Utilizing Self Direction, Goal Setting, and Mentoring to Learn Outside the Classroom

As part of our COVID-19 coverage, Summit Learning is sharing stories about how our partner schools are adapting to the closure. The new normal for teachers, students, and parents across the country changed overnight. Students are accessing learning online, parents are more involved in the day-to-day of their child’s learning, and teachers are virtually connecting with students to keep them engaged and learning. Here’s how one school in New York state shifted to the changes.

On the morning of Tuesday, March 3, 2020, our administration was alerted to news of the first Coronavirus cases that had been discovered in Westchester County, New York. The outbreak had occurred in a local community where many of our school families lived. That same morning, all carpooling parents were immediately notified, and all buses carrying children on their way to school were turned around. After a brief meeting all faculty and staff were sent home, and the school was shut down. At that moment, no one knew for how long. 

Through the remarkable dedication and innovation of our administrators, faculty, and staff, Westchester Torah Academy (WTA) began to migrate successfully from its physical location to a virtual one. Our “school” was accessible through a password-protected portal on the new WTA Virtual Learning website that had been constructed by our creative team practically overnight. Through this centralized website, we were able to create and maintain a schoolwide daily class schedule based upon a typical school day. 

One exciting project that we were able to continue despite closures was a mock trial based on the 1967 book ‘The Outsiders.’ From their own homes, students held a virtual courtroom experience through Zoom as part of their 7th-grade English Language Arts project based on characters and the plot from the book. A lawyer from their community served remotely as the judge in their trial. All Middle School students were invited to witness the trial online. View the mock trial here.

Summit Learning has been a crucial component of WTA’s success in the transition from in-school to remote learning. As the primary learning platform for our Middle School, remote learning has become second nature to our students, giving them the skills necessary to adapt to the specific demands of learning outside a physical classroom. Besides ease and familiarity with navigating technology, other vital skills that are serving our students especially well are an emphasis on self-directed learning, goal-setting, and one-to-one mentoring which can be maintained easily through video chat. Mentoring is a very important aspect of our remote learning program. As our students are isolated, mentoring sessions provide an opportunity for teachers to “meet” with each student and hear about what is going well for them and what challenges they may be experiencing.

Having all text, video resources, study materials, and assignments built directly into the platform is another obvious advantage to working remotely when physical books and papers can no longer be accessed. Summit Learning gives teachers the ability to exchange materials with students online, dialogue with students about their work by giving and receiving direct feedback, assess students’ ongoing progress, and create personalized timelines for students to work at their own level and pace within the platform. Summit Learning’s emphasis on giving students agency over their learning and teaching them how to advocate for themselves equips them with skills that are essential in any case, but especially within a remote learning situation. One of our 7th Graders had to travel to Israel with his family, yet he is able to keep up with his studies. Summit Learning is a tool that has enabled our school to meet the external challenges of remote learning by bringing the learning to our students, meeting them literally wherever they are. 

“Summit helps bring structure to our classes. It also helps lay out the material and makes it easier to learn,” said Peri, a 7th grade student at WTA.

Deganit Ronen, Principal
Ingrid Hauptman, Summit Coordinator
Andrea Raab, Writer

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.