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Making Connections and Building Engagement

Whether students are going to school 100% virtually or participating in a hybrid model, one thing is for certain—the need for building community, making personal connections, and boosting engagement is more important than ever before. Education certainly looks different right now, and many teachers would argue that distance learning is just not cutting it academically or socially for our students. Regardless of how and when schools will resume in-person learning, teachers have to get creative in the meantime to ensure that students’ needs are met on a holistic level. We cannot solely focus on providing virtual instruction during these trying times.

Journaling
It is difficult to connect to students through a camera lens. It’s even more difficult to build relationships with learners you’ve perhaps never met in person or if you haven’t even heard their voices. It can be just as uncomfortable, if not moreso, for students to engage with a new, unfamiliar adult over the computer during live instruction. To ease the unfamiliarity, some teachers are turning to a tried and true writer’s workshop activity—journal time. Journaling as a warm-up activity lends itself especially well to an English course, but other content areas can capitalize on journal writing as well.

Teachers should consider starting with open-ended prompts that allow students to express themselves on a personal level. To encourage students to write freely, explain to them that their journal responses will not be evaluated or read by peers. They should understand that journaling is purely intended to share experiences and spur conversation. This also prompts students to speak candidly so that you can begin to get to know them on a more personal level—this is essential since we are no longer teaching in person. Keep the prompts light and provide options to start the routine. I always like to ask my high schoolers to tell me what their favorite and/or least favorite thing about being a teenager is. These responses give really good insight into students’ lives and what they may be dealing with outside of school. I also like to keep these samples and refer back to them later in the school year to show students how much growth they’ve shown in their personal writing.

Identity Collage
Creating an identity collage is another useful and engaging way to get students to share a little more about themselves in a visual art form. Ask students to create a Google slide as a self-portrait. They can use an actual photo of themselves or get artistic and sketch or draw themselves. Once they’ve added the photo, which shows the world how they appear on the outside, ask students to cover half of their face on the slide with images, words/phrases, or other symbols that represent their underlying or deeper identity. Encourage them to think about what their peers might not know about them just by looking at them. Once students have submitted their slides, teachers can combine all of the dual external/internal self-portraits into a class “yearbook” of sorts. This way, even though we aren’t physically learning in the same space, students can get to know a little bit more about their peers on a more personal level.

“All emotions” Playlist
Music tends to be a topic or area of discussion that spurs great participation, no matter your student’s age or grade level. Music is also something that can unify groups of people on an emotional level, since people often view music as therapeutic. If studying language, history, psychology, or perhaps music, kids will greatly appreciate this engaging project. Ask students to compile a list of go-to songs that they would play as clear representations of a mood or emotion. For instance, what is your go-to song to listen to when you’re frustrated, or melancholy, or excited, or feeling silly? Students will then make a playlist of their 3-5 songs and briefly explain how the song helps to alleviate their frustration or sadness. They’ll need to answer questions like, What about this one song excites you or makes you laugh? What about this song helps you to release anger/frustration? What line or lyric from this song resonates with you when you’re feeling sad?

Get Spontaneous on Zoom
Zooming all day can become draining, to say the least. Shake things up for kids by utilizing short breaks that serve a specific purpose and keep kids engaged and wanting to come back to the discussion. For example, if giving students a quick 5-minute break during your Zoom class, challenge them to come back to the session holding something orange. Ask them to come back with a hat on. Prompt them to grab their pet or favorite stuffed animal when rejoining the session. Tell them to grab their favorite snack or something that they absolutely can’t live without. Take it a step further and ask students to bring a family heirloom or or family photo to the next Zoom class so students can pair-share in breakout rooms as a family-based show and tell.

STEM/STEAM Activities for Distance Learning

STEM and STEAM Day is observed in the month of November. STEM is the acronym assigned to an approach to learning that utilizes science, technology, engineering, and math skills as gateways to inquiry-based learning. STEAM is STEM + the arts. One of the wonderful aspects of a STEM/STEAM educational approach is the fact that, using a child’s personal interests combined with hands-on activities, learners simultaneously develop critical skills, such as problem-solving, collaborative teamwork, creativity, cooperative communication, and critical thinking/analysis. Virtual learning doesn’t have to mean that STEM/STEAM activities are left by the wayside. Although many schools address STEM/STEAM learning through extra curricular activities and clubs within the school, educators and parents can still integrate STEM-related activities to motivate young learners at home.

Simulated Oil Spill
This activity allows students to see real-world implications of pollution in the oceans by using a few household ingredients. Parents and educators can examine the cause/effect relationships and frontload the activity at the same time by providing images of oil spills. Prompt students to think about how an oil spill impacts not only the immediate area, but also everywhere else. Spur discussion by showing videos of the clean-up process; then tell them that they will be simulating this process with their own “oil spills.”

In a shallow dish or pan filled with water, prompt kids to “spill” some vegetable or olive oil into the pan. Then, dip feathers into the oil spill to simulate the impact on wildlife, specifically birds. Ask children to use materials such as sponges, spoons, coffee filters, etc., to remove as much of the oil as they can from the water.

The project encourages kids to put on their “problem-solving hats” by brainstorming how to minimize the impact on the environment when oil gets into our oceans. This activity also requires children to hypothesize by asking questions like, How much of the oil do you think you can remove with a spoon? Do you think a sponge will work better? Can a paper towel help to remove any of the oil? Do you think you’ll be able to fully clean the feathers? What do you think we use oil for on a daily basis? Discuss the importance of taking precautions to avoid oil spills and how we can help protect our environment by relying on less oil.

Rube Goldberg Machine
Covid-19 quarantine times have certainly brought out the creative bug in many of us, so how about putting an educational spin on your in-home challenges? Rube Goldberg machines are great for keeping kids’ hands busy while teaching them about chain reactions, cause and effect, and how to utilize certain mechanisms to accomplish a goal. The great thing about this activity is that you can do it anywhere and use practically anything around the house.

Begin by asking children what type of task they wish to accomplish with their machine. Perhaps you want to unroll the toilet paper, propel a racecar from inside to outside, move a dog treat from the table onto the floor, etc. Extend the activity by asking children to sketch or draw their proposed machine. Help them consider the most useful materials for achieving this goal and how the order of operations is also a considerable facet of this “invention.” You can even turn it into a challenge—who can come up with the most complex or involved Rube Goldberg machine?

Color Fun
A great way to blend math and art is to utilize paint or food coloring! Depending on age, some students may benefit from simply looking at how primary colors can combine to create secondary colors. Have kids make predictions about what might happen when a drop of red is added to blue food coloring. How many drops of red would it take to change the color from dark indigo to magenta? How can you make lime green or light orange? Provide children with small paper cups and Q-tips for blending—then, watch them go!

For older learners, use this same basic activity to discuss proportions and/or ratios. By bringing math into the color blending, students get to see how ratios of a certain component can greatly change the overall product or outcome.

Paper Airplane Origami
Finally, making paper planes may seem old-school, but the educational value can stretch from symmetry and fine motor control, to aerodynamics and properties of physics. Using computer printer paper or construction paper, model how to make a basic paper airplane. Discuss the importance of a nice, solid crease and how to ensure that the wings of the plane are symmetrical. Ask children to make predictions about how far their first plane will fly; perhaps raise the stakes and turn this into a competition! Continue making various planes using different folding techniques and talk about how certain properties can create a more aerodynamic design. Show photos of real airplanes and draw comparisons between those and the paper forms.

Executive Functioning and Distance Learning: Part II

Distance learning has been hard on everyone, but even more so for families dealing with the challenges associated with executive dysfunction. In part one, we discussed the basic background of executive functioning skills, the effects of having executive dysfunction, and the way in which educators can implement strategies even during hybrid or distance learning. Now it is time to look at executive dysfunction from the parent perspective. What does it look like at home, outside of the classroom or separate from academic tasks? What are some strategies and methods parents can implement at home to help children who struggle with executive functioning?

 

Executive dysfunction in the everyday

Deficits in executive functioning are sometimes more subtle when children are at home or not engaged in a learning task. This is why executive dysfunction is easier to spot from an educational or clinical perspective. For parents, it may seem like your child is constantly interrupting you or trying to talk over others. This might not indicate a lack of manners. It could, in fact, be associated with a lack of executive functioning skills. Impulse control, thinking before acting, and processing someone else’s words before responding are all skills attributed to executive functioning.

 

Similarly, if you notice that your child has difficulty retaining one or two instructions at a time, or if she cannot follow directions that she has just heard or read, then she may be experiencing some form of executive dysfunction. What seems like a disregard for rules or instructions could actually be an attentive issue and/or an issue involving working memory, both of which are associated with executive functioning.

 

A child may also struggle with following processes, even after repetition or reminders. Furthermore, metacognitive skills, such as learning how to study, learning how to take notes, and knowing how to synthesize new information with prior knowledge, can also be a struggle for children with executive dysfunction. However, there are methods that parents can use at home to help strengthen these necessary skills.

 

Strategies to use at home

Model certain processes for your child and provide him with visual reminders. For example, if you are encouraging your middle schooler to start doing his/her own laundry, help him/her through the process by doing it together the first few times. Talk and walk them through the steps very specifically and consider using labeled and categorized sorting bins to remind them to separate whites from darks. Put a sticker or little post-in note in the laundry room as a reference for how to set the machine for certain loads. Use specific, ordered language when walking them through the process, such as “first, next, finally or last.” Any process, whether it’s laundry, getting ready for bed, or getting dressed in the morning should be modeled, specific, and consistent.

 

The level of support that you need to provide to your child with the above-mentioned processes should be tapered over time. You may need to actually do the laundry while they watch, initially. Then, slowly withdraw your level of support as they get comfortable completing the task independently. 

 

When your child makes a mistake, use it as a teachable moment. Without scolding, talk through their thought process—or lack thereof—and ask them specifically how they could have gone about things differently. Consider providing your own example of a time you did something similar and how you fixed the problem. Children with executive dysfunction should see that everyone struggles and faces challenges, but that growth involves using those errors as learning experiences. Ask metacognitive questions like: What made you do that? What did you think was going to happen? Why did you react that way? How could you have done it or reacted differently? What did you learn or realize from this? Give him time to process and ponder these questions.

Inject some fun into the challenge of developing or strengthening executive functioning by incorporating age-appropriate games, activities, or challenges. Matching games are great for developing working memory. Other card games help children practice impulse control, rule following, strategizing, organizing, and quick-response. Parents can also use music to help foster executive functioning skills. Use songs that have repetitive sections or songs that can be sung in rounds to practice coordination on a more complex level. Singing in rounds also prompts children to practice listening and using working memory. I Spy and word searches help children work on selective attention and practice reducing visual distractions.

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.

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.

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!  

Diversity and Summer Learning

Research finds that diverse environments are greatly beneficial to students for many reasons. Experiencing diversity allows us to expand our worldview by seeing, hearing, and working alongside people from different backgrounds. Everyone we meet has a different story. Therefore, the more people, cultures, lifestyles and differences we encounter, the more enriched our own lives become. Diversity encourages creativity and innovative thinking as well. Because a diverse learning environment promotes others’ perspectives, students become better thinkers and problem solvers simply by collaborating with people from various backgrounds.

 

With schools currently out of session, young learners may not be confronted with diverse experiences. However, there are activities and resources for parents to utilize that encourage children to explore the world outside of themselves. Here are a few ideas of how to incorporate diversity into your summer learning activities.

 

“Read Across America”

Originally created by the National Education Association to encourage literacy while celebrating  the legacy of renowned storyteller Dr. Seuss, Read Across America has morphed into a year-long celebration of enriching young peoples’ lives through literature. The initiative encourages readers to dive into books that introduce characters from all over the country, which enables children to explore American culture in its many forms.

 

There are countless lists of recommended books for any reading level available online, but parents may want to curate their own list to ensure that children are discovering unfamiliar cultures, underrepresented communities, and unsung heroes across the United States.

 

Online Exhibits

Covid-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into many summer plans and activities. Museums, however, have done a wonderful job of creating digital exhibits and online experiences for learners of all ages. One great way to learn about other cultures is by exploring their origins.

 

  • Teens can explore the vast history of WWII and Jewish culture by “touring” the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • The National Museum of Natural History allows explorers to tour every exhibit, room by room.
  • The National Women’s History Museum provides online exhibitions, as well as oral histories of notable women throughout history.
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture provides interactive guides and resources for visitors to digitally explore the countless artifacts, historical moments, personal histories, and much, much more.
  • The National Museum of the American Indian also allows visitors to take a look at the true story of Pocohontas, view tribal wear and hundreds of artifacts, listen to firsthand accounts of the Native American experience, and explore plenty of other historical moments before the United States was established.

 

Celebrate the Arts

Exploring and celebrating diverse cultures means experiencing other communities on many different levels—from art, music, dance, to food and more! An easy way to introduce children to other parts of the world is by bringing their traditions into your home. Consider using one night per week to “taste your way” through an unfamiliar part of the world.

 

As a family, you can research traditional ingredients and methods of cooking, learn about the type of clothing children typically wear to school or at home, read up on the various utensils and table settings, and listen to traditional or popular music. Another idea is to have children select a country on a world map and have them be the experts of that country. The best way to test your knowledge of something is by teaching someone else! Help them with the initial exploration by providing guiding questions such as:

 

  • What do children from this area or community do for school lunch?
  • What is a typical “birthday treat” in this city or community?
  • What type of music is played at a family celebration?
  • What produce is native to this area? How do they prepare it?
  • What similarities/differences do you notice between your favorite American foods and their customary cuisine?

 

During this time when physical travel is limited, make it a point to experience the world with your children through reading, research, and new recipes!