How do you teach classes that homeschooled learners sign up for and want to come back to?
Four educators on Outschool who regularly teach learners who are homeschooled (in addition to students who attend brick-and-mortar schools) share what works well for them in designing and running classes that appeal to homeschoolers. We talked with each educator about one class format they teach — ongoing, semester, short-term, or 1-on-1 — and how they use it to meet homeschoolers’ needs and build enrollments.
1-on-1 classes: Anita Wilkerson
Anita is a former teacher in a brick-and-mortar school, plus she has years of experience homeschooling her own children. The bulk of Anita’s classes on Outschool are tutoring, predominantly math and reading for learners ages 5 through 15.
She specializes in supporting learners with unique learning needs like dyscalculia, dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety. Most of Anita’s 1-on-1 classes are ongoing, but educators can also use other class formats to teach one learner.
Anita says she prefers 1-on-1 classes because she has the ability to engage directly with learners and can provide targeted help to learners. She makes sure she has the content to teach a wide range of learners who may join her classes.
When talking about her learners who are homeschooled, Anita says that sometimes she finds that they have learned procedures but don’t necessarily have a clear understanding of underlying concepts, particularly in math.
Anita says she understands this situation because she remembers her approach at times as a homeschool parent: “Memorizing your multiplication facts, memorizing your division facts, but the concepts behind those we don’t tend to value as much. But the reality is that those strategies are very important for students to develop conceptual understanding.”
Sometimes when homeschooled learners arrive at her classes, she says, their parents are at a point where they’re frustrated with trying to teach a particular subject. “So just to know that you’re helping their parents, helping them with whatever you’re providing, is intrinsically rewarding,” she says.
In terms of at-home practice, Anita provides more extension activities for her homeschooled learners. She shares resources that parents seek like grade-level book lists, websites where learners can practice their skills, and videos where she solves math problems.
“I support homeschooled learners with the after-school activities because I know they have time to do them,” she says.
Often, parents of homeschooled learners are less interested in typical math sequences and standards, Anita says.
“I think that’s why they choose homeschooling because they want something a little different than the standard. So you have to be respectful of how they want to educate their students.”
Ongoing classes: Leigh Robertson
Leigh mainly teaches history on Outschool, although she offers classes on a few other topics, including bullet journaling and financial independence. Her history and social studies classes are popular with homeschoolers. Leigh also is a homeschooling/world schooling parent.
Her hallmark class is an ongoing class called United States History in Pictures: An Inquiry Based Social Studies Exploration. She has sessions for learners in different age ranges starting with age 11 up to age 18. Leigh schedules her class meetings several months in advance so learners have the chance to sign up.
When Leigh taught in public schools, she typically led history classes that gave an overview of a period of history. Many homeschoolers prefer to get away from that approach, Leigh says.
Often, homeschool parents “want their kids to have a deep understanding of content, and we’ve created the time and space for them to be able to do that.”
Leigh also doesn’t organize her ongoing history class sequentially. Instead, each class is an opportunity to take a deep dive into that class meeting’s topics, based on discussion of historical photos. Her class centers on themes and, although she has a goal for each class meeting, what learners notice and want to discuss.
Using an ongoing class format gives homeschooled learners, in particular, the flexibility to join class meetings when it works for them. If a learner attends the class for about a year, they will have studied all the U.S. history topics in the course, she says. Occasionally, Leigh will have a homeschooled learner who needs to meet a particular state requirement, and she works with that person to develop a plan to fulfill that need.
Leigh provides projects to do at home and leaves it up to learners and families whether a learner does them. Some homeschool parents just want resources, she says, others would like their children to do projects and assignments each week, and some leave it up to the learner.
Semester classes: David Salch
David is a veteran educator on Outschool, first teaching on the platform in 2016. He teaches mainly STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes, including well attended robotics sessions, to learners ages 8 to 15. Other topics he teaches include entrepreneurship, magic, and a car club. David offers a few classes late in the afternoon when he tends to have learners from brick-and-mortar schools, but he schedules most of his classes during the school day (Central Time) for homeschoolers.
He is transitioning to offer more semester classes (at least 8 weeks long) and fewer short-term, 4- to 6-week ones. David schedules his classes a couple months ahead. He also adds one-time classes for marketing purposes — then learners can try his classes and parents can check out both the class and his style.
He currently favors semester classes for a few reasons:
- Learners can build their knowledge because they commit to attending during the class period
- Parents like a consistent schedule for a longer time
- He retains learners in one class for a longer period
- The classes become a standard 10- to 12-weeks
In addition, he says, a semester-long class gives him more time to engage learners in the class topic and to build relationships. For his classes like robotics that have beginner, intermediate, and advanced sections, these factors can increase enrollment for the next-level class.
Another tip that David shared is that he started allowing learners to come to intermediate and advanced level classes without completing the beginner one. Now, learners can participate in a one-time class where David introduces them to key topics so they can join the higher level courses with important foundational knowledge. This gives learners more options in terms of which classes they can join.
David also plans projects for learners to do at home so that they remain involved in the topic during the week. At-home activities are popular with homeschooled learners, he says, who often make these a family experience.
“When you’re teaching homeschoolers… you have to be able to invite the rest of the family, at least in my after-school projects,” David says. “You have to be able to have something like, when I do a magic class, ‘Go off and show this trick to Uncle Joe who’s coming this weekend.’… They want to involve their family in their learning experience.”
Short-term classes: Heather Hancock
Heather, too, is an experienced teacher and currently teaches reader’s theater, where learners read literature aloud together, and voice acting: voiceover performance of anime, video game, or other characters. Most of her classes are short-term, or less than 8 weeks, although she does have semester classes and ongoing voice acting workshops for teens. She is currently scheduling classes a couple months ahead.
Heather started online teaching with one-time classes on accents, then she wanted to start improv classes. “Improv for me takes at least 6 weeks to build that bond and that trust with those students,” she says. Creating an environment where learners are comfortable is particularly important for the topics she teaches.
The improv classes got her started with the short-term format. When her one-time accent class began getting fewer enrollments, she then switched to a 5-week accent class with four different accents.
Since the topics she teaches usually require learners to present in class, she finds that learners can be less comfortable and more self-conscious in 1-on-1 classes. Plus, social interaction is an important part of her classes. Heather teaches many classes during the school day (Mountain Time) and says her homeschool students generally want more time to discuss and to make social connections.
In addition, Heather describes her homeschooled learners as more likely to have diverse learning needs. She says she makes accommodations like being careful with jokes and analogies to make sure everyone understands and puts scripts in particular fonts and font sizes so that all learners can read them.
Like the others, Heather stresses the importance of providing homeschooled learners with activities that they can do at home, potentially with their families. Homeschool parents, she says, are typically involved in their children’s education and may give plenty of feedback.
It’s important to respond to parent messages, make accommodations as needed, and respond to other requests, Heather says.
“The more that you are engaging with those parents, that’s how you get those requests… ‘Would you be willing to create another class?’ “