Virtual School Experience & Reflection

With my daughter’s permission, I wanted to reflect on her experience taking a Geometry class through the Florida Virtual School this summer.

She took the Geometry Honors class this past school year and barely passed the second Semester with a D on her report card. Since we did not want that grade to influence her GPA (Grade Point Average), that is crucial for qualifying for the Bright Future Scholarship that is available to Florida residents for college. The Bright Future Scholarship pays 75 or 100%  of the tuition, if the student chooses to go to a Florida State University or Community College. We decided that she should re-take that semester through the virtual school and take advantage of the “Grade Forgiveness” policy. FVS is free for Florida residents. With help of her guidance counselor from her current high school she was assigned a Geometry class the week we flew to Argentina to spend 5 weeks with my mother over the summer. We contacted the teacher via e-mail to let her know that my daughter would be out of the country for most of the duration her completing the class and that we could still check in for any required telephone conference.

The content to be studied was divided  into different modules. Each unit module was divided into lessons, which in turn was comprised of Lessons, Practice and Assignments. My daughter worked through the modules according to her own speed, although a certain number of lessons had to be completed in order for her not to be dropped from the class. Assignments could always be resubmitted after a comment was left by the teacher how to improve her work.

We have returned to the States now and my daughter has completed 75% of the course. Her goal is to finish in the next few weeks before the school years starts again.

Here are my thoughts on her experience:

My daughter is a diligent student. She is not a student who deliberately would fail to turn in a homework assignment in class, nor bomb an exam because she did not study. She does not miss school and is not one to disturb in class. Her Geometry teacher at her local school, would dutifully make a phone call to us at home a day or two before progress reports or a report card was to be sent home to inform us that our daughter was not doing well. Her words usuall were:

Your daughter is such a sweet girl. I don’t know why she can’t deliver on the tests or quizzes. She should go over the study guides and re-do all the assignments for the next test.

When I probed her, what exactly skills she felt my daughter should work and were she felt that the breakdown was occurring, she had little to say or offer as advice, except for my daughter to study more and harder and come in for tutoring several times a week before and after school. For months my daughter did exactly that. She used several tutors to try out different teaching “styles” and worked hard at home.  At one point her teacher did take the time to orally ask my daughter the questions of a test, that she had failed. Afterwards she reported to me on the phone that it was a real mystery to her, since apparently my daughter knew the material, but had not been able to “prove” it on the test. The failed grade stayed in the gradebook.

My daughter learned from that teacher, that it did not matter how hard she worked, how much she actually knew the content…all that counted was what she could reproduce on paper on the day of the exam.

The FVS experience is turning out a little different. The teacher, who she has never met, has encouraged her and has been sending her positive feedback along the way. Anytime that she had a question a response would be waiting for her (many even within the next 30 minutes). Anytime she submitted an assignment, quiz or test there was instant feedback on how she did. The student response, that had to be graded by the teacher , were returned with feedback within minutes or the same day, unless it was a weekend.

I felt this made a huge difference. My daughter was still “interested” in the feedback of the assignment that she had just completed. She sat down and looked at the assignment. She even reported back to me that she now understood WHY she had made that mistake. Since she was allowed to resubmit any assignment with corrections to show that she now understood, was a great motivator for her. This stood in sharp contrast to the traditional class, where she took a test and had to wait for days even weeks a few times to receive the test back. Reasons for this delay were mostly, that the teacher had not had time to grade during the week or because other students or class sections were still waiting to take the test. By the time that they were given the test back to review, my daughter probably had lost interest in looking for the reasons of her mistake or did not even remember her train of thought how she arrived at the conclusion she wrote on her paper. She was never allowed to keep her test past the amount of time of that one class period to further “learn from her mistakes”.

The biggest difference in taking the virtual class for my daughter was that there was NO TIME LIMIT in taking the tests. She seems to go into panic mode as soon as she knows that she has a pre-determined amount of time to complete an assignment. It does not necessarily take her longer to complete the task when she has no time limit, but the anxiety and worry if she will finish in time seems overwhelming and leads to mistakes. Problems that she can’t comprehend during a test situation are easily solved when the pressure is off.

Although she still has one module to complete in the Geometry course, I can say that the experience has allowed some incredible insight into my daughter’s “school problems”. She has comfortably achieved an “A” in the class, without the benefit of attending a lecturing and “gotta cover this unit” teacher…

…From the outside looking in, she is the one with the problem, but is that really the case? Isn’t the problem with the traditional school that only takes into consideration what a student can demonstrate on a given day and in a given time allotment. I know that she will have to continue to “play by the rules” in order to receive her diploma, but I am wondering if she should continue to work so hard and go to tutoring every day, just to continue failing with that method.

What is more important? Her learning or her ability to “prove it”? The answer is such a double edge sword. Her learning is more important, it is the core….BUT… if she can’t prove it:

  • she won’t pass the FCAT (Florida Comprehensice Assesment Test)
  • she won’t earn a High School diploma
  • she will not receive a high enough score on the ACT or SAT (college use these test scores for admission purposes) to attend the college of her choice

What sense does it make to let her continue trying to prove it in the tradidional sense? Maybe we need to look into a “hybrid” education for the rest of her high school career?