Executive Functioning & Distance Learning: Part I

As educators and mental health professionals, helping students manage their executive functioning is a critical aspect of building the foundation for academic, social, and emotional success. For neuroatypical students, particularly those with ASD and ADHD, addressing executive functioning skills within the classroom setting is already challenging enough. However, with current hybrid models and distance learning, these students are struggling even more to adapt. 

 

Background info for educators 

Executive functioning is often thought of as the “management center of the brain” or the control center of thinking. Our executive functioning assists with many different cognitive skills, which is why it not only impacts students academically, but also socially, emotionally, and physically. Some skills associated with executive functioning include: attentiveness, self-monitoring and regulating, emotional/impulse control, organizational skills, ability to prioritize, perspective taking, and planning/chunking larger tasks into smaller pieces. Many of these skills help us to perform tasks throughout our entire lives. Therefore, executive dysfunction can have a lifelong impact on students beyond their capabilities in the classroom.  

 

What does executive dysfunction look like?

Difficulties concerning executive functioning vary from person to person and also differ in severity. Common examples of ways in which students exhibit executive dysfunction include:

  • Avoiding tasks or struggling to initiate an assignment 
  • Procrastinating; trouble with managing time
  • Difficulty prioritizing tasks or steps in a process
  • Misplacing things
  • Struggling to put thoughts on paper; difficulty explaining oneself
  • Difficulty transitioning between tasks or moving from one activity to another
  • May struggle to follow directions or to complete steps in chronological order
  • May exhibit a preoccupation with a small detail of the task; i.e. missing the big picture
  • Difficulty with working memory; they may forget what they heard or read
  • May struggle when schedules, rules, procedures, or expectations change; i.e. exhibit a level of inflexibility when they’ve become used to a certain routine

 

Providing assistance with these struggles in the classroom is much easier; educators are physically there in person to alleviate issues and help students to troubleshoot their individual challenges. In the classroom, we have the ability to personally connect with students and provide them with necessary supports and accommodations, like check-ins, checklists, organizers, etc. Now, with distance learning, students with executive dysfunctions are not necessarily getting the same level of support and attention. We can fix this, however, with a little creativityand a lot of patience!

 

Strategies for teachers during distance learning  

Here are a few tips for supporting students with executive functioning issues:

  • Assess: Take inventory of your students’ needs and tendencies. I began the school year by asking every student which part of the writing process he/she hates the most. Do they struggle to begin writing? Drafting? Organizing a cohesive argument/essay? Revising? Getting thoughts down on paper? For students who said that they find it difficult to get started, I provided several supports.

 

  • Model: Firstly, every writing task that I ask students to do, I also complete and spend one class period reading my draft and discussing my writing process. Seeing an example of what the final task should look like is beneficial for all students, but especially those who struggle to initiate writing and to see the big picture. During this “modeled writing session,” I ask students to tell me what they notice about the sample. Their answers provide me with insight into how they interpret the assignment, which allows me to see who really needs greater scaffolds and who does not. 

 

  • Specify: Secondly, when students disclose that getting ideas onto paper is their greatest challenge, I provide them with very specific, thoroughly broken down organizers with sentence starters. This removes the “getting started” barrier and gives them a jumpstart to initiate the task with some momentum. 

 

  • Organize: Finally, for my students who struggle to piece together their writing (organize and revise), I find it helpful to color-coordinate the different aspects of the essay or paragraph. For example, I may highlight students’ thesis statements in red, transition words in blue, evidence/quotes in green, and analysis in orange. When reading through a student’s draft, I can easily direct them to certain sections with specific instructions to add more orange, for instance. This tells them immediately that their paper is lacking sufficient analysis. It also tells them where that analysis or orange should be placed so that the guesswork is gone.

 

  • Check-in: Another best practice that we regularly use in the classroom is to chunk larger assignments and include check-ins throughout the project or essay. With distance learning, I’ve found that breakout rooms in Zoom allow for me to specifically check in with each student during a writing work session. The platform allows students to share their screen with me 1:1 so that I can check their progress individually. This practice also allows me to see who is far behind in terms of completion. The check-ins prompt students to set small goals while working, but they also allow enough time for me to intervene if a task looks like it’s falling to the wayside.

Parents as Advocates: Tackling Dyslexia

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month—31 days dedicated to building community awareness about learning disabilities in an effort to provide supports for all children. As important as awareness is, however, parents whose children suffer from dyslexia are plenty aware of the struggles their children face on a day-to-day basis. That is why another “A” word can be even more powerful for families—advocacy.

 

No one knows your child better than you do. Keep this in mind when advocating for your child’s needs. In parents’ efforts not to come across as a “helicopter parent,” they sometimes assume it is in their child’s best interest to follow the expert’s lead, avoid making waves, and be passively agreeable. They do not want to be the bulldog. These fears are common, but that doesn’t make them true.

 

You are your child’s greatest advocate, and here’s how to accomplish that:

 

  • Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, our nation’s special education law, children and their parents or guardians are guaranteed certain protections and rights. Once identified as having a qualifying disability, schools are legally required to provide special education services to your child. Also under IDEA, the law provides parents with something called procedural safeguards, which are put in place so that parents are aware of and have a voice in every aspect of their child’s special education evaluation and IEP process. As part of the process, the school must provide you with documentation and explanation of your rights—STUDY UP ON THESE DOCUMENTS. It is commonplace for IEP meetings to move quickly, with a “sign here if you don’t have any questions” style of rapid wrap-up. It is your job to closely review these documents and to seek clarification before signing anything.
  • Another best practice for advocacy that goes hand in hand with knowing your child’s legal rights is to stay organized. Keep a binder of all necessary documentation regarding your child’s diagnosis and any other evaluative documents that you accumulate as you work through the process. Items such as test results, doctor’s notes and recommendations, educator’s observations, report cards, writing samples, and any data concerning your child’s academic skills should be kept for future reference. The binder keeps essential documents organized and acts as a paper trail of progress and correspondence among your child’s team.
  • It is also essential for parents to be fully prepared for special education meetings. Because of this, the binder’s benefits are two-fold: paper trail and parent playbook [or however you want to define the two benefits]. Of all members of your child’s academic team, you are the person that knows him best, so your seat at the table matters most. Advocating for your child means preparing questions ahead of time and speaking up if they aren’t answered clearly. Meetings tend to move quickly, so request an additional meeting if you haven’t gotten clear answers. Do not assume that the team will automatically clarify for you, so be prepared to ask follow-up questions if needed.
  • The binder is also a great resource for you to use for note taking during IEP or 504 meetings. Not only will you have your own notes to refer back to after the meeting, but the process of taking notes shows that you are actively listening and invested in your child’s special education services. When parents demonstrate this level of involvement and support, it’s the child who benefits.
  • Another helpful advocacy move is to email a summary of the main discussion points that you took away from the meeting afterwards. This keeps everyone on the same page regarding the decisions that were discussed and allows you to share your own perception of how the meeting went. If anything is unclear, your email will start that conversation and provide clarification. In that email, ask about a follow-up meeting so that dates can be arranged and any other necessary steps can be taken.
  • Speak to teachers about your expectations, your child’s expectations, and the school’s expectations. This will prevent any miscommunication and unfortunate surprises. When setting expectations for your child’s success, it is important to be honest, positive, and realistic about the growth that you’d like to see. It will be difficult, but as much as possible, remain unemotional and unbiased about the feedback that you get from your child’s teachers and other professionals—cool heads prevail.

High Leverage Practices for Special Education: Collaborative Methods at Home

In part one, we discussed the four different categories of high leverage practices (HLP) and how educators utilize these practices to drive instruction and learning. Whether in a physical classroom or not, the goal of HLPs is to ensure that young learners are engaged, supported, and challenged. Now that we’re all in the throes of virtual learning, where much of our schooling is happening at home, it’s helpful for families to be able to adopt and modify various high leverage practices for their own use.

 

Collaboration is key, especially since much of the learning is currently happening outside of the classroom. Students are no longer experiencing a fully monitored, structured school day, which makes collaboration and open communication all that much more important.

 

  • Goal statement: Since the aim of collaborative HLPs is to ensure that all members of the child’s support system are on the same page, working towards the same goals, parents should use a goal statement as a starting point when reaching out to teachers. Whether in person, on the phone, or via email, parents should make a point to advocate for their child’s learning goals and reiterate them as needed to provide teachers with reminders about where they’d like their child’s learning to be headed.
  • Check-in: Yes, students receiving special education services already have formal documentation concerning learning goals, but it never hurts to remind the team of those goals along the way. Teachers can easily become overwhelmed throughout the quarter with IEPs, 504s, and numerous other learning plans for individual students. And while teachers are legally obligated to offer modifications and accommodations, the learning goals may receive less attention. This is why parents should make a point to check in regularly with their child’s teachers to ensure that everyone is aware of and working towards the child’s learning goals.
  • Reevaluation: These check-ins also allow for data updates, recent observations, and discussions about reevaluating or resetting goals if necessary. Be sure to ask for quantifiable updates, such as Lexile level, Map scores, attendance and participation, writing samples, etc.
  • Point person: To simplify the task of reaching out, especially with middle or high school students who have multiple teachers, parents can plan to send a weekly or biweekly email to their child’s counselor or special education case manager. This person will act as the point of contact and will be sure to disseminate all vital information to the teachers, while keeping you in the loop about all of the replies.
  • Student accountability: Bring your child into the collaborative effort by asking him to help track his own progress towards the goals set at the beginning of the year or quarter. It’s much more probable for a student to strive for success when he’s been part of the goal setting process. Involving your child in these discussions ensures that he’s taking ownership and feels invested in the effort he’s putting forth.
  • Positive reinforcementConsider small benchmarks or checkpoints along the way and make a point to acknowledge when goals are achieved. No matter your child’s age, kids benefit from positive reinforcement and thrive on recognition for a job well done.
  • Open communication: Another high leverage form of helpful collaboration is to connect your child’s teachers with any other “key player” on your child’s educational team. Teachers must have parental permission to correspond with pediatricians, therapists, psychologists, tutors, and even older siblings regarding a student. Therefore, if you want certain professionals to cooperate, you must first provide permission and then facilitate that correspondence. Remember, it takes a village, but you have to put all of the villagers in contact with one another, first.
  • Support groups: Another collaborative HLP that parents can modify for use at home is to facilitate a small virtual study group or neighborhood support group for certain ages, subjects, or classes. Reach out to neighbors about how their child is fairing with virtual learning. Ask if they are using any specific programs, tools, or methods that they find particularly helpful. During these times, many parents are finding that distance or virtual learning is all about trial and error. So why not collaborate with other parents in your neighborhood to help carry the load?

College Preparations for Juniors and Seniors during COVID

Though virtual learning is in full swing, and all questions regarding next steps in the world of education are currently up in the air, one thing holds true—time stops for no one. For current high schoolers, especially the juniors and seniors, it may feel as though college preparations and post-secondary plans are hanging in limbo, so to speak. Compounding the issue is that many school-run programs, those designed specifically to help students mull through their options and arrange post-graduation plans, have been put on hold, perhaps indefinitely. Yet now more than ever students need to be proactive about planning for the future, regardless of what that future may be.

 

Questions to consider 

This pseudo-school year has likely caused some students to feel more inclined to simply coast on through—and it makes perfect sense. The “Senioritus” season will undoubtedly hit earlier due to virtual classes, lenient grading expectations, flexible time frames for assignments, etc. We can’t necessarily blame students for feeling a little bit more lax about their schoolwork right now. We can, however, make sure that they are using this “downtime” to their advantage by asking important questions and offering suggestions if their answers come up short.

 

What have you done to prepare for college?

If nothing rings a bell, these suggestions could help. Beyond the typical college visits and entrance exams, consider these recommendations:

  • Develop a personal note-taking system and practice it regularly during your Zoom classes. Students may think, “What is the point? All lessons are recorded and posted, so why waste time with notes?” Well, the likelihood of having recorded lectures to view at leisure from their dorm rooms is not guaranteed. Therefore, note taking, as has always been the case, will be a crucial skill for college and career readiness. Their personal note taking process, whatever it may look like, is something that they can develop and hone right now while virtual learning is occurring. It’s about being able to actively listen, decipher and record new information, make connections to prior knowledge, and synthesize material all at the same time—critical skills for life-long learning.
  • Do some real soul searching about what students may want to study after high school. Beyond desired salaries, childhood dreams, and suggestions from others, what types of things do they enjoy reading about, learning about, exploring? Use those ideas as starting points for looking into potential college majors and plans of study.
  • Similarly, be sure to have an array of thoughts about what they may want to study—it is important to keep options open, fluid, and flexible to ensure that students are not pigeonholing themselves, only to realize that they’ve wasted a semester on courses that don’t lead them in their desired direction.
  • Broaden the repertoire of leadership skills—this not only makes students’ applications more appealing to admissions boards, but it also gives them a leg up in learning cohorts and in the workplace. Contrary to what many students think, getting into their desired school is not the hard part—they must also be prepared to “earn their stay.” Leadership experience undoubtedly boosts an application and resume, but more importantly, these skills are functional—they facilitate the ability to take charge, vocalize opinions, ask questions, and investigate opportunities, all of which contribute to college success.
  • Need more leadership experience? Think outside the box and don’t let virtual learning be an excuse. There are numerous opportunities for students to get involved within their own homes.
    • Reach out to their religious organization about creating and leading a youth group.
    • Look into volunteer options to provide online homework help, reading assistance to elementary students, tutoring programs, etc.
    • Join their school’s or community’s newspaper or magazine publication; ask about editorial opportunities or freelance fact-checking for the school’s newspaper club.
    • If working a part-time job, talk to the manager or boss about boosting hours or opportunities for advancement, specifically any roles that involve leadership/managerial skills.
    • If involved in a volunteer program, seek out opportunities to assist with planning their events, helping to coordinate a benefit or fundraiser, chair or co-chair a meeting, etc.
  • Students need to be able to speak about how they have been using their downtime during the pandemic. Are there new skills or hobbies that they have picked up during quarantine? Have they set any specific goals to work toward while they’ve been limited to staying home? Consider things like studying a new language/culture, tracing the family’s ancestry, taking any online courses or classes, following or helping out on a local political campaign, creating and selling goods online, starting a blog or Instagram about one of their interests, learning sign language, etc. The real purpose of this is to be able show not only what interests them, but also how they choose to manage their time as a life-long learner.

Zoom Differentiation and Accommodations

Virtual learning certainly has its challenges, especially when it comes to differentiating in the virtual classroom. For students with special education accommodations, teachers will need to get creative in order to account for every student’s unique needs and optimize learning opportunities. Thankfully, there are strategies and methods for providing special education accommodations in Zoom—we just need to think outside the box and modify what each accommodation looks like in the virtual realm.

Zoom Chat: Since we are no longer physically in the classroom, proximity, prompting, and cueing accommodations pose a bit of a challenge for instructors. Yet, nothing has changed in terms of the student’s needs. In fact, students who struggle to focus and/or stay on task may need the prompting and proximity accommodations even more now that they are sitting in front of a screen. Online learning does not allow for physical proximity; however, teachers can utilize the chat function to maximize student engagement and provide an alternative form of proximity, prompting, and cueing.

  • Reaching out: The Zoom chat can be used to individually reach out to specific students with prompting accommodations to spur participation and to rephrase a question when necessary.
  • Clarifying: The chat also allows teachers to check for understanding by providing a platform for asking clarifying questions, follow-up questions, etc.
  • Advocating: Teachers should remind students of their chatting capabilities so that students with accommodations can advocate for themselves and speak up when they need assistance.
  • Tracking: The chat also acts as a data tracker; teachers can modify their settings in Zoom so that chats are saved. This allows for teachers to review correspondence with students and share questions and check-ins with parents. Teachers can also use saved chats to track the number of times a student initiates a task, asks clarifying questions, responds to polls or exit responses, etc.
  • Reminding: Teachers can use the Zoom chat as a method for reminding students of their extended time or reduced workload accommodations as well. This allows teachers to discreetly remind a certain student that his due date is extended without drawing attention to the student’s accommodations in front of the whole class. **Just be certain that, when chatting with specific students about these accommodations, you have selected the student’s name from the dropdown so that the chat remains a private, 1:1 conversation.

Breakout Rooms: The grouping function in Zoom can also be beneficial when ensuring certain special education accommodations are offered. Teachers have the option to manually assign groups, which means that students with special education services can be grouped with a para educator or with other students who have the same accommodations.

  • Variance: Teachers should try to avoid always grouping special education students together, however, as to avoid drawing attention to certain small groups or stigmatizing students who need additional support.
  • Oversight: Teachers can randomly assign groups using the “automatic” option when creating breakout rooms. Then, while students work, the “host” can pop in and out of groups to act as a “check-in” for students with that accommodation.
  • Mobility: Teachers can also move the para educator from group to group during breakout room sessions so that every student receives supports throughout the collaborative activity.
  • Discretion: Breakout rooms also offer opportunities for differentiation. Teachers can modify assignments and link adapted materials in the chat to send to specific breakout rooms. From the chat link, students can click on the shared Google doc to access the modified material. This function can provide students with resources such as word banks, sentence starters, outlines, graphic organizers, glossaries, etc. The key is that each student who receives these accommodations will have access in a discreet manner and can choose to use the materials as needed.

Breakout Room Benefits for Teachers, Part II

In part one, we shared the many ways in which breakout rooms during a Zoom class session can be helpful. Logistically speaking, small groups allow for more intimate collaboration among students and provide a more manageable platform for discussion. Now we want to explore additional ideas that show how to use breakout rooms for various instructional benefits. Below are creative ways for educators to utilize breakout rooms in Zoom.

 

Accountability techniques: Feedback that I have already been receiving from several students involves the lack of full participation, even during small group activities in breakout rooms. As is typical in the brick and mortar classroom as well, some students feel as though they are carrying the entire team and shouldering the workload themselves. Here’s how to account for this issue in breakout rooms:

 

  • Create a Google document with directions, prompts, discussion questions, and anything else you would like students to collaborate on in groups.
  • Specify different text boxes or spaces on the document where different groups should respond. (Breakout rooms are numbered, so you can keep it simple by designating response spaces for group 1, group 2, group 3, etc.)
  • Share the link to the Google document in the Zoom chat prior to arranging breakout groups. **Make sure that participants with the link have editing access; this is manageable in your shared settings**
  • Ask students to open the document to ensure that everyone has access before opening breakout rooms.
  • Once in breakout rooms, students will need to discuss cooperatively, but respond individually on the Google doc. This allows teachers to track participants and identify if anyone has not contributed to their group’s notes on the Google document.

 

Listening practices: It is easy for us to zoom out (pun intended, sorry!) while participating in hours of Zoom classes every day. To spur engagement and meaningful conversations, teachers can use breakout rooms to set up 1:1 student interviews or chat sessions:

 

  • Review expectations and procedures for breakout room groups.
  • Introduce “accountable talk” stems of sentence starters for younger learners so that their conversations stay on track.
  • Assign interview questions on a shared Google document (as explained above) and ask students to “report back” with new information about his or her peer.
  • Remind students that they may paraphrase their partner’s information, so long as they are still accurately relaying what their partner said. This allows time for students to truly listen to one another.
  • This activity can be used for ice breakers or getting to know you activities, perspective taking, peer reviews, etc.

 

Reviewing class material: Another way to utilize breakout rooms is for important class review sessions or to debrief a whole group discussion or lesson:

 

  • Share a class Google document, as mentioned above, that includes key topics or important takeaways from the day or week’s lesson.
  • In breakout rooms, students should use the time to ask questions of the group about anything that they are confused about. This could include vocabulary/terms, questions about an assigned text, clarification on a certain topic, etc. The point is to use this time as an open forum to seek clarity and ask questions.
  • While discussing, prompt students to capture the questions and any possible answers/responses on the shared Google document.
  • The document will act as a free-flowing study guide, which students can access after class.
  • This document also allows teachers to address unclear concepts, lingering questions, and any material that they’d like to reteach before moving forward.

Virtual Learning: Remind, Reassure, Reset

The struggle is real for kids right now, regardless of how academically inclined they have felt in past school years. Learning is hard. Full stop. However, virtual learning has its own learning curve in addition to the actual learning going on right now! Is your head spinning yet? Yeah, theirs are, too. Social media is helping to shed light on the issues that virtual learning is causing in homes across the country, with numerous videos demonstrating just how emotionally taxing this “new normal” has become.

However, kids need to know that this isn’t normal. Elementary-aged kids sitting in front of computer screens all day isn’t normal. Missing “school” due to connectivity issues isn’t normal. Clicking a button to virtually raise your hand icon isn’t normal. Having to rejoin class 10+ times each day because of platform glitches isn’t normal. Most importantly, NONE of this is their fault. Yet, utterly frustrated sobbing children are becoming more and more defeated every day. What’s a parent to do? Remind, reassure, and reset.

  • Remind your child that many, many aspects of virtual learning will be inherently beyond their control. These little beings are not tech wizards, and they shouldn’t be made to feel incompetent because of this.
  • Remind your child that error messages, blank downloads, broken links, etc., are not their responsibility as young learners.
  • Remind your child that every other student is also struggling. Their peers may be more comfortable with certain aspects of virtual learning; it may come more naturally to others. However, no one is innately equipped to thrive in this virtual world—it takes time.
  • Remind your child that the teachers are new to this, too. Their teachers would love to be back in the classroom interacting and exploring with them. They, too, are frustrated with the technology and expectations put on them.
  • Reassure your child that it will not always be like this—learning will return to normal. They will rejoin the brick and mortar classrooms and have a greater appreciation for in-person schooling like never before!
  • Reassure them that their teachers are on their side—that they are always rooting for student success and trying to shoulder the technology burdens whenever possible.
  • Reassure children that all of these challenges, while insanely frustrating, are helping them to become resilient. That with each unique difficulty, they’re learning patience, problem solving skills, grit/determination, creativity, and responsibility.
  • Reset the vibe in the room when things get emotional. IT IS OKAY (and necessary) to take a break and step away from the screen! Help your child reset when emotions run high:
    • Close the computer
    • Eat a snack
    • Run around the block
    • Jump on the trampoline (even a mini trampoline inside)
    • Juggle the soccer ball
    • Color in a coloring book
    • Snuggle with the family pet
    • Stretch on the floor
    • Blast some music for an out-of-control dance party—whatever you need to do to encourage a “mindset reset” when the tears start flowing.
  • Reset the negative self-talk. If you hear your child verbally beating herself up over her perceived shortcomings with virtual learning—don’t let it go unnoticed. Help her reset by reminding her of all of her strengths and talents. Tell her explicitly that any new difficulty or misstep does not negate these strengths and prior successes.

Breakout Room Benefits for Teachers Pt. I

This new normal that we are all trying our best to become acquainted with has us dodging curveballs left and right. Teachers are especially frazzled right now. Think about it—seasoned educators have been tasked with completely modifying every known skill set on a dime, with little to no training, all while under the community’s microscope. For a field that tends to attract Type A personalities, all of these hurdles have undoubtedly been overwhelming for professionals who pride themselves on being proactive and prepared.

 

While the move to full-time virtual learning involves a plethora of suggested technology for educators, the sheer amount of platforms and resources can be daunting. One saving grace I’ve found while “Zooming” through the first two weeks of the 2020-2021 school year is the breakout room function during Zoom classes. What is essentially an automatic “small groupinator” at the click of the mouse actually proves to be a life saver for many different reasons. Read on for strategies and methods for utilizing breakout rooms in Zoom.

 

  • Attendance Check: Taking attendance, a seemingly routine daily task, is not so simple anymore. Between the constant Zoom doorbell, the screen sharing, and switching back and forth between countless open tabs, attendance is often the last task a teacher is focused on during class. However, the use of breakout rooms during Zoom meetings makes attendance much more manageable. While groups are meeting, discussing, collaborating, etc., teachers are able to scroll through each group’s participants and check off for attendance on a physical roster. This has been such a time saver, especially since Zoom participants are alphabetized by first name, while our grade books are alphabetized by last name.
  • Student Discourse: Breakout rooms are also beneficial for spurring student discourse. My first week of virtual instruction was beyond painful due to the lack of participation. Virtual learning is awkward for many reasons—it’s new and unfamiliar, students are videotaped, technology glitches occur regularly, it involves a look inside everyone’s personal living spaces…the list goes on and on. However, once I put my students into breakout rooms for discussions, the small group aspect allowed students to share willingly without the pressure of 30+ people staring.
  • Time to Think: The small group aspect also allows students to have some wait time before speaking; they are able to process and gather thoughts without feeling rushed or pressured.
  • Collaboration: Virtual small groups also encourage collaborative efforts. Before entering breakout rooms, I review participant expectations and guidelines so that everyone is on the same page. Group members are responsible for contributing, listening, summarizing, and sharing. Group members are also presented with accountable talk sentence stems to help spur productive discussions.
  • Participation: Sometimes, students are tasked with summarizing their group’s discussion individually as an assignment for participation. This way, teachers can ensure that even the more quiet or reluctant students were able to get something out of their classmates’ discussion groups.
  • Random Grouping: The breakout room feature allows teachers to group randomly or strategically. This means that students have opportunities to work with different peers each time. It also means that teachers can thoughtfully group students based on academic or personal needs.
  • Special Needs: With a special educator or para educator on the Zoom call, teachers can purposefully pair students who might require extra guidance or support with an additional adult in the breakout group.

At-Home with Learning Essentials

With so many unknowns about the upcoming school year, the collective unease is palpable among educators, parents, and students. Will classrooms be safe? Will adequate support services be available with staggered schedules? Will online lessons be effective for all learners?  

For students with specific learning needs, whether it be an IEP or 504 Plan, the decision about schooling in the fall can be even more fraught for parents. What is the right balance between safety and support? How can that balance be attained? What help is out there?   

Learning Essentials has a plan. As families await the decisions of state and local officials regarding the 2020-2021 school year, Learning Essentials is taking a proactive approach to supporting students in the metro DC area. It is called At-Home with Learning Essentials, and it is a new homeschooling program custom designed to teach K-12 students and support their families.  

When the pandemic hit last spring, schools rolled out distance learning plans that did not serve all students equitably. Students with special needs and learning differences were especially affected, which has led many families to consider homeschooling. With this option, however, families face the daunting challenge of selecting an appropriate academic curriculum and designating who will provide instruction, supports, and evaluation from home.   

This is where Learning Essentials comes in!

At-Home with Learning Essentials is a new service in which our certified educators serve as the teachers of record. All of our team members have extensive backgrounds in special education. We can take the guesswork out of homeschooling by providing families with a customized curriculum, live tutoring sessions, special education resources, and guidance with in-home accommodations. 

We are here to guide students and their families through the transition to homeschooling—from withdrawing from their current school to delivering an academic program that meets their needs to reporting their progress to the county. 

With At-Home with Learning Essentials, our certified educators will: 

  •    Develop an individualized homeschool plan for each child  
  •    Maintain and grow current IEP goals  
  •    Customize each child’s curriculum  
  •    Fulfill state learning requirements  
  •    Track and report each child’s progress and milestones  
  •    Support transition back to school on family’s preferred timeline 

With At-Home with Learning Essentials, families are not only securing the service of a dedicated educator to help them implement and track day-to-day learning, but also the collective expertise of a team that specializes in learning differences and is uniquely positioned to offer customized solutions in the home learning environment.  

Learning Essentials does the work so that children may learn, grow and achieve in a safe, secure learning environment—their own homes. Ready to explore an educational program that is tailored to children’s strengths and special needs? Take the first step today by calling Learning Essentials to schedule a learner profile consultation. 

We’ve got you covered 

Whether families decide to take the homeschooling route or continue with their school district’s virtual learning or hybrid plan, Learning Essentials is eager to assist families seeking additional learning support. This fall, Learning Essentials will be offering several different services, with each plan tailored to families’ individual needs.   

Accountability Partner (1-5 hours per week) 

  • Need some consistent support with larger educational goals and at-home supports as children navigate their own homeschool, hybrid or distance learning program? 
  • Whether homeschooling or distance learning, Learning Essentials will offer accountability partnerships to help children manage coursework, plan and organize assignments and meetings, help students connect with their teachers while providing self-advocacy skills, and overall learning management via daily or weekly check-ins. 

Educational Therapist & Academic Coach (1-5 hours per week) 

  • Seeking at-home methodologies and materials to address learning differences and disabilities and build academic competency? Need intervention to help students develop their visual and auditory processing, attention span and memory skills? 
  • Academic coaches work with students to focus on any number of the following skills: time management, memorization strategies, project management using executive functioning skills, test-taking, independent study skills, and strategies for motivation, confidence, and independence. 
  • Educational therapists work with students on intensive interventions designed to resolve learning problems due to dyslexia, non-verbal learning disorder, reading and writing difficulties (dysgraphia), math disabilities (dyscalculia), and ADD/ADHD. 

Special Education Homeschool Provider (20 hours direct/indirect instruction per week) 

  • Ready to embark on a homeschooling, but need comprehensive help with daily lessons, academic supports, progress evaluation, and state reporting?
  • 10 hours per week direct 1:1 instruction with a certified special educator.  
  • Daily, independent activities based on direct instruction. All materials provided. 
  • For students with special needs, we provide comprehensive guidance to parents regarding teaching and learning strategies, IEP/504 accommodations, and instructional best practices for in-home schooling. 
  • If an official IEP does not exist for your child, we will create a specific learning plan to include learning goals and necessary academic supports. 
  • For families who decide to transition back into public or private school, we will help with the transition process and provide input for the IEP goals.  

Whatever children may need in order to reach their full potential as a learner, Learning Essentials is here to provide guidance and support for learners of all ages and ability levels. Our goal is to empower each child to attain success!  

Social-emotional Learning

With next year’s school schedule still very much up in the air, students around the United States are left with many “what ifs.” Combine this notion with the fact that many states are seeing a major resurgence of COVID-19 cases, and we’ll undoubtedly notice a sense of unease among young people.

 

The social-emotional impact of stressful times is something with which school counselors and psychologists are well-equipped to deal. However, these necessary services do not prove to be as effective when staff and students are working remotely. Because of this, parents are left, not only with the unknowns we’re all dealing with, but also with the task of meeting children’s social-emotional needs at home.

 

The school’s role

We often think of academic subject areas when discussing what students are learning in schools. However, beyond chemistry, English, world history, etc., schools also work to ensure that students learn social-emotional skills. Schools offer counselling programs, after-school activities, peer groups, family resources, testing and referrals, and many other resources to help students thrive socially and emotionally, as well as academically. Aside from these programs that are specifically targeting social-emotional welfare, school is an inherently social microcosm, one in which students are constantly and subconsciously adapting, reasoning, exploring, considering, and evolving. In this sense, school acts as a major contributor to one’s social-emotional well-being.

 

Stress and anxiety impede learning; counteract it with these strategies:

  • Parents can help children learn to deflect their nervous energy and anxiety by considering others. Ask kids, “Who needs more help than you do? And how can we help that person or persons?” These questions directly prompt children to check their own worries at the door and to look outside themselves in order to help others. This practice enables students to not only practice perspective-taking, but also encourage empathy—a central social-emotional skill.
  • In focusing on others in need, several things occur. First, these conversations allow families to take proactive steps to assist in the community. Also, a child’s own concerns are somewhat alleviated when they focus on someone else’s well being. Finally, by helping others, children and teens inadvertently gain their own new coping skills and strategies. Seeing resilience in others is an inspiration and benefit to all.
  • Another strategy that comes on the heels of helping others is to consider what actions kids can personally take to better their own current situation. In thinking like this, children take an active role in their stress or anxiety—they are no longer passively allowing the struggles to overwhelm them without doing anything about it. Kids need to understand that, while stress is caused by external or uncontrollable factors, it is an internal response—one that can be regulated with practice.
  • Parents can also help children build social-emotional skills by finding and reading texts that contain characters who are battling similar struggles. Whether fiction or nonfiction, texts have the unique ability to engage and instruct at the same time. When children see a character’s struggle, especially one that is similar to their own, they begin to see their situation from a different lens. They also get the opportunity to learn how the character or characters dealt with the problem and adjust accordingly. Literature also works to show children how their actions and decisions can directly affect others. Reading promotes this higher level of social-emotional thinking.

 

Finally, a common practice used in school counseling departments is journaling or photojournalism. The practice of freely expressing one’s thoughts is not only therapeutic; it also helps children to center their thoughts, focus on the now, and reconcile their emotions in writing. Experts also discuss how the journal entries or photos of their experiences act as an archived collection of challenges and obstacles that they’ve overcome. By looking back or rereading journal entries, kids automatically reflect on their experiences with a new, more clear perspective.