Rethinking the Green Dot Challenge™ for Distance Learning

Published: July 2, 2020, 1:16 p.m.

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ONCE UPON A TIME, the kingdom of New Manchester High School (and every kingdom in all of the lands), was placed under a curse. At least, that’s what it felt like to the kingdom’s students, parents, and teachers, who suddenly found themselves on back-to-back Zoom calls, banned from festivities like prom and graduation, and left to struggle through online learning.

Through the confusion, however, a shining beacon of hope strode forth: the fabulous Adrienne Petit and her epic team of New Manchester High teachers banned together to conquer digital learning, connect students, and to make learning FUN.

Their weapon of choice? The USATestprep Green Dot Challenge (GDC).

The Hardships of Distance Learning

Fairy tales aside, Ms. Petit initiated the Green Dot Challenge at her school last year with great success. However, COVID-19 changed things. With EOCs out of the picture, grades and participation no longer required, and the countless personal and scholastic challenges her students faced, she had to get her creative juices flowing. She needed to find a way to help inspire her students to not only participate in the challenge again, but also simply to help them last through the school year.

Petit describes the difficulties when distance learning began: “We had to keep teaching, even though there wouldn’t be any penalty for lack of participation. The first weeks of digital learning had no guidelines other than being required to host class sessions with students twice a week.”

Students hung in there, but Petit sympathized with her students' situation. She knew all were longing to be around their friends again. And there were less obvious challenges students faced.

“Once we switched to digital learning, having so many platforms to keep up with was overwhelming for them,” said Petit. “However they were willing to participate in the Green Dot Challenge because they know all of the activities are in one place, which made it easy for them.”

Green Dot Challenge - Relieving the Monotony

Starting the Green Dot Challenge four weeks into quarantine was a relief because it switched up the monotony of online learning for the students, Petit’s school decided to close out the year only using the Green Dot Challenge. It became an independent practice and opportunity to acknowledge the top students for the week.

“Our weekly non-mandatory virtual session became more like a check in after we started GDC, ” Petit noted. Each session became a place to talk about the standards, ask questions, address problems, and focus on what students needed. Even though attendance wasn’t allowed to be taken, Petit says 90-95% of her kids came to her virtual sessions.

Incentives Help

But 95% participation didn’t just happen. The challenge of getting students to buy into participating in the GDC without being able to put up the big shiny posters in the school hallways to chart weekly progress (which she had done before) would involve ingenuity and an entire faculty willing to enthusiastically participate as well.

Petit notes that success flowed from the incentives. She made a virtual newsletter that would list a picture of the students who were participating the most and earning their green dots for the week. The newsletter was sent to all the students in the department and was a tremendous help because, “Students wanted to see themselves in the newsletter.”

Petit was able to get her whole department in on the Green Dot Challenge and also shared it with her administrators.

“My assistant principal loved it so much he put the newsletter on the school website for everyone to see. Our team is incredible and always goes above and beyond for the students. We would get hyped about the students doing the challenge to get the students excited too and it worked!”

As for other incentives, they asked the students what would motivate them to participate in the challenge and the most popular requests were to drop the lowest test grade, digital assignment passes (exempt from an online assignment), and to be exempt from a general assignment.

Petit notes that initially only a small amount of students were involved, specifically the honors students she teaches. However, as time went by, “Most kids got involved in some way because they got competitive with each other and really wanted to see their picture on the newsletter.”

The challenge wasn’t mandatory, but was a way for students to improve their grades and be honored for demonstrating mastery of standards. While not all students participated, the school was pleased with the amount who at least tried.

Petit notes the instant feedback that comes with the Green Dot Challenge was an instant motivator for students. “As soon as they watch the short video and answer the 3-4 questions associated with the video and get an 85% or higher, the dot turns green. The instant feedback motivates them because they know they are on the road to success. Seeing the dot change gets them excited!”

She also noted the challenge worked for even more reluctant students.

“The green dots signify and reinforce that students can be successful at this and will keep them trying,” says Petit. “I had a student who never would try to earn 3 stars! I don’t know what it was about the GDC, but he got into it seeing the instant success, it drove him. We acknowledged his success because he was struggling at the beginning.”

She notes she had another student who initially struggled who didn't stop until he had 100s on everything. “Being able to scaffold and limit the number of questions, adjust the DOK level, provide a time frame, and differentiate with USATP made the program a huge success.”

Lessons Learned

Petit acknowledges the challenge wasn’t perfect. Even though the team of teachers participating in the GDC were excited to only have one focus and one platform to utilize, obstacles still remained. There was difficulty in reminding students to complete the challenge on a daily basis. Some units had not been taught prior to the distance learning mandate, requiring supplemental instructional assignments and Google Meet sessions to give explanations of standards the students did not understand.

Overall, however, New Manchester High teachers and students rose to the challenge. With a worldwide pandemic stopping all that was previously normal and uncertainty looming on all fronts, these teachers still gave their all to ensure their students finished the year strong.

Five Key Takeaways:

1. Teaching will always come first.

USATestprep is an ideal classroom partner, but one-to-one teaching is crucial for students to learn the standards and units and succeed.

2. Different students are motivated by different incentives.

Some students can be motivated by simple recognition, while others prefer one-on-one attention as demonstrated in Petit’s check-in sessions. There are also those who love to see instant feedback such as dots turning green and are motivated to finish what they started.

3. Getting your administration and numerous teachers involved is a game changer.

The USATestprep platform is more effective (especially the GDC!), when all teachers are on board to get students excited about participation.

4. It can take a major shake up to realize what’s in front of you.

Petit notes she always appreciated USATP, but seeing how it could be used in new ways for remote learning brought a deeper appreciation for what’s there.

5. Stay flexible, no one knows what’s coming.

At the start of the nationwide shutdown, New Manchester High School took immediate action, adapted their “normal” teaching to the online model. They worked to the best of their ability and were successful at keeping most of their students engaged and learning with creative solutions such as the USATestprep Green Dot Challenge.

Thank you, Adrienne Petit, for taking the time to share your personal experience with us!

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