6 Tips for Promoting K-12 Student Accountability During Distance Learning
Student accountability matters more now than ever as K-12 schools and districts move to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a remote education environment, teachers must rely on students’ self-motivation to push them to their full potential at the end of a uniquely difficult school year.
Motivating students to take responsibility for their learning and achieve their best has always challenged teachers. Even veteran educators admit this struggle. But holding students accountable for their own success is key to improving outcomes, especially when they’re doing most of their work outside of the classroom environment.
Here are five key strategies for promoting student accountability in or out of the classroom.
1. Create a culture of trust and responsibility
Student accountability begins with establishing the right learning environment. A good place to start is by teaching and reinforcing the core competencies of social and emotional learning, in which students learn to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, build and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible choices.
When students feel connected to each other and their teacher, and when they learn that their actions have consequences, they are more likely to take responsibility for their behavior and their learning.
To promote student accountability, teachers also must create an classroom environment in which all students feel trusted and respected and have the support they need for success. “If students sense that they are not welcome, accepted, or supported in the classroom, it is unlikely that they will engage in classroom activities,” says education researcher Robert Marzano. This also applies to distance or blended learning. “Carol Goodenow (1993) found teacher support was consistently the strongest predictor of motivation among students in sixth through eighth grades.”
2. Set high standards and clear expectations.
Explain to students what you expect of them, and don’t be afraid to set high goals. For remote teaching, this means setting clear due dates for assignments and doing daily attendance check-ins at a set time. Visit our PowerSchool COVID-19 support page for tips to make taking and managing attendance easier when using PowerSchool SIS for distance learning.
Students still need encouragement. Tell them you believe in them and are there to help them succeed, whether that means setting virtual office hours or simply inviting questions in project comments or by email. Above all, make sure they understand that attaining high standards is possible if they apply themselves to the task at hand.
“Self-efficacy is quite possibly the most important factor affecting engagement,” Marzano says. “Even if students feel good, are interested in what is occurring, and believe it to be important, they will probably not fully engage if they believe the task is impossible. Clips from movies such as Rudy, Oliver Twist, and Apollo 13 can be used to help students discern common traits among those who accomplish great things even in the face of significant obstacles.” Finishing the school year remotely is difficult, but it’s a challenge they can rise to overcome.
3. Give students ownership of the learning process.
Ask students how they think distance learning can be improved. When students are given a voice and a choice in their learning, student accountability often follows. Giving students a say in how they will learn has been linked to gains in student effort and achievement. For instance, a Stanford study of four urban high schools that have adopted a student-centered approach to instruction found that all four schools are outperforming most other schools in their communities that serve similar student populations.
In his book Who Owns the Learning?, education thought leader Alan November says
shifting control from the teacher to the student can be very powerful—but it doesn’t absolve teachers of their responsibility. In fact, it places teachers in a more important role than ever. “Frankly, I think it’s easier to do the traditional transfer model of knowledge,” he notes. “It takes more skill to create a classroom where students are really motivated to manage their own learning.”
PowerSchool Ecollect Forms offers a great tool for listening to students and families. Custom pulse surveys help you quickly collect feedback and learn how to best support students. Some districts already use the tool this way, like Marysville Exempted Village School District in Ohio. They use Ecollect Forms to create Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) for each student based on survey responses.
4. Help students learn to self-assess their work.
Without a teacher in the room, students need very clear direction on how to assess their own work and progress. Students are more likely to assume responsibility for their learning if they are regularly reflecting on and assessing their own work, studies suggest. “When students self-evaluate their progress toward learning, reflect on their learning, and generate strategies for more learning, they will show improved performance with meaningful motivation,” one research paper indicates.
Building in self-reflection assignments as part of larger projects can help. This provides opportunities for students to stop, assess, and make sure they understand their progress before moving on. But for this to work, teachers must set very clear expectations and offer methods for students to check their work along the way.
Vicky Davis, host of the 10-minute Teacher Podcast, suggests giving students rubrics up front. This way, they know the criteria and can assess and track their progress throughout large, complex projects. Students should know whether they’ve met the required criteria before they receive a grade.
See more of her tips for personalized learning.
5. Connect the classroom to the home.
Keeping families updated about distance learning schedules, activities, and expectations cannot be understated. Parents and guardians can have a significant effect on their children’s learning. When they take an active role in monitoring their children’s assignments and progress, students tend to take more responsibility for their learning and are more likely to stay on track—decades of research confirms this.
Teachers can encourage family involvement in distance learning by establishing communication directly with parents and guardians. Consider scheduling a weekly video conference to loop them in on upcoming work. This gives them a chance to ask any questions they have and get a face-to-face response.
Teachers can still use tools like PowerSchool Unified Classroom to help students take charge of their own learning. Post project-based or inquiry-based assignments that give students ownership of their academic success, along with rubrics for students to assess their own work. Students and parents also have easy access to grades, assignments, attendance, and other information, making them full partners in the learning process.
6. Communicate IT support for students and families
As tech savvy as students may be these days, issues will still arise when shifting to distance learning. Offering easily accessible IT support for students and families helps them fix problems fast and get back to learning and working. Make sure they know that whether they believe the problem is on your end or theirs, your school or district is there to support them.
Set up support hours with a phone number and email contact. Families should know when and how to reach out if they experience problems. Encourage them to use this resource instead of asking teachers to investigate tech-related problems.
While many issues can be fixed remotely, sometimes users need in-person assistance. If allowed by your local policies, you may be able to provide curbside tech support. Wichita Falls Independent School District in Texas began doing this in early April. Families can bring student devices and hardware to one of the district’s schools during designated morning or evening hours each week. Assistance is by appointment only to help the school manage support needs.
For more about supporting setting students up for success when switching to distance learning, check out our Distance Learning Readiness Kit.