual instruction. Be sure to plan an effective hook for the lesson and utilize multimedia. Make it personal: The fact that you can’t meet in person means you need to make your lesson even more personal. Some ideas: use your webcam, add music and graphics, etc. Student-to-student interaction: Use “breakout rooms” feature if available in your online platform and have students respond to one another in the chat window. One-on-one interaction: Send private chat messages with specific feedback, questions, and praise. Questioning Continue to ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions, but include instructions for how to respond. It’s appropriate to cold call once students are comfortable using tools to respond. You may wish to start with gentle questions the first few times you cold call. Have all students send their responses to you in a private message. Then share select responses and ask follow-up questions. Differentiation Some platforms allow you to place individual students or small groups into breakout rooms. Provide differentiated assignments to each individual or group, and enter each breakout room to provide targeted feedback and support. Provide “Choose Your Own Adventure” assignments—multiple options with different degrees of rigor, preferably with some overlapping tasks. Send individual students direct messages with alternative problems or assignments. You can later share the answers and explanations publicly or privately.

By |2022-11-14T19:18:39+00:00March 27, 2020|Academic Approach, Covid-19 Resources|Comments Off on 15+ Tips That Will Change The Way You Approach E-Learning

The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning

Dear Academic Approach Families:As an educator, I've always been aware of my impact not only on the academic progress of my students but also on their positive mindsets and attitudes as they navigate challenging circumstances and unexpected hurdles.Social-Emotional LearningSeeing our students develop successfully on and beyond the test has always been central to our work. We've dug deep into the evidenced-based practices of social and emotional learning (SEL) through our research and partnerships, and our instruction incorporates the core elements of SEL: improving students' self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, decision making, and relationship management. Students with strong social emotional skills often find greater academic success. They're also more equipped to face and overcome challenges they encounter in all aspects of life. Supporting Social-Emotional Learning at HomeTeaching SEL helps our students face challenges and builds resilience to thrive in the months ahead. With schools either closed or shifted to e-learning, SEL is all the more important to emphasize at home. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has put together a great resource page for families and educators to help incorporate SEL as they support students during challenging times.Share Your RecommendationsWe'll continue to share ways to support our students and prepare them for the challenges ahead. Have any recommendations for SEL, games and activities, or student support? Send them my way.Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-03-26T10:59:24+00:00March 26, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning

Positive, Personalized Mentoring — at a Distance

Dear Academic Approach Families:I definitely miss meeting my students in person. I miss greeting them with a handshake or a high five, sitting down across the table and warming up to our session’s topic first with some relevant small talk:“How did that AP US History paper go?” “How was the dress rehearsal?” “I heard you guys beat [insert rival school]! I already rubbed it in to one of my students from there.” Social Distancing, Staying Positive, Maintaining RelationshipsIt’s important to remember that healthy communal aspects of our students’ lives have been disrupted. Creative outlets for self-expression or channeling nervous energy through group activity simply and suddenly ended. Social distancing invariably promotes social isolation. Given what our students are experiencing, it’s important to maintain relationships and continue to cultivate them.Education isn't just about academics. It's also about emotion and connection. My own children have received email from former teachers just checking in, reminding them of great experiences they enjoyed with warm mentors, who still care about their progress and success. This is a time for teachers, coaches, and other mentors to reach out to students – new and old – to encourage and connect.Mentoring BasicsWe’re trying to cling to the basics of mentoring as we Zoom into our students’ lives now. Small talk still matters, because it shows you care and you are familiar. It establishes a continuity of shared experiences when so much right now is discontinuous.There are still AP US History papers to inquire about. And while the sporting events and rehearsals have ceased for now, there are books to recommend, board games to suggest, and important academic questions to answer that are relevant to the student’s specific needs.Additional Resources Coming SoonStay tuned for additional resources for both educators and students on navigating the e-learning world we now live in. And if you have any recommendations for books, board games, or academic reflections, send them my way.Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-03-25T17:58:43+00:00March 25, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Positive, Personalized Mentoring — at a Distance

State Testing Waivers & Helping Students Prepare

Dear Academic Approach Families: Some important updates today that will likely push standardized testing windows further out in terms of time and further encourage the delivery of these tests online. State Testing Waivers Since the White House announced that the Federal Department of Education will not enforce state mandated testing School Year 2019-2020, State Boards of Education across the country are seeking to waive state accountability criteria. This will likely mean many schools will not provide federal or district funded end-of-year tests, including the scheduled SAT or ACT provided as part of the school day testing program in spring 2020. It seems likely that schools will offer additional school day test options later this spring or in the fall, and students will also have the option to test on national Saturday test dates once they resume. Currently, the next scheduled national test dates are June 13th for the ACT and June 6th for the SAT. Helping Schools and Students Prepare Though much is up in the air for our current juniors in terms of the college admissions timeline, there is plenty of time ahead to ensure they are prepared both for college admissions and college-level coursework. With many students lacking a federally, state, or district-funded college admissions test this school year, they are likely looking for alternative testing dates prior to fall admissions. Students can test well into fall of their senior year and still use that score for consideration in college applications. For regular decision admission, most colleges will accept scores from as late as the December test. The Future is Online With ACT's already planned expansion of online testing at school-based test sites in September 2020 and College Board's move to offer secure AP tests in-home in spring 2020, it's also possible the testing agencies may offer more flexible options to students throughout this summer and fall. We'll keep you informed of changes as they are announced. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-03-24T11:12:00+00:00March 24, 2020|ACT, Letter, SAT|Comments Off on State Testing Waivers & Helping Students Prepare

The Move to Online Testing

The Necessary Move to Online Testing With schools moving to remote learning in the last few weeks, more and more education activities previously thought to only be effectively delivered in-person have moved online. On Friday, College Board announced the first-ever at-home administration of the AP exams. Critics have questioned the validity of these new exams, though students overwhelmingly wanted the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the material they’d spent the year learning. With the limitations put in place by necessary social distancing and stay-at-home measures, these at-home tests likely provide the best possible option in the next few months. Accelerating an Already Growing Trend The online AP exams won’t be the first online tests College Board or ACT have offered—they’ve provided online (though not remote) administrations of the SAT and ACT for the last several years. The test organizations have increasingly used this option in the last decade to increase security for international testers as well as provide another testing option for district and state-funded mandatory, school-day tests. ACT recently announced the first online testing option for national test date testers, signing up individually on Saturdays, as an option (at available testing sites). The move raises some big questions: Who benefits from online testing options? Are the scores comparable to pencil and paper testing? How can students prepare? Who has Access? Taking the ACT and SAT won’t typically be the first-time students will encounter technology in an educational setting. Indeed, the use of ed tech has increased significantly in recent years, as devices and high-quality tools have become available in more and more schools. Ultimately, students with increased familiarity and comfort working through computer-based assessments benefit from the online testing option. Access to those tools in schools is not distributed equally. Predictably, higher-income students have more access to educational technology tools and devices in their schools. New Schools’ recent survey found that while about 8 in 10 students have access to either devices on shared classroom carts or in classroom libraries (and around a third of students also have 1-to-1 devices available in their schools), there was variability in student groups. Students from low-income households, black students, students attending urban school districts, and students in the south were the least likely to report having their own device to use in a school setting. The decreased familiarity and experience for high-need students raises questions of equity in using online testing in a high-stakes setting like college entrance exams. The remote, at-home testing option may exacerbate issues of access and equity. Around 10% of Americans don’t use the internet at all, with higher quantities in low-income and rural areas. College Board is working to offer options to those students for AP tests, though the extent and success of those options is not yet clear. Does Test Format Matter? After considering equity and access, it’s worth digging into the validity of these online exams. The AP tests this year will take a very different format than they have in the past (only 45 [...]

By |2020-03-23T16:33:19+00:00March 23, 2020|Academic Approach, ACT, SAT|Comments Off on The Move to Online Testing

The Question of Online Testing and E-Learning

Dear Academic Approach Families:The theme of this week’s letters will be Online Testing & E-Learning. Two topics today: 1) New federal support for e-learning; and 2) our research and opinion on online testing.Federal Support for E-Learning U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education Betsy DeVos issued a statement that schools should be striving to offer distance learning options to students, including those with disabilities or diverse learning needs. While there certainly are questions about which tools to use and how to provide access equitably given the limitations, for example, that Chicago Public School students have on technology usage, we believe that urging schools—as our Federal DOE has—to allow and support remote learning is smart. Some schools are moving quickly, providing detailed schedules and activities for students each week, while others are still determining how to best support their students. Right now, we believe that focusing on how to reach students (even with fewer resources) is the right direction rather than canceling or delaying learning any further.Research & Opinion on Online Testing With the limitations put in place by necessary social distancing and stay-at-home measures, online tests may provide the best possible option in the next few months. Our Director of Education Amanda Aisen offers valuable research and opinion on online testing here.Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-03-23T15:29:32+00:00March 23, 2020|ACT, Letter|Comments Off on The Question of Online Testing and E-Learning
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