Strategies for Supporting Online Learning in Middle School

By Julie Schuler of Your Teen Mag

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‘When I heard that our schools would be moving to online learning for the foreseeable future, I thought what many parents did: We need a schedule. I shared this idea with my 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. I empowered them to each come up with their own routine, which I thought was smart.

I was wrong. Well, half wrong.

My daughter typed up a two-page schedule. My son stomped a bit and scoffed. “Fine,” I said. “Just write down ideas to keep yourself busy—so, if you find yourself bored, you can look at it.”

My friend and fellow mom Jill Mason found herself in a similar predicament with her sixth- and eighth- graders. Mason has owned her own business for 20 years, training and coaching adults online and in-person. She’s a rockstar motivator—of adults. I wondered: How is she doing with the middle schoolers in her life?

Three days into her new normal, she told me, “Someone has cried every day, including me. But we’re getting into the swing of things.”


Yes, Make A Schedule

Out of the gate, Mason created a schedule: a Google doc where everyone in the family—including her kids and ex-husband—could track things. “I had to get the kids to realize this is not a Fortnite Fest vacation. Having a routine is key. My kids know, ‘This is the time mom is available to help,’ so I can still run my business. This way, their dad and I can keep them focused, even in different households.”


Keep Them Interested

Mason knows that adults need repetition to achieve information fluency. Specifically, they need to experience the material in different ways: talk about it, write about it, and apply it—and this is hard to do online. “This was the challenge with my son—if he’s given a video to watch, he wants to skip through it and go straight to the problems.” Mason stepped in to provide the interactivity he needed—asking him questions and discussing what he watched. “I want him to know I’m engaged in this, too.”


Realize They Want to Learn

My daughter cried when she heard that school would be out, and she’s not alone: Even kids that say they don’t like school will miss it. Like my son. Every day he has gone online—as promised—and done his work. However, when he hit a snag with the technology, he wanted to give up. I encouraged him to email his teacher for support. When that still didn’t fix the issue, I stepped in with information the school had sent parents and got him back on track.


Make It Fun

Mason’s next goal is creating variety—especially in areas that are hard to do online, like physical education. “They want to go out and play, but they get sick of doing the same thing. I’m designing a workout program they can do with their friends using the free stuff from our local Y. I’m telling their friends, ‘Everyday I’m going to release a workout,’ and I’m attaching small prizes to completing the assignments.” She’s also encouraged her daughter to create chats with her friends using Zoom and to use FaceTime to practice her cello with her teacher. (Your results may vary.)

Did I mention she’s a rockstar? “It hasn’t been easy—and I’ve yelled more than I would like to,” she tells me. “But, it has gotten better. I’m trying to find ways to create an environment where they can manage most of the routine themselves. It’s all about making sure we don’t let go of what we as parents know is the right thing to do.”


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Our curriculum has always been digital so we were able to quickly adapt to the requirements that are needed now. For anyone looking for additional supplemental support or help navigating all of the work that is needed to do at home, Sylvan is really flexible and we have certified instructors that can jump right in and help!


Julie Schuler is the parent of a middle school teen son and tween daughter and frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at