Making Mistakes Well

I often find myself telling my students that one of the most important things that they can learn in school is how to make mistakes well. At first, this might seem a little counter-intuitive—Really, Miss G? Mistakes?

The truth is that no matter how hard we try, we are all going to make mistakes and errors from time-to-time…even teachers do! Knowing how to learn from one’s mistakes and how to deal with setbacks without being paralyzed can be incredibly difficult, but it is a valuable life skill.

I’ve noticed in the past few years that more and more students seem to struggle with anxiety or anxious thoughts, and feel very overwhelmed when they don’t score well on a multiple choice test, or when they have to make revisions on an essay, or perhaps they have fallen behind. Sometimes, there’s a tendency to avoid the work entirely, something that usually compounds the problem. Instead, we try to help students work through mistakes and setbacks, hopefully allowing them to see these as opportunities for growth.

Here are some tips that can help you “make mistakes well”:

  1. Reframe. When a student sees a poor grade on an assignment, their first instinct is often, “I’m stupid, I don’t get this and never will.” This is especially common on multiple-choice tests, and can lead to a feeling of defeat.At CEA, we try to encourage students to remember that a quiz or test grade is only one measure of learning, and not always the best one. A low grade only means that there is some gap in understanding—it’s just a matter of finding the gap and helping students to bridge it! 🙂 Since we are a mastery-based program, this is a key goal for us as teachers. We work with students to revise work to help put the focus on real learning and not just a test score. We also try to have different types of assessments, such as projects or essays in addition to multiple-choice tests, so that students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning.
  2. Review and Revise. When a mistake is made, it’s important to figure out exactly what happened in order to prevent making that error in the future. Finding past mistakes and fixing them can help solidify a deeper understanding of concepts.At CEA, we help students with this process in a few different ways. With math assignments, we often ask to see “scratch work”, so that we can help students figure out where the mistake is. Sometimes, it might just be a small error that threw off the final answer! We also try to encourage students to practice this skill by checking their own work and hopefully catching errors before they submit things! In other classes, it might be a matter of making notes on an assignment or helping students address concepts they need to learn a little more fully.

    This is also a practice we constantly engage in ourselves. Every year as a school, we look at survey data and other feedback; then we make goals to constantly improve what we do as a school. The ability to look at one’s work and find ways to continuously grow is a valuable life skill that can be applied in multiple contexts.

  3. Regain Confidence. The final key is remembering that none of us is perfect. Making a mistake or error from time to time is inevitable. The goal is to not allow our mistakes to paralyze us, but to figure out how to address the error and move forward confidently. Our goal is to support students in this process, and to be a resource for them to help them grow and learn both content and important life skills.

I often find myself telling my students that one of the most important things that they can learn in school is how to make mistakes well. At first, this might seem a little counter-intuitive—Really, Miss G? Mistakes?
The truth is that no matter how hard we try, we are all going to make mistakes and

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Planning Your Weekly Schedule in an Online High School

One of the beauties of an online high school – or middle school – is that your weekly schedule of when you take courses is your own to plan.  But how exactly do you do that?  Here are some hints…

Set up your weekly plan

At the beginning of the semester, create a master weekly plan for yourself.  Block out the times  when you will study each course.  This could be different for each student, depending on their study habits.  Here are some possible ideas:

  • Every course every day: English 8 – 9, Math 9-10, Break, Science 10:30-11:30, Lunch, Social Studies 1-2, Electives 2-3
  • A different course each day:  Monday – English, Tuesday – Math, Wednesday- Science, Thursday – Social Studies, Friday – Electives
  • A half-day block schedule: Monday AM – English, PM- Math, Tuesday AM-Social Studies, PM – Science

Whatever plan you set-up, stick to it, treating your schoolwork just as you would any job.  Consistency and discipline are important.  If the student has trouble doing this, ask a parent or your homeroom teacher for help.

Set up your weekly plan

Before the beginning of each week, look at all your courses to see what assignments are due.  Christian Educators Academy sends each student a weekly planner.  The student and/or parent can use this to write down when assignments are due.  Remember, the rule is that assignments can be turned in any time in the week that they are due and still be on time.  Assignment due dates can be moved from Monday to Friday, or Thursday to Tuesday, without having to ask anyone’s permission.  This gives students and parents the freedom to work according to the weekly master schedule mentioned above.  At the end of each week, review your progress with your parent, to see where you are, and if you need to make any adjustments.

Work Ahead if You Can

If you find that you are able to finish a subject well within the allotted time, work ahead on the next lesson if you can.  This can be useful to buy a little time if you find that you are later falling behind in that subject or another subject.

If You Fall Behind…

It’s perfectly natural if occasionally there are one or two assignments that you have to leave to the next week, or else complete the following week.  If you’re ahead in a subject, you can borrow time from that subject for another subject that you’re falling behind in.  If you fall a week behind in all your subjects, especially if its due to a vacation or sickness, you can still easily catch-up by working a little harder – but at this point you have to work hard to catch up and not fall further behind.

If you find that you are working incredibly long hours in all your subjects, but still falling behind, that is a different problem we will talk about in a future blog.  But please let your home-room teacher or one of the other school administrators know right away if this is happening.

If you do get more than two weeks behind, there are ways to catch up as we mentioned in an earlier blog.  It takes planning and some discipline, but it can be done.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to always stay up to pace with the calendar.  Allowing yourself to slip off the calendar and ignore it is dangerous.  Even if initially you’re only a week or two behind, it is very easy to slip even further behind.

Know Your Priorities

Remember that English and Math always have the highest priority, since you need four years of each to graduate from High School.  Remember that whatever English class you’re in basically determines your grade.  Science and Social Studies are the second priority after Language and Math.  Electives and Foreign Language are the lowest priority.  If you find that you are getting behind in English or Math, you may have to re-balance your schedule to give more time to them, and less to the other subjects.

Don’t try to do just one subject at a time

Just focusing on one subject at a time quickly turns into a game of “Whack-a-mole”, where you’re always behind in something.  In general we recommend that students try to work in all subjects every week, but balance their time between subjects based on their strengths and weaknesses.  It’s OK to allocate a little more time to a subject that has higher priority or that you are struggling in, and a little less time to a subject that is easy for you, or that you are ahead in.

Of course, if you do get seriously behind in all subjects and are in danger of not completing any of them, your home-room teacher may recommend that you focus on just English and Math for a while.  Our goal is that none of our students get to this point.

Enjoy your success!

By properly setting up and managing your course schedule, you will find that you can easily complete your courses on time, with good grades, and have time during the week to do the other things outside of school that you value and enjoy.  More importantly, you will learn how to successfully manage your time, a skill which will be useful to you throughout your life in every endeavor.

One of the beauties of an online high school – or middle school – is that your weekly schedule of when you take courses is your own to plan.  But how exactly do you do that?  Here are some hints…
Set up your weekly plan
At the beginning of the semester, create a master weekly

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Online High School: Hints for planning the upcoming Spring Semester

You’ve made it through the Fall term of your online high school, and are now at the beginning of a new term.  Here are some helpful hints and guidelines to try to help you get through the upcoming Spring Semester.

First, realize that not all weeks are created equally.  Later in the Spring as the weather gets nicer, maintaining concentration and focus on school can be difficult for many people.  Take advantage of the upcoming winter weeks and months – when the weather is cold and you are less inclined to want to go out.  Take advantage of these weeks to get ahead in your schooling.  This way you can have a little more time when you want it.  Online school is ideal for this, because you can always work ahead of the schedule.  With online school, you are in control of the schedule; use that to your advantage.

Also be aware that many people have a hard time working before, during and after a Spring Break, either preparing to go, being away, or getting back into the swing of things.  It’s just human nature.  This is another reason – try to get as much done as you can now.  If you get behind now, it will be even more difficult to catch up over Spring Break, or as the weather becomes more pleasant.

Of course, we do advise people to develop consistency and discipline in their school work.  Develop a weekly schedule and be consistent in sticking to it.  Make sure you allocate time to all your courses every week, approximately 2-3 hours per course.  Math and English should always get the highest priority, followed by Science and History, then Language and electives.  If you do get behind, in general we don’t advise that you concentrate on just one or two subjects, ignoring all the others.  This tends to create a situation where you are constantly behind in something, or everything.  Increase the overall time you spend, allocating more to the higher priority subjects, as needed, but continuing to work in all the subjects.

If you do get behind in your assignments, create a plan to catch up in a reasonable amount of time – over several weeks.  We don’t expect you to exert super-human efforts to catch up.  Here is an example of a plan:

  • In each course, count the total number of overdue assignments, and divide that by 10.  So for example, if you have 30 overdue assignments in English, 30/10 = 3.
  • Each week, count the number of assignments that were due on the calendar that week.  Complete that many assignments from the front of your list, plus the number above.  So this week, if there were 5 assignments due, you would need to complete 5+3 = 8.
  • Doing this consistently, after 10 weeks, you will be caught up in English!  You will have to expend some extra effort to catch up – you might have to spend 5 hours instead of 3.  If you are behind in all your courses, you might have to work 25-30 hours a week to catch up instead of 20, maybe an extra hour or two a day.  The point is, this is reasonable.

Or course, it’s better to not get behind in the first place.  At CEA, we constantly monitor all student’s progress, and contact the student and parent as soon as we see that happening.  Of course, by the time a student gets two weeks behind, and we see that and contact you, the student could be 3 weeks to a month behind.  Here is how to avoid that:

  • If you’re a student and know you struggle with staying on pace, ask a parent to objectively look over and review your progress on a regular basis – typically once a week.  Ask them to log into your account and look over your assignments.
  • If you’re a parent, make it a disciplined habit to log into your student’s account and look over their progress once a week.  See if they are falling behind.  It’s also good of course to ask them how they are doing – but don’t rely on this solely.  Students often don’t realize they are behind, and some will misrepresent their progress.
  • If you’re an Apex student or parent, you will receive a progress report every week.  Read it.

If you need help understanding an Apex report or using the Gradpoint system, contact one of the administrators at CEA – we will be glad to walk you through how to use the tools that are available to you.

By following a disciplined plan, working ahead a bit and regular monitoring of your progress, you should be able to complete all your subjects on time, with no issues.  If you do get behind, there are ways to catch up.  It’s not the end of the world, but you should avoid this situation if you can.

You’ve made it through the Fall term of your online high school, and are now at the beginning of a new term.  Here are some helpful hints and guidelines to try to help you get through the upcoming Spring Semester.
First, realize that not all weeks are created equally.  Later in the Spring as the

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Online home schooling and the holidays

Online Home schooling and the Holidays

This is the time of year when students and parents ask us about working over the holidays.  Leading up to this, some students have gotten seriously behind in multiple classes, with perhaps 20 or more assignments overdue in some classes.  This year we instituted a new Homeroom process to warn students and parents right away when there is a problem.  This has greatly reduced incidents, and has greatly helped to mitigate the issue in most cases long before the Holidays arrive, but still there are a few cases of behind students.

What we find is that students and parents tend to over-focus on the Holidays as a solution to the problem of having over-due assignments.  A typical semester-long high school course is designed to be done over an 18-week period, with a moderate amount of effort, 3 hours or so, every week.  Although people commonly think that “I’ll catch up over Thanksgiving, or the Holidays”, really we are just talking about a few days, or maybe a week or two, that is also being used for traveling, shopping, special meals, family events, other activities and perhaps worship services.   The time that is really available for doing schoolwork may only be a few hours or a couple of days.

To make an analogy, if we think of the normal pace as say, walking a mile in an hour, which for many people is quite reasonable, trying to compress a month or two of work into a few days is the same pace a as 4- or 6-minute mile.  Most students simply do not have the ability to successfully work at that pace.

Another way to look at it is that the 4 days of Thanksgiving is really just 3% of an 18-week semester and even the two weeks at Christmas is just 11% of an 18-week semester.  Parents and students who think that they will complete 25% or more of a course during that time are not being realistic.  The other problem is over-focus on Holiday periods as the end-all solution to the problem.  Parents and students don’t effectively use the 18 or 20 weeks already built into the school schedule, and instead hyper-focus on the really small amount of time that the Holidays represent.

Everyone needs some time away from work and school to relax and have fun, relate to family and friends and to reflect.  Weekends and holidays exist for a reason.  The best and healthiest approach to life acknowledges and incorporates periods of rest, with the understanding that these are necessary for the health of the individual, and also help us to improve our effectivity and performance when we do work.

Although Christian Educators allows Gradpoint students to work over the holidays, we don’t strongly advise it, and we don’t push it.  If a student has some extra time on their hands and they want to use it for school, fine, but not at the expense of spending time with family or having time relax and enjoy life.  On the other hand, with our Apex curriculum because it involves teacher involvement on a weekly basis, in order to allow our teachers a break to spend time with their families, we have to stop all access to the curriculum for a two week period at Christmas, and a 3 week period in July.  Every year we receive requests from parents to grant “special” access for their child.  Unfortunately, in Apex, without continuous teacher support, students can’t progress.  Having even a few students working means that teachers get no break, and this is simply unfair to the teachers.  For that reason, we do not allow access to anyone in Apex over that period.  And even though we clearly stipulate that in our contracts and communications, every year we inevitably get requests from parents for exceptions.

The real answer for students who are running behind is to help them figure out how to use the time they do have more effectively – whether it be looking at overcoming motivational issues, working on skills like study habits, note-taking, test-taking and time-management.  By learning how to use the time more effectively in the 18 weeks per semester that they do have, we can increase student performance to a much greater degree with much less effort than focusing on a few days or hours.

Online Home schooling and the Holidays
This is the time of year when students and parents ask us about working over the holidays.  Leading up to this, some students have gotten seriously behind in multiple classes, with perhaps 20 or more assignments overdue in some classes.  This year we instituted a new Homeroom process to

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CEA’s New Homeroom Process

Since I first began teaching at CEA, six years ago now, our online homeschool has grown and changed quite a bit! We’ve introduced two new curricula, ten new teachers, and three new administrators! Our numbers have grown, but our values are still the same: we want to make sure that we know each of our students and their families, and are shepherding them along as they pursue academic success!

When we were a smaller school, our fearless leader Mrs. Z used to do all of this on her own! She is still very involved with every student and family in the school—teaching elective courses with students and answering phone calls and taking registrations–but this past year, we’ve introduced a new Homeroom monitoring system that all of our administrators participate in. This system ensures that we are giving our students the most support possible, and that there is a system of checks and balances to keep everybody accountable.

Approximately every two weeks, Mr. Barnett, Mr. Zabor, and Miss G go through their respective section of students checking progress, emailing students for encouragement, and offering help where they see issues. They also email parents of students who have gotten behind, trying to make sure that we are partnering with parents to help students stay on track. This process has been incredibly important this year, and we have been so pleased with the results.

Our students have always been successful, but this homeroom system has allowed us to identify struggles earlier in the year so that we can intervene as quickly as possible. Our Homeroom teachers meet at least once a month with Mrs. Z to share information and make sure that we are engaging with every single student as productively as possible. We’ve seen students who were struggling make turnarounds and begin to improve, and we’ve been able to help parents feel more empowered and have a better understanding of their students’ schoolwork.

Every year we work to find new ways to improve and grow in our service of students and their families. We hire teachers who are experts in their subject area and who believe in our mission as a school; we work to improve communication and support wherever possible. We never want to remain stagnant, even if we are doing well; we always want to grow and improve and find ways to become better educators! This year’s Homeroom checking process has become a valuable part of our online homeschool, and we look forward to continuing to work with students to help improve their time management and study skills so that they can continue to be successful.

Since I first began teaching at CEA, six years ago now, our online homeschool has grown and changed quite a bit! We’ve introduced two new curricula, ten new teachers, and three new administrators! Our numbers have grown, but our values are still the same: we want to make sure that we know each of our

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Life-Long Learning

By: Amy Gentile, M.A. Higher Education, Assistant Director and Head Teacher at Christian Educators Academy

Sometimes, I believe that we do a disservice in our schools (and our culture) when we perpetuate the idea that “learning” is something only really done in the classroom, in the formal curriculum. Don’t get me wrong—I believe that the core subjects of math, science, English, and social studies are important, as well as the specific concepts covered in them. However, there is so much more “life-long learning” to be done throughout a person’s life, and much of that will take place outside of the classroom. To that end, one of the goals at CEA, a key part of a philosophy, shared by our teachers, is to create students who are “life-long learners.”

Some of this is done implicitly through the formal curriculum. As students learn how to go through the lessons, complete their work, make adjustments, do research, and many other skills, they are not just learning the material itself. They are also learning how to learn. These skills can then be carried into other areas of life: learning how to cook, figuring out problems that arise in the workplace, pursuing extracurricular interests, etc. Knowing how to learn will give students the skills they need to approach any topic or information they can “get their hands on.” Thankfully, in the age of the internet, there is almost endless access to information on a variety of topics in all sorts of fields, so we have so many opportunities to continue our learning: both on things we learn about in class that spark our interests as well as things not covered in the classroom.

The difficulty is that the required nature of the formal curriculum sometimes stifles a natural love of learning. This is difficult for teachers as well as students, as there is so much material that is essential to cover that there is not always time to work in other things, or we see students get burnt out by assessments and written work that are intended to reinforce and apply the concepts. Due to these things, many students (as well as parents and even teachers) begin to see education as a series of hoops to jump through, an endless stream of one course after another. It’s easy to see how this becomes draining.

It’s difficult to break out of that mentality, but there are a few unique things at CEA that we have implemented to try and grab onto this goal of creating life-long learners. The first is that we have always supported and encouraged students in their extracurricular goals, even working them into electives as we are able. The very nature of online schooling and its flexibility allows students more time to pursue their passions. Additionally, we will incorporate things into the curriculum itself where it’s appropriate. My favorite writing assignments to grade are the ones where students get to choose to do a research project or write expository essays teaching a skill in which they have a personal interest. I’ve been able to learn so many things about a variety of topics, from stop-motion videos to equestrian riding to farming, from my students—and I love it! Helping to incorporate students’ personal interests and skills and what they learn outside of the classroom into their “schoolwork” helps reinforce the connectedness of different types of learning experiences. At CEA, we value all these things because we know that learning that happens outside of the classroom is just as important as learning that happens inside of it.

In addition to this, for the past couple of years we have run “contests” on approximately a monthly basis, designed by different teachers in different subjects. Usually the projects have a loose connection to a specific subject, but they also provide a way for student to incorporate their own creative skills and their own personal interests. We’ve had students write creative songs, send in pictures, write essays, create comic strips, design their own science labs, and complete a photo scavenger hunt of different places in Europe. It’s been wonderful to see students become creatively engaged and learn about something at the same time! We hope to continue these contests and get even more students involved to help them see learning as something that is something we do in all areas of life, and that it can be fun and exciting!

There are so many more ways we hope to foster this idea of life-long learning in our students. These things are only the very beginning, and we look forward to using creative tools and new ideas in the future to continue connecting with students and helping them to see the importance of learning and the ways in which it extends to all of life.

By: Amy Gentile, M.A. Higher Education, Assistant Director and Head Teacher at Christian Educators Academy
Sometimes, I believe that we do a disservice in our schools (and our culture) when we perpetuate the idea that “learning” is something only really done in the classroom, in the formal curriculum. Don’t get me wrong—I believe that the

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Online Education the Future of Learning

By: Amy Gentile, M.A. Higher Education, Assistant Director and Head Teacher at Christian Educators Academy

One of my favorite things about working in online education is feeling like I’m on the “cutting edge” of educational innovation. There are so many positive aspects of online education that make it well-suited toward students in 21st century contexts. I love working with creative educators to help improve the online educational experience for our students, and am excited to see how this field will grow in the years to come. There are many reasons why I think online education will only increase in the next few years, but two of the core issues in my mind surround the areas of flexibility and customization.

 

Flexibility

 

One of the greatest assets of online education is its incomparable flexibility—a benefit for both teachers and students. This is something I’ve also personally experienced from the perspective of a student. Earlier in my career, when I still worked in a traditional classroom setting, I decided to begin pursuing my Master’s degree. I wanted to learn more both personally and professionally, but I didn’t want to leave my full-time job in an unstable economy and rack up student loan debt. After researching several options, I chose an online Master’s program which allowed me the flexibility to continue working as a teacher while being able to use my “off time” to pursue my studies. Since I didn’t have a physical classroom to attend at a set time, I was able to schedule my schoolwork around my existing job easily and save valuable time because I didn’t have a commute. Without that flexibility it would have been much more difficult and time-consuming to earn my degree.

 

While most of our high school students don’t have a full-time job (though some do), many of our students at CEA are heavily involved in extracurricular activities—sports, theater, and the arts—sometimes at a highly competitive level. We also have several students who are young entrepreneurs and run their own small businesses. I am constantly impressed by the dedication these young people have to their passions and the time they put into their commitments! These are wonderful things for students to be participating in, and I love being able to offer them a quality, flexible educational option so that they can pursue their passions without neglecting their education. The great flexibility of online education—allowing students to work on their own time, at their own pace, and anywhere they have a reliable internet connection and a laptop—opens up so many opportunities for students who are heavily involved in personal pursuits as well as those who travel or live abroad. As internet technologies help create an even more globalized society and as students pursue more extracurricular activities, I expect to see an increase in students who choose to learn online for its flexibility and compatibility with a 21st century lifestyle.

 

Customization

 

In addition to the great flexibility an online learning environment provides in terms of when and where to do school, online education also lends itself wonderfully to customization. Having taught in a traditional school setting before coming to CEA, I’ve come to appreciate the way that online learning uniquely allows teachers to really meet each student where they are and tailor both their feedback and sometimes even the curriculum to a particular student’s needs.

 

In my previous school, it was sometimes difficult to differentiate things for students as much as I would have liked since we were very small and private. Each grade-level only had one class of students, and it wasn’t possible to hire enough teachers to have separate “advanced” and “core” level classes with such a small student body. Thus differentiation mostly involved differing levels of homework as opposed to actual differences in the curriculum. Though CEA is still a small private school, because we exist online and don’t have to worry about maintaining the attention of twenty-five kids—all at varying levels—simultaneously, we’re given the freedom to really “meet each student where they are.” It’s simple for us to identify a student who struggles in a subject and move them to a curricular level that offers more support. Likewise, it’s easy to move a student who needs a greater challenge to a higher level, or to provide them with a challenging twist on an assignment, depending on that student’s particular strengths in weaknesses. Additionally, we have the ability to offer unique electives or to offer curricular alternatives much more easily than would be possible in a traditional school setting. This allows us the benefit of keeping our school small while still providing the curricular options and choices available at a larger school.

 

Online education also really puts the emphasis on the student as an individual learner. Students control the pacing of the lesson and can skip more quickly through material they understand, or spend more time on a lesson that’s difficult for them. In a traditional classroom setting, I often encountered students who were too shy to ask a question in class, or who worried about “slowing the class down.” Online education reduces these worries for students, and also encourages them to get to know their teacher because they are in constant communication. It’s wonderful to see students opening up and asking questions that they might not have asked in a traditional classroom setting. Additionally, no student gets “lost” in the classroom or has to worry about being too shy to participate in a group, since each student receives one-on-one attention from the teacher for all questions and assignments. This also allows the teachers the time to really get to know their students well—as both people and as learners—something that we care very much about at CEA.

 

 

Certainly, there are strengths and weaknesses to both the traditional classroom model and online models of education. At CEA, we constantly seek to evaluate these things, and to come up with creative ways to improve the online educational experience for our students. It’s also exciting to see all the wonderful opportunities that online educational naturally opens up for teachers that allow us to better reach students and to support them in their growth as learners and as citizens of the 21st century. I look forward to watching how this field grows and changes in the coming decade, and I fervently believe that the flexibility and customization that online education provides will be a draw for students as well as their teachers in the years to come.

By: Amy Gentile, M.A. Higher Education, Assistant Director and Head Teacher at Christian Educators Academy
One of my favorite things about working in online education is feeling like I’m on the “cutting edge” of educational innovation. There are so many positive aspects of online education that make it well-suited toward students in 21st century contexts.

Read More