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KJ Virtual Academy's Approach to Teacher & Student Capacity with Technology

How one virtual school used technology to engage students and help educators manage workloads

Overview

Between January 2022 and June 2023, the district featured below was one of 20 participants in The Learning Accelerator (TLA)’s Strategy Lab: Virtual & Hybrid program to address a problem of practice related to virtual and hybrid learning environments. Through their participation in Strategy Lab, this team was guided through a multi-step process to identify their unique goals and gaps before determining and designing measurable solutions to their challenge. The Strategy Lab program was based on the Real-Time Redesign (RTR) toolkit, which takes participants through a rapid, research-based, and field-tested process for making targeted improvement toward more equitable, effective, and engaging virtual/hybrid learning and included:

For approximately 18 months, this district worked in Strategy Lab’s cohort model to identify and address a problem of practice specific to their virtual program – in this case, teacher and student capacity with technology. The district team gathered data, explored potential solutions, and then designed, implemented, measured, and reflected on a pilot program created to address teacher and student technology knowledge and skills.

To learn more about TLA’s research on effective instruction as it relates to teacher and student capacity, please visit our Insight: Addressing Teacher and Student Capacity with Technology.

KJ Virtual Academy

KJ Virtual Academy – a hybrid school in the Green Bay Area Public School District in Wisconsin – serves 70 PK-6 students and describes their instructional model as enriched virtual, with a combination of virtual instruction and in-person support. They joined Strategy Lab because they wanted to build a team that would learn, grow, and adapt to better serve students and families.

Understanding the Challenge

The team identified two challenges:

  1. The need to provide a learning solution for disengaged students; and

  2. The need to offer a sustainable workload for teachers.

Evidence from their needs assessment revealed that school leaders believed elementary teachers knew how to leverage different modalities and provide actionable feedback. However, they also acknowledged several areas that required improvement. For example, analysis of their self- and team assessments revealed that the school lacked a technology-training program for teachers, including how to leverage asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences.

Four of six school leaders who completed the team assessment felt confident that they had chosen user-friendly tools and that elementary students spent more time learning from technology – as opposed to trying to navigate or use it. However, evidence also revealed that the team believed the training offered to students on how to use technology could be improved as they were not sure if students knew how to access (or were comfortable) seeking technology support. Analysis of other documents confirmed that technology issues affected both students and teachers:

  • Workbook entry: “[Teachers] need the technology to not be a barrier to students’ learning because it decreases student engagement along with [creating] an extra work load for the teachers.”

  • Noted area of improvement from a collaborative Jamboard: “Features and functions of our technology to support student learning. This can be unpredictable.”

In other words, the leadership team recognized that technology issues posed a barrier to learning, and ongoing conversations around current policies and practices led the team to identify a problem of practice: the challenge of redesigning instruction to increase student engagement. In response, they decided to design a pilot program that would educate elementary teachers on how to design effective virtual instruction, including common expectations for student behavior and engagement.

Designing and Piloting a Measurable Solution

The team designed a pilot that modified an existing small-group instructional model for students who showed delayed literacy growth. Built upon prior success to leverage small groups to address academic gaps, the pilot teacher collaborated with an instructional coach to get specific strategies to support literacy instruction and then piloted with five grade-six students. During these synchronous sessions, the teacher also modeled and encouraged students to follow specific expectations for online engagement while teaching a reading lesson.

Taking Action

The pilot included two components:

  • Targeted Small-Group Support: Over the course of two weeks, the teacher met with selected sixth-grade students for a total of nine, 15-minute sessions to focus on students who struggled with similar literacy skills and disengagement behavior.

Learn more about setting up targeted small-group instruction.

Learn more about scaffolded small-group instruction.

  • Synchronous Engagement: Using a predetermined checklist of expected online behavior, the teacher noted student interactions during the synchronous small-group sessions. The purpose of this was to see if meeting with a smaller group of peers over time would encourage students to exhibit expected behaviors without prompting.

Learn more about how to effectively engage learners in a synchronous classroom setting.


Three of the four students who completed a post-pilot survey shared that meeting in a small group helped them academically, and they wanted their teacher to continue using the small group with their class. The pilot teacher noted an increase in reading comprehension scores as well as the transfer of online engagement behaviors to other classes. Most importantly, the teacher relayed that formerly disengaged students seemed to now be more comfortable sharing in front of their peers.

Although school leaders explicitly identified technology as a focus area, they chose to use one teacher to concentrate on developing student capacity by addressing expected online behavior while simultaneously reinforcing reading literacy skills. As a result of the promising results from this pilot, the school not only plans to continue using small groups for reading but will add math small groups as well. The pilot also prompted staff members to reflect on their current teaching practices and how they could better support the individualized needs of students.

Story of Change

Grade-six teacher perspective, as shared by the district: “I have a student who regularly does not follow camera expectations. He did an excellent job of following these new expectations [e.g., turning on cameras, showing their faces], and I did see an increase in both voluntary and involuntary responses. Prior to the pilot, this student would not often respond when called on. It was great to see this change, and I have continued to see this change since the pilot.”

The pilot teacher reported that during the pilot, this student, who previously shied away from camera-on expectations, did turn on their camera for every session. Even though the student still needed prompting to verbally respond to questions posed by the teacher, the student voluntarily offered a response 44% of the time – a particularly positive development for this student. In this case, educators were able to observe how incremental changes could make a difference.

The school leadership team is planning to use lessons learned from the pilot to inform the design of a handbook and instructional model to include more targeted small-group support. This plan aligns with the reason why they joined Strategy Lab: to build a team that would learn, grow, and adapt to better serve students and families.