How to set up a remote academic support group for high school students. - Youth Capital

How to set up a remote academic support group for high school students.

My name is Ziyanda Bans and I am a 2020 Youth Capital Influencer. I am also the founder of INGCAMBU , a movement that is aimed at eradicating the root cause of social injustices, one of our core focuses is Education. Myself and fellow Influencers Asive, Kamvelihle and Nosizo decided to set up a WhatsApp panel on setting remote academic support groups since we recognise how difficult it is being a student during the lockdown. We are without support, from academic to data. However, we have also come to realise how important a youth network is to help each other during tough times.

Why do we talk about catching up? High School is a critical time for us – research has shown that of 100 students who start Grade 1, only 37 complete Grade 12 after 12 years!

What happens to the remaining 63% of students who don’t make it to Grade 12? Our challenges as students go unseen. How do we catch other young people up while still in school, or after they have dropped out?

In a WhatsApp session, we looked at some questions around the reason behind support groups and how to set them up.

How are high school students feeling now that they haven’t been able to get to school?

When we address this we have to look at the psychological and financial factors and how to work around them.

  • Psychological – COVID19 has caused so much panic for many people, more especially students whose academic life is threatened in many ways. They have anxiety because now they have to adapt to new ways of learning, which is something new to them and they are not certain if it will work for them.

There’s also the challenge of students learning differently: fast learners seem to be adjusting better than those who may need a little more time to understand. This makes the others doubt if they will pass this year as they did not get enough time to be taught. 

  • Financial – Now that the students’ routine has changed so their finances have changed. Their parents have to go the extra mile in ensuring they get their education even though they are not going to school. They may have had to spend money on buying them new smart phones as they need to learn digitally,  data to keep connected and even text books for those who did not have them. Some students might have to use their parents’ phones. 

Those factors can be addressed in the following ways:

  • Psychological: providing students with platforms where they can get free counseling and support so that they can be able to cope during this difficult time. Or speak openly about these factors that might make them feel stressed.
  • Financial: Recommending them free sites where they can learn and where information is shared, so that they don’t have to spend additional money.

What do you think are the benefits and challenges of remote group learning?

The benefits of remote group learning are  Brainstorming, Motivation, Clarity of Discussion and Accountability.

Let’s look at them one by one.

1.Brainstorming

Studying in groups allows students to share their different thoughts with one another.This  usually leads to a better learning process where new ideas are generated. In this way, students learn with a different perspective. Open discussions enhance thinking skills and will give you access to others’ information and as a result, broadens your mind.

2.Motivation

Group studying is the best solution to procrastination! It breaks the monotonous learning process and it makes you attentive to what the others are saying. Mock tests and trial quizzes assist those struggling with course materials and those extracting tests and quizzes from them as well.

3.Clarity of discussions

We are all different and perceive the same information differently. You can always ask your study mate to clarify a vague point for you and vice versa. Also, this action increases retention and reinforces the ideas, because the more the information is repeated the stronger the memory will be.

4. Accountability

In a group, we’re all accountable for catching each other up (#CatchUsUp) – if one member is struggling, we ensure we can all assist them and make sure they understand before we move on as a group.

So there are many benefits to group studying but there are also some cons that include distractions, lack of efficiency and not – personalised learning. We need to be aware of these factors.

1.Distractions

You may find it tiresome to stay focused when studying in a group. Sometimes the conversation shifts from studying to trendy events- increasing distraction! Studying alone might be helpful if you need undivided attention to the materials at hand.A great solution is having an agenda for each session, so that everyone has the goal in mind. 

2. Lack of Efficiency

Group studying sometimes lacks creativity and efficiency and when there are exams on the horizon, efficiency should be the priority. Studying alone will give you time and space to do your own personalized studying. A great solution is to come together in a group once everyone has had the time to study the concepts. 

3. Not-personalised learning

Students are different and how they perceive and take in information is also different. When studying in a group, you might be studying at someone else’s pace, whether it is too fast or too slow, it will not help you with learning. Also, you might lose track of your own questions and the difficulties you might be facing with the subject at hand because students mostly do not want to diverge from the group. Remember, this might happen in schools when there are too many classmates.

A great solution is encouraging students to create personalized study plans, so that they can be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. 

Remember, we all study differently. For example, a social person might find it hard to study alone and find it more appealing to talk to people to learn; on the other hand, another social person will choose to study alone because he gets distracted easily with people and he can focus better when alone. 

What is remote learning and  what can we do to support it?

Remote learning provides an opportunity for students to remain connected and engaged with the content while working from their homes. Having a tutor (someone who can facilitate a session) is a great motivation and can minimise  with the disadvantages we looked at earlier.

Remote learning is supported by technology (phone, whatsapp) for the teaching part and for the support infrastructure (holding these spaces). One of the determining factors of remote learning is  that students should be instructed on how much time they need to spend working on assignments and other activities outlined in lessons. If there is an expectation from the tutor for students to check in regularly, then that needs to be communicated as well.

Remote learning can be supported by making sure that we also share experiences, this allows students to give each other support, and to exchange practical information and ways of coping.

It also allows them to understand themselves better through the insights of others and create support groups for all students who lack motivation during self- isolation.

What is a support group and how can we achieve it during this time?

A support group refers to any group of people whose purpose is to support one another in dealing with an issue- in this case academic support. A support group may be small (an informal gathering at someone’s kitchen table) or large. Some support groups are informal and led by the members themselves, while others are more formal and led by a trained facilitator. Some are general and provide opportunities for people to talk about anything on their minds, while others have a topic on which they focus on.There is no ? or ? way to organise a group, as long as it is safe, supportive, and respectful of all participants.

To form a successful support group, one must first know the purpose of the group and how many participants should be in the group,

As you begin planning your group, consider the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the group? What subject would you like to tutor?
  • How many people can participate in the group? Side note –  I find a small amount of people in a group more productive, because everyone has the opportunity to participate.
  • Do you have the skills to tutor certain subjects?

Next, yuo need to structure the meetings. Include the learners in making critical decisions such as the topics, calendar, when to meet and for how long. Agree on rules for the group and re-affirm the purpose to strenghten accountability.  Since at the moment social gatherings are not allowed we can save money on transport to get to the meeting place and use WhatsApp instead.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of support groups?

Advantage wise,  groups are made up of people who have the same purpose (learning a subject). So, you don’t have to feel like an outsider because everyone in the group knows exactly where you’re coming from, they got your back!
Being part of a group will also help you gain perspective. When you listen to other people talk about their struggles and problems in tackling a subject, it can help you gain a little bit of perspective about your own difficulties. That kind of connection can help you feel understood.

At this time during the Coronavirus and the lockdown, one of the main advantages is to feel connected and less isolated since we can’t see each other everyday.

There are also disadvantages, of course.

The larger the group of people, the more likely you are to have personality clashes among group members. Also, since you won’t be the sole focus of the session (everyone can ask questions), you may feel like the attention is diluted and it could take longer to see results. A great solution is to keep the number of participants limited to 5-10.

Also, group sessions usually take place at specific days and times that might not be convenient to you and could make rescheduling an issue. It’s not like making a one-on-one appointment with an individual. The day and time are usually set and you can either make it – or you can’t. A solution is to agree on a time you can commit.

As a general rule of thumb, being in a group is like working with a team, you have to be flexible! 

In  your experience what are the challenges that lead to high school students not being able to be part of those support groups? 

  • Data and Network Coverage– Data is expensive and many students can’t participate in these groups because of it. Also, network is poor in many parts in our country so learners struggle to download apps or even stay connected.
  • Device– Not everyone can afford to have a device to join those support groups. Or they might need to borrow a phone and be unable to attend all the sessions.
  • Lack of communication– there’s a breakdown in communication as not everyone is able to attend the sessions as people are not notified in advance.

We can, of course, work around these factors.

  1. Work with people in your community – you understand their challenges. If for example you are all on Android phones, you may use the Moya App which is datafree!
  2. Use hotspot places available in your communities for connections , e.g local libraries with wifi. When we will be able to go back there, please do not forget to keep social distance while doing that.  Unfortunately this is not possible at the moment so keep your content data light (limit voice notes, no videos etc).
  3. Ensure that attendees are aware of meeting times, notify them well in advance.

How do we make remote learning interactive? 

Great point! I think the following helps learners feel like they are in control and the learning is not passive: 

  • Let learners choose the way to structure these sessions
  • Make it social- use hashtags, form teams and run quizzes as ice-breakers – use fun ways of going through content that you have already gone through. Send a picture of a question and the person who sends the correct answer first gets to explain the process to the rest of the group!
  • Get students into the habit of participating. The initial challenge is just motivating students to show up or complete assignments. Quizzes and competitions also help!
  • Keep it simple. Clear directions and expectations are always important, but never more so than in a situation where tutors can’t easily understand when students are confused (we can’t see you!)

How do you think we can  mobilize more stakeholders to be part of a support group?

If you have a group format that is working you might want to amplify it, to make it accessible to more students. Approach companies/organisations that have a similar purpose to yours. 2020 Youth Capital Influencer Nasizo Mdende offered a great example of what stakeholders helped her amplify her work. 

  • Ganizulu SSS- They provide us with the current syllabus so that we know what must be included in the support groups,the syllabus is relevant for both physical and digital sessions. 
  • Elliotdale community- They mobilize participants and spread the word so that this can reach many people, ward councilors,  head men and other community leaders are involved as well .
  • Mbhashe FM- They are our marketing tool, they design posters,  flyers when needed and they broadcast our sessions as well . If we are for example on Facebook live, they broadcast that as well on their channels. 
  • Elliotdale library- They register participants on their system so that anytime they want to borrow books ,they can be supplied with those. Our participants get an opportunity to also use their computers for all their academic needs
  • Bomvane Youth foundation- They handle the Facilitation of the sessions and monitoring and evaluating if the vision is being fulfilled.

Can you see how they all play a role in keeping the sessions going?

How do we group learners for support groups? 

The fewer the members the better! In our experience having at least 5 learners per group works best – these learners need to have the same objective and start at the same level. There are different ways that learners can be grouped. I am going to make an example of three ways learners can be grouped:

  • Learning cycle (according to their level) . For example, the students all need help with equations (similar needs) and they have similar issues with them.
  • Cooperative grouping (working together cooperatively). This is when students with a diverse ability and characteristics  work together and learn from one another to accomplish assigned learning tasks and lesson plans. Here students contribute to each other’s learning.
  • Group Investigation (solving the problem togetjer): this is a small group of 4-6 diverse students that are assigned a topic to study. Each student is assigned a subpart of the work to be done. Students may play different parts in the group process. This is all done to motivate each student to be proactive and encourage learning from one another.

Who gets to deliver the content on these groups for different subjects and what material can we use? 

A tutor should deliver the content, but the session can be interactive, so every member can be empowered to facilitate.

Let’s also look at platforms and resources. 

Platforms.

  • WhatsApp and Facebook-  These are great when you can’t meet face to face! you can send voice notes, screenshots and take videos that you can share for your group.
  • Moya data free App:Using Moya is datafree which means it does not use any of your airtime or data bundle balance – it’s 100% #datafree! Its available in every network( MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom). I call it the free WhatsApp!!

Resources.

You can either ask for syllabus material like Nasizo did, get previous assignments and question papers from our teachers (if we can) or online. Another way is doing some extra research and finding material that matches the level you need to tutor. In terms of recommending extra resources to the support group members, these are my favourite!

  • Extramarks.co.za and Siyavula -They both give complete curriculum coverage of Math, Science and English subjects from Grade 6-12 and allows you to learn anywhere, and anytime
  • Vodacom E- learning offers easy to follow video lessons developed by expert teachers for grades R- Grade 12  ,you study at your own pace and rewind,pause video lessons and evaluate your progress. They are data-free for Vodacom users.
  • When using Moya data free App you can access FunDza, that has many textbooks and study guides and everything in between.

After identifying the students, we need to work hand in hand with them because a facilitator won’t really know everything and be perfect in every subject?. Tutors and older students that are well versed in the topic can also deliver the content. Also, it depends on the group you are in, because students can also meet with and help each other. 

What is the role of the tutor in these groups?

The role of a tutor in my experience is to encourage students in their  own mastery of the subject so that they  feel competent in their understanding of the subject and to remove doubts students might have about a certain topic. This requires creativity, enthusiasm,confidence, dedication and conflict resolution skills.

Are you interested in starting your own group and need some help to get going? Join the Youth Capital Squad group on Facebook and we can work together!

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