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.

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!  

Financial Literacy

The teenage years are often marked by an increased desire for independence, which typically means the beginning of financial decision making and thus greater responsibilities. Finance talk is not typically number one on the list of priority chats for parents to have with their kids—there are often more pressing issues happening among today’s teens.  However, truth be told, many of today’s millennial adults would have benefited greatly from a crash course in financial literacy prior to fleeing the nest. Car payments, student loans, interest rates, and budgeting strategies come down hard all at once, and many young adults find themselves drowning in debt before they have even established their full-time career goals. As a sign of the times, instructional stepping stones for financial literacy for middle and high schoolers are now part of many school curriculums. However, parents can also play a critical role in preparing their kids for financial freedom and teaching the important management skills that come with those responsibilities.

 

    1. Begin financial conversations by discussing wants vs. needs vs. assets. In order to use money responsibly, kids need to know how to clearly distinguish and prioritize needs over wants—and then budget appropriately. For instance, they might want to go to a baseball game later this month, but they absolutely need to put gas in their car first and foremost. Also, in conversations about preparing for college, parents should explain that education is an asset; yes, higher education is expensive, but it’s something of value that they will use throughout their entire career. The expectation is that they will get a return and eventually earn substantially more than what was originally spent on tuition.
    2. Talk about the key aspects of a budget and how to stick to it. Parents should encourage teens to set up a budget and track their spending habits. Whether they are earning an allowance, babysitting on weekends, or working a part time job, the first step for setting up a budget is to estimate their monthly income. Then, help teens categorize spending, starting with “needs” or necessary bills. Remaining money in the monthly budget should be considered for two additional categories—savings and “fun money.” If necessary, browse the best apps for easy budgeting so teens can manage and monitor their spending from their phones.
    3. To curb extraneous purchases or frivolous spending, put things into perspective. If a teen is raving about a new outfit that she wants for the school dance, ask her what she’ll be sacrificing for that outfit. Can she still buy a dance ticket after buying the outfit? Will she be able to join her friends after the dance to get a late night bite? Did she factor in the fact that she won’t be earning babysitting money on the night of the dance? How could this one outfit throw a wrench into her monthly budget? It’s not easy to say no to something that is truly desired, but putting things into perspective can help teens make smarter spending decisions. That outfit might be the equivalent of an entire week of work—is it really worth it?
    4. Don’t waver if teens blow their budget. It’s much easier to give in if teens need a few extra bucks here and there. However, financial responsibility is lost when parents bail out their kids anytime they need more money. Teens need to learn from their errors so that next time they are able to make better financial decisions.

 

Keeping it Campy at Home

A recent realization is coming down hard on many families right now as we move into the summer months—cancelled summer camps and other beloved outdoor activities. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many organizations have been forced to postpone or cancel their summer programs and events. Besides deposits, schedule changes, and other logistical obstacles, families are now left to improvise for children who have been left disappointed by these cancelled programs. Despite the fact that camps, at least in the traditional sense, won’t be happening this summer, families do not have to forego all of the activities and traditions. Below are ideas for bringing camp activities and traditions back with an at-home spin!

 

Ask for ideas

Before setting out to plan for summer camp at home, ask your kids about their favorite parts of camp. Which activities do they prefer? How do they typically spend the day? How much adult involvement do they expect? What props, supplies, or materials will they need for their activities? By asking these questions, parents can plan for activities that will truly engage children in a meaningful way. Answers to these questions will also help parents to get an idea of the vibe or type of camp that is most relevant. For instance, a soccer camp is going to be much different from a wilderness-style camp.

 

Provide a schedule

Creating structure will make the at-home camp experience feel more authentic. Since all camps, from sleepaway camps to sports-focused day camps, provide a level of structure and consistency, an outline of activities for the day or week will elevate the in-home camp experience. Parents can sketch out the week’s activities or a daily schedule on a white board or take it to the next step by printing a camp “brochure” for each camper.  Below is a sample idea for a daily camp schedule–with typical camp protocols included:

 

Time  Activity Dress
8:00-8:30

 

*Change into active wear after bfast & apply sunscreen

Breakfast in mess hall (kitchen) *Bunk must be made prior to meal Pajamas
9:00-10:30 Neighborhood scavenger hunt Sneakers; athletic clothes
10:30-11:30 Indoor/Outdoor game time

*Choice of frisbee, cornhole, boardgame, hopscotch/jump rope challenge

Sneakers; athletic clothes
11:30-12:30 Lunch in mess hall (kitchen)

*Must wash hands prior to meal; clean up dishes after meal

12:30-2:30

 

*Reapply sunscreen after quiet time

Quiet time activities

*Choice of craft, baking, screen time, reading, coloring, puzzle, movie

Comfy clothes
2:30-3:30 Water time

*Choice of water balloon toss, sprinkler time, slip n’ slide, pool or water table, squirt gun fight

Swimsuit; towel
3:30-4:00 Snack time Dry clothes
4:00-5:30 Backyard obstacle course Sneakers; athletic clothes
6:00-7:00 Family dinner in mess hall (kitchen) *Must wash hands prior to meal; rotating schedule of campers setting the table Apron for kitchen helper
7:00-7:30

*Apply bug spray

Stack firewood/gather kindling for campfire
7:30-9:00 Campfire s’mores; spooky stories; star gazing Sweatshirts (possibly)

 

Of course, activities and times will vary depending on camper preferences and family schedules, but this sample provides a simple outline for parents to structure their at-home camp. This will require a bit of preparation and planning, but once the plan is in place and materials are gathered, older children (7+ years) could ideally run the activities themselves.

Another option is to share the schedule with other families in the neighborhood so that each house can get in on the fun. This also allows parents to divvy up the work, kind of like a progressive dinner, but with camp activities. An important consideration if hosting for the neighborhood—TRIPLE CHECK with parents about any allergies, food restrictions, medications needed (epi-pen), or health concerns that might impact a camper’s participation in outdoor/physical activities.

Zoom Fatigue Part II

Thanks to quarantining and social distancing, we now have a new term to describe the effects of continuous online interaction. Zoom fatigue, as we discussed in part I of this series, is a very real condition, despite its silly name. With nearly 100% of teaching and learning now occurring primarily on online platforms, such as Zoom, the fatigue associated with these digital conferencing tools has become an important consideration for children, parents, and educators alike.

 

How to combat Zoom fatigue

  • If possible, limit Zoom meetings to 1-2 per day. If parents are finding that their children are attending Zoom meetings consistently throughout the day, it’s time to step in. As a guideline, teachers have been instructed to provide 1-2 hours of “live instruction,” aka Zoom meetings consisting of instructional content, per week. This means that I personally am “live teaching” for two, 30-minute sessions per week. If teachers follow this expectation, students will be spending more time with hands-on, experiential learning as suggested, and less time honed in on a screen or video chat.
  • Parents who notice that Zoom meetings are occurring back-to-back or for prolonged periods of time should reach out directly to teachers and copy administration if necessary.
  • Parents can also suggest that their child only spend as much time as necessary in the Zoom meeting to gain clarity, ask questions, and receive feedback.
  • Similarly, teachers should set the expectation that Zoom participation, while strongly encouraged, is not required for the entire session. This means that students should feel comfortable signing in and logging out as they please.
  • A good suggestion for teachers to make every so often during a Zoom meeting is to remind students that, if they don’t have any questions about the assignment or content being discussed, they shouldn’t feel as though they have to stay in the Zoom meeting. Keeping things fluid allows students to advocate for their needs, while ensuring that time on digital platforms is minimized when possible.
  • To spur engagement during Zoom instruction, teachers should suggest that students take free-flowing, unstructured notes while the teacher is reviewing material or answering questions. These notes, in the form of free writing, have several benefits:
    • Note-taking ensures that students are actively listening and grasping important concepts.
    • Note-taking also helps solidify important information into memory.
    • Students are able to hold themselves accountable with their notes; if the page is bare, they know that they weren’t paying attention.
    • Jotting down rough thoughts or questions during an instructional session allows students to keep track of questions that they want to ask or concepts that require more clarity.

Teachers and tutors can also encourage engagement by enlisting an old classroom technique—random calling. Just as we would in the classroom, teachers can reach out for student comments and responses throughout the session to keep students on their toes and to check for understanding. Teachers should be sure to provide wait time for student answers and then open the question up to the group if a student falls silent. The point of random calling is to get and hold students’ attention, not to embarrass anyone or put them on the spot with a tricky question.

Following Directions

Since distance learning and online instruction has rapidly become the new normal for students all over the map, navigating this new forum has presented both teachers and students with learning curves. Through just the first few weeks of digital/virtual instruction, I personally have recognized an increased need for concise, explicit, and thorough directions on assignments. What I initially thought were clear instructions have often been met with various questions.

 

It sounds obvious—of course students need to be provided with specific directions on any given task. However, we teachers have been relying on face-to-face explanations, visual models and examples, and chunked verbal guidance without ever realizing what it would be like to take all of those supports away. Well, now we know. Even with video platforms like Zoom, Screencastify, etc., the ability to fully instruct, explain, and clarify is somewhat muddled. As beneficial as these tools can be for distance learning, these platforms simply do not provide the same level of guidance that face-to-face classroom instruction provides.

 

Now that teachers have begun to anticipate the various (numerous!) questions that students pose while distance learning ramps up, we can certainly recognize the importance of modifying our way of providing written directions.

 

  • For tasks that are going to require multiple steps, teachers need to present students with each individual step separately. This also means that each step will likely require its own set of directions. For example, an English teacher chunking a five-paragraph essay for students should provide specific instructions and requirements for each paragraph, separately.
  • This could mean creating a unit checklist; drafting a week-by-week calendar with steps labeled for certain days; or creating a sample of each separate paragraph with each sentence highlighted to demonstrate key components.
  • Introducing an assignment in steps also allows students to ask more specific questions when necessary. Instead of receiving a bunch of emails saying, “I’m confused about the essay,” students can specify exactly which step they need clarification on.
  • This level of micromanaging an assignment might seem excessive, especially for older students. However, providing step-by-step instructions while chunking a multi-step task will be crucial for student success during distance learning. This is especially true for students with different learning needs or executive functioning deficits.
  • It would also be helpful for teachers to include suggested time management tips for assignments as well. A top complaint that parents are voicing is the amount of time their children are spending trying to decipher their assignments.
  • Teachers should consider including the amount of time that each task should take in the instructions. That way, students who may plan on taking an hour to complete a 20-minute assignment can adjust their workload appropriately.
  • Use specific language in the directions that you would like students to use in their assignment. For instance, directions for analyzing a videotaped science lab should include content-specific language that students need to know as part of the unit. For example, teachers should bold or italicize the terms hypothesis or variable so that students key in on important aspects of the task.
  • Add specificity to your standard rubrics. What teachers thought was a clear rubric is likely lacking since we are unable to verbally explain grading as we typically would in class. If the history essay rubric requires “mastery in voice and structure,” teachers should clarify what that should look like.
  • For instance, the rubric might need to include guiding questions for each category. Do you maintain present tense throughout? Do you introduce your body paragraphs with sound claim statements? Do you utilize unit vocabulary throughout?
  • This level of specified directions may seem tedious at first, compared to our normal way of orally explaining tasks in the classroom. However, front loading assignments with ultra-clear directives will allow your students to not only comprehend the task, but also regain a sense of confidence in this new method of teaching and learning.

Providing Realistic Reassurance

Whether you are an educator, a parent, or a family member, you are likely fielding a lot of questions regarding the “what ifs” of the current state of things. The more complicated side of these questions is that we ourselves don’t have many answers to these questions—in fact, we’ve got questions of our own! One thing we can do for children and teens is to talk through their concerns as a family. The conversation may not always result in complete understanding or resolute answers. However, the importance is to ease fears and mediate concerns.

 

Missing milestones 

A major concern for today’s high school students is the fact that this unplanned, mid-school-year hiatus jeopardizes way more than just instruction and learning. Testing centers have been shut down; colleges and universities have sent students home, closed campuses, and moved to online learning for the second semester. For students who have been planning to tour campuses, take entrance exams, and narrow their final college search this spring, the current state of things makes those plans nearly impossible. Furthermore, the typical high school rites of passage that students look forward to throughout their entire education, such as spring break trips, prom, graduation and graduation parties, are more of an impossibility now because of COVID-19. How can parents begin to soften this blow?

  • Put things into perspective for your teens by showing them the realities that other people are living. If kids are preoccupied with the notion that they’re missing out on major high school events, we need to give them a reality check. By reading up on the death tolls, financial struggles, and hunger and homelessness that this pandemic is causing around the world, our teenagers are able to see that, despite these cancelled events, their lives are extremely blessed. Discuss the importance of gratitude and how, while it’s okay to be disappointed about missing these milestones, it should not become all consuming considering how much we have to be thankful for right now. Furthermore, remind teens that sulking about does nothing to change the outcome—happiness is a mindset.
  • Talk about how, even though the events themselves may be up in the air, the meaning behind these special rites of passage can never be lost. For instance, the importance of graduation is what it represents, not the ceremony itself. As a family, focus on the achievements and how, regardless of formal celebrations, the accomplishments still remain.
  • When high school students get upset over these missed opportunities, parents can also provide comfort by stating the obvious—everyone is going through these same losses, too. Your teen needs to remember that she isn’t the only one missing out on prom or not getting her driver’s license right away. While most adolescents find it difficult to see beyond themselves, they can find comfort in the fact that these circumstances are not unique to them—thousands of other high schoolers are experiencing these same feelings of disappointment.
  • When in doubt, highlight the great things that your teen has ahead of him. Yes, this is a largely confusing and disappointing time. However, this is going to pass. We can help ourselves get through these trying times by remaining positive and always looking for the silver lining.

Checking In Virtually

Now that the school year has come to a screeching halt for many students, digital learning and online instruction is becoming the norm. However, in addition to content-specific questions and online discussion threads, educators can also take this time to remotely check in on students’ well-being.

 

It goes without saying that this is a crazy time full of many uncertainties. For children and teens, this global pandemic can be even more troubling, especially since the adults—the ones with all the answers—seem to have no answers at this point. One way that teachers can lend an ear, even if digitally, is to post daily check-ins using a platform like polleverywhere and Google Classroom.

 

With Google Classroom, students are likely already enrolled in their teachers’ courses and may be set up to receive messages from Google when teachers post. Therefore, the process for getting started with daily check-ins is fairly seamless. Teachers can simplify the process initially by creating a Google form that asks students to choose an emoji that represents how they are feeling today. This process takes mere minutes to set up and can provide key insight as to how children are doing at home during quarantine. Educators have many options within Google forms in terms of answer responses. For a simple poll, teachers can ask the following questions:

  • Using the rating scale, rate your level of comfort/understanding of the poem I posted yesterday.
  • Using the drop down options, select the emoji that corresponds to your mood right now.
  • Did you have enough food to eat today, yes or no?
  • Based on our digital packet, which concept are you finding to be the most difficult? Select all that apply from the drop down menu.

 

If teachers want to get more of a detailed response from students, they can select the “short answer” option in Google forms when asking for responses. One idea for teachers to check on students’ emotional well-being is to utilize the short answer function. Ask students to list their pit and peak or rose and thorn of the day. In essence, teachers are aiming to identify what is going well at home and what students may be struggling with more specifically. Google also provides options for teachers to provide an example of their own response. This allows students to see that everyone is in this together—we are all experiencing highs and lows while schools are closed.

 

Furthermore, educators can then use this data to reach out to students or families directly who may be struggling more significantly. Whether due to a lack of resources or the emotional impacts of isolation, teachers can relay these concerns to school administrators and/or community members to provide necessary resources and aid to families based on their needs.

 

Another way to utilize these web-based platforms is to open assignment threads to allow students to post back and forth to one another. Some English teachers are finding that they are still able to practice book talks and literature circle conversations during the school closures using these features.

 

A word of caution, since teenagers will be teenagers, especially when cooped up at home—teachers should set clear guidelines for participation. Make sure students know that their posts will be viewed by all members of the Google classroom and that the instructor (teacher) has the option to revoke any individual’s posting privileges if necessary. Finally, ask parents to join in the classroom discussion threads, posts, polls, etc. Google Classroom has an easy option to “invite guardians” through MCPS, so with one click, parents can join in the discussion as well!