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What We Can Learn from Students with Learning Disabilities

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A learning disability indicates that there is an issue or difficulty with acquiring knowledge or grasping concepts, information, or processes. Because of our common understanding of students with learning disabilities, it is unfortunately typical to view a disability as a disadvantage in the classroom. While this can and certainly is the case on some level, what we often neglect to notice are the advantages that come with what we consider a disability. Yes, learning disabilities make certain skills more difficult, but they also bring many unique perspectives to the classroom. Perhaps viewing these disabilities more as differences would open our eyes and allow for a more optimistic outlook.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) exhibit periods of difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms vary from person to person, but can notably interfere with learning. But, believe it or not, ADHD symptoms may also have their own unique benefits. For instance, hyperfocus occurs when children with ADHD are able to hone in on one specific activity or task for long periods of time. Whether this form of hyperfocus comes about athletically, artistically, technologically, etc., students that practice channeling their attention and excess energy find great success in their interests.

Furthermore, having adapted to managing the ADHD symptoms over time, children learn to self-check and recognize when their level of attentiveness dips and peaks. Children with ADHD are often forced to think or learn a little differently. They become experts at streamlining information, honing in on significant details, and gauging their own comprehension. This sort of self-awareness helps students play off of their strengths and develop creative means of achievement.

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are also highly sociable and friendly. Because they are prone to being talkative, their verbal language skills are often higher than those of their peers. Storytelling, public speaking, and debating are some of their common social strengths.

Dyslexia/Dysgraphia

Dyslexia, a learning disability that affects a reader’s ability to decode, comprehend, and read fluently, certainly presents its own challenges in and out of the classroom. Reading levels can range from below grade level to nearly illiterate—which is not only frustrating for a child, but greatly discouraging, as well. The advantages of dyslexia are widely unknown, as the disorder is seen as a major educational roadblock. However, there seem to be undeniable benefits. Since reading presents a major challenge, some believe that the following behaviors are a means of compensating for the gaps in reading. For example, students with dyslexia typically thrive at tasks involving abstract thinking, creativity, and holistic or “whole picture” thinking. Children with dyslexia also display strengths in reasoning, problem-solving, and persistence.

Similarly, dysgraphia, a disability that affects written language, also has its own unique benefits. Since motor skills affect pencil grip and the ability to master written language, children with dysgraphia compensate by sharpening their listening skills. These learners are masters of recalling oral details, memorization, and storytelling. These conversationalists thrive in social situations and are often helpful problem solvers.

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning Styles and Techniques: Part 4 of 6

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When it comes to learning strategies, styles, and techniques, learning cannot be explained as a “one size fits all” method. As much as we are told that there are kinesthetic, auditory, visual, and read/write learners, learning processes and preferences are truly more complex than these labels. While there are truths to the different categories of learners, we cannot assume that each young learner fits perfectly and fixedly into one specific category. In fact, depending on a learner’s strengths and weaknesses, he or she will employ different techniques from different categories to best suit the task.

Consider this personal example: a learner, like myself, with a propensity for reading and writing would likely excel in tasks involving creative writing techniques, close reading skills, vocabulary, etc. In the mathematical realm, however, this same learner may need to employ a different learning style. One may assume that a word problem would suit this type of read/write learner. However, for a learner such as myself, the wordiness of a math problem actually got in the way of comprehension. Instead, I would employ visual strategies, such as sketching, diagramming, or graphing to visually break down the word problem.

Depending on the task, a strong learner will know how and when to employ different strategies. This type of fluidity in learning styles takes practice. For instance, in the above example, a read/write learner like myself would likely read a confusing word problem many times before realizing that a visual illustration would actually be more beneficial.

Thus, the best way to help young learners is to provide them with numerous learning strategies and techniques. Then, let the learner decide which different strategies are helpful in certain circumstances. Below are just a few strategies organized by learning style.

VISUAL

  • Use diagrams, illustrations, and graphic organizers to visually conceptualize a task. For instance, a visual learner may benefit from a prewriting outline before beginning a lengthy essay assignment.
  • Color code when taking notes to visually organize information on the page; this can also help with memory.
  • Highlight key words when reading or studying to help retain the information.
  • Rewrite notes or perform task demonstrations to better see and memorize the information after the initial lesson.

AUDITORY

  • Restate the information in your own words to solidify comprehension and memorization.
  • Create mnemonic devices while studying.
  • Organize information into a song, rhythm, or rhyme to help recall.
  • Reread information aloud.
  • Ask and answer questions aloud during lessons or lectures.

KINESTHETIC

  • Pace or move about while studying notes to help with memorization.
  • Fold the corners of textbook pages to refer back to important information.
  • Stand while reading or reciting.
  • Take small, frequent breaks when working on large assignments.
  • Reenact the concept or task; this is especially helpful for science labs, physical or athletic skills, or theater-related tasks.
  • Sit on a yoga ball while reviewing material or studying for extended periods of time.
  • Use a line-reader or cover the text on the page when reading; this helps kinesthetic learners focus on a text line by line instead of getting overwhelmed by a wordy page.

 

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: https://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning is a Process: Part 3 of 6

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What exactly does it mean to learn something? How can we know that we have adequately learned it? Are there better or more effective ways in which to learn? These are just a few questions surrounding the art of learningand what better time to ponder these thoughts than at the start of a brand new year of learning? Now, of course, just as every child is unique, each child’s learning style is equally unique. It’s time that we learn a little more about the process of learning.

Learning is a processbut what does this mean? Obviously, children do not simply learn by hearing something. Unfortunately, the human brain is not a recording device or database. Instead, truly learning something involves severalsometimes manydeliberate interactions with the concept.

Let’s use baking as an example. Before learning to bake a cake, the amateur chef will need to be introduced to the concept of cake. The chef may take a bite, look at a photo, or watch a how-to video about cake baking. This introduction prepares the chef for what is to come and ideally demonstrates the end goal or product—a cake.

After tasting a cake sample, the chef will seek to know more about the cake before baking his own. For instance, he may research different flavor combinations, baking methods, or icing techniques. By seeking further information, the chef begins to better understand cake and how it is made.

Next, the chef will attempt the task of baking a cake. Taking all of the knowledge that he’s compiled, the chef will now actually get his hands dirty and try baking a cake on his own.

After baking, the chef will obtain feedback from taste testers. Ideally, these taste testers should be expert chefs who have experience baking cakes or at least some novice chef peers who know how a good cake is supposed to taste.

Taking the feedback into consideration, the amateur chef will now look back at the recipe and baking techniques and make adjustments based on his reflections.

The chef can decide to circle back to any previous steps to perfect his cake. Perhaps he needs to taste other types of pastry, take an extra baking class, alter the ingredients or measurements, or read another cookbook. Either way, the chef continues to work towards his goal of creating a delicious cake. And, since a cake can never be too delicious, the chef’s learning is never finished.


Just as the amateur chef’s journey to the perfect cake is a process, children’s acquisition of knowledge and new skills proceeds in a similar fashion. Learning does not occur in one fell swoop; it is not instantaneous; it is not a uniform recipe or sure-fire set of instructions. Learning takes time, intrinsic motivation, creativity, and patience. When children struggle to learn something, frustration arises. It is important to let your child know that learning is a process that involves trial and errorfailure is a necessary step in this process. No matter the setbacks, we must teach children to overcome and persevere.

Because, just as the amateur chef knows all too well, triumph after failure is even sweeter!

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: https://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! The Binder. Part 2 of 6

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Sticking with the August theme of organization for back-to-school, let’s focus our attention on a middle school staple: the binder. Melodramatic? Maybe. Essential? Yes.

When it comes to transitioning into middle school, organization is key. Consider this: Middle school is likely the first time that students are encountering things such as late bells, lockers, crowded hallways, confusing schedules, and different classrooms and teachers for each class. Not only are they new to the content and the building, but the middle school model of homerooms, study periods, and moving from class-to-class with the appropriate books and materials is completely new, as well.

That said, binder organization is an extremely important part of the middle school learning curve. Here are some tried and true tips from a teacher about handling binder organization.

1. Consider your child’s schedule. Most of the time, a student’s school day is separated by morning and afternoon classes, with lunch in the middle. Before and after lunch are often opportune times to visit the lockers since the grades transition to lunch at different times. This means that the hallways are less crowded, and students have a little more time to swap out books, binders, and materials. Many students find it beneficial to have two binders—a morning binder and an afternoon binder. The only caveat here is when the typical school schedule is disrupted by delays, early dismissals, assemblies, etc. When this happens, it’s important that students be aware of the schedule and plan to have necessary assignments in the correct binder at the right time. Again, this type of organization comes with practice.

2.  Tabs are your friends. When doing back-to-school shopping, be sure to include tabs or separators on the list. They do not have to be pricey or ornately designed—just ensure that your child can easily set up a tab or label for each class. It may be helpful to include a “parent signature” tab for items that need to be signed and returned to school. Furthermore, a homework or “due tomorrow” tab may help to ensure that homework comes home and is returned for credit. This type of organization will help students submit homework quickly and efficiently at the start of class without missing any important instruction. True story: I’ve watched countless students spend the better part of my class furiously shuffling through mounds of crumpled papers searching for last night’s homework—this doesn’t have to happen.

3.  Purge papers as often as necessary. Of course, at the end of the marking period, middle schoolers are prompted to clean out their binders. However, binders overflow or “explode” long before the end of the term. Encourage your child to purge any unnecessary note sheets, practices, or scratch papers to maintain an organized binder. Colored mini sticky notes or flags are helpful when identifying any papers that should be kept all year. For example, during the first week, I give my students a few documents that they should hold onto for the duration of my class. I encourage students to “flag” or write KAY (keep all year) at the top as reminder of which papers should not be purged.

4.  Consider a pencil pouch. Again, as with the tabs, these do not have to be expensive or elaborate. Most pouches can be purchased for a little more than a dollar. In fact, it may be better to keep this item small and simple, as to save room in the often “over-stuffed” binders. Items to include range from writing utensils, erasers, and white out, to zip drives, band-aids, and mini hand sanitizer. It’s also a good place to stash a $5 bill in case the need for emergency lunch money occurs—and trust me, it will.

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: https://learningessentialsedu.com/brain-camps/

Summer Slide, Part II

Incentivizing reading can be a great way to jumpstart young learners’ motivation during the summer. Of course, the larger goal is for children and teens to garner intrinsic motivation for reading and learning down the line, but until that point, parents can encourage the practice with small, consistent incentives.

Here are a few examples to get you started with incentivizing young learners this summer:

  • Set up a tally or sticker chart to track that your child reads something every day. Whatever that “something” might be could vary from child to child. Perhaps it’s the comics in the morning paper, or a cupcake recipe for an upcoming family reunion, or the closed captioning or subtitles of their favorite TV show. Whatever the stipulations may be, holding children accountable for tracking their reading is a good way to begin combatting the summer slide.
  • Camouflage research skills by asking for your child’s help. Depending on age, the research questions can begin very simply, such as, “What is the weather going to look like later tonight during your baseball game?” Or, “What are the showtimes for the movie that you want to see this weekend? Are there better options for showtimes at a different theater nearby?” For older learners, parents can encourage middle and high schoolers to research places to visit, local attractions, events, or summer festivals, or even long-weekend options for a mini-family vacation. Guide their research by providing some critical guiding questions and reputable websites for perusal.
  • Research free educational events, activities, or programs in the area over the summer. In addition to many school-sponsored events and resources, the internet has a plethora of free educational websites that allow students to access digital games, tools, and practices from their living room. School and local library websites are great places to start when combing through reputable online educational resources. Many sites, like Scholastic, Flocabulary, NewsELA, ReadWriteThink, and Edutopia allow students to filter the materials based on interests, grade level, Lexile level, text length, etc. Virtual field trips also provide students with opportunities to see and experience locations that may otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Take learning outdoors to utilize the summer weather and natural surroundings. Simple activities such as planting flowers or herbs, visiting a state park or zoo, or starting a neighborhood initiative is a great way to show children that learning takes place everywhere—not just within the classroom. This also allows learners to take an active role in their learning, instead of the typical passive learning that we often see in schools. For older children and teens, parents can encourage financial competency and budgeting by helping middle and high schoolers begin a neighborhood dog walking, lawn mowing, yard sale, or recycling project. In doing this, children a practicing essential skills and strategies, while gaining a sense of independence and responsibility as well. The cash flow is always a great incentive, too!
  • Encourage literacy skills by providing your child with a photo journal for summer activities and travels. Children might use a smartphone or Polaroid camera to capture important memories or events over the summer. Then they can provide written captions, reflections, and other personal insights to accompany the photos. The photo journal also acts as a great memento for looking back on summer memories.

5 SIMPLE Steps to Combat the Summer Slide with Reading

For those who are not immersed in the world of education on a daily basis, the term “summer slide” may conjure up nostalgic memories of sunny afternoons at the pool.

For academia, however, summer slide is a dreaded term—one that is not associated with a relaxing pool day at all. Instead, summer slide refers to the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer months when students are not in school.

Statistically, summer slide poses a greater threat to students of lower socioeconomic standing, or those considered “at-risk” and most adversely affected by the achievement gap. Research suggests that summer slide is a larger factor for students who may not have access to educational experiences, materials, and books over the summer.

But the grim truth is that regardless of a family’s income, any student is susceptible to the loss of knowledge and skills while being out of school for the summer months.

Some research indicates that summer slide could mean a loss of 20-30% of the information gained over the previous school year.

So yes, the summer slide is a valid concern for educators and parents to consider.

Fortunately, there are many ways to combat the summer slide.

For children and teens, summer reading packets, math booklets, and the like are most often met with groans. Summer is supposed to be a time of freedom from stress; it’s a time for adventure and exploration!

So, if parents truly want to sell a child on schoolwork during the summer, they really must package it appropriately.

  • Provide an ample amount of what teachers call “student choice.” 

Children are much more likely to invest their time and attention in a book or learning activity if it involves an aspect of interest. Additionally, a sense of agency and independence comes with children and teens having a say in what they would like to read or participate in.

Ask your children what they are interested in reading. Start with identifying fiction or nonfiction, then genre or topic, and narrow down from there. Once you have an idea of their interests, take your kids on a field trip to the local library and find a book together.

  • Provide various modes of texts (not just books)

Parents of reluctant readers will want to provide multiple modes of texts as well. Consider purchasing the audiobook or ebook so that your child can listen while following along.

If lengthy chapter books bring your child a sense of dread, expand literature options to graphic novels, magazines, or adapted versions of the classics.

Again, the more a young reader has to choose from, the more likely he or she is to land on something pleasurable.

  • Plan for activities that relate to or expand upon parts of the curriculum from that previous school year. 

Children are always surprised when topics or facts from the classroom suddenly apply in “real life.” Parents can check the school district’s website for curriculum materials or email the child’s teachers to review the major concepts, novels, or skill sets that students were to have mastered that year.

With that knowledge, parents can select materials or push children in the direction of texts and activities that incorporate those skills.

For example, if parents know that their middle schooler read The Diary of Anne Frank over the winter term, they may want to select from sub-genres involving WWII, Holocaust survival stories, or other autobiographical works that feature a strong, young narrator.

  • Get the whole family involved in summer learning

Consider starting a weekly family book club, in which each member reads the assigned pages and then participates in an informal chat about their thoughts on the chapter or events so far. The key to keeping the momentum and enthusiasm going is to ensure that the book talk remains as informal as possible.

Throw pillows and blankets around the living room, set out snacks, or use the night as an excuse to have a pizza party while discussing the book. Since a movie night can be a great incentive for children, think about choosing a book that also has its own film adaptation.

  • Connect the reading material to real-life experiences.

If a child is starting middle school next year, provide her with YA book options that feature a preteen navigating through middle school.

If soccer camp is on the agenda for the summer, find reading materials—nonfiction, fiction, or biographical—that center around soccer, soccer players, or the history of the sport.

The secret to keeping kids reading is to keep the material fresh and relevant.

 

Signs of Dyslexia by Grade Level

According to the International Dyslexia Association, anywhere from 15-20% of the world’s population has a reading disability marked by symptoms of or relating to dyslexia. Since it is a language-based learning disability, dyslexia can impact a child’s reading, writing, and speech in various ways. While the symptoms and signs are vastly different from one learner to another, there are age or grade-specific indicators that parents can make note of for future discussions with doctors, special educators and specialists, if necessary. These are by no means tell-tale signs that your child has a learning disability; however, they could be reason enough to seek an evaluation by a professional.

 

Pre-K

Before kindergarten, many children are just beginning to explore language in all forms. With that exploration comes inevitable blundersyoung learners will mispronounce and misspell words quite frequentlybut this is no cause for concern. Instead, early signs of dyslexia in toddlers and preschoolers are often of the auditory form, meaning that parents will hear these subtle issues before they’ll see it. Listen for the following:

  • Children may tell a story out of order or even retell a story or scenario that does not fit a chronological sequence.
  • They may also lack transition words or phrases, such as first, then, after, later, last, etc.,  when telling a story.
  • Children with early signs of dyslexia may begin speaking noticeably later than their peers. They may speak only in certain situations when prompted and/or only when they feel comfortable.
  • They may forget common words for everyday items or concepts.
  • They may be unable to grasp simple rhyming concepts, even with single syllables, such as dime, time, lime, crime, etc.
  • They may orally mix up syllables for common or everyday words. For instance, they may say “listpick” instead of “lipstick” or “caxi tab” instead of “taxi cab.”
  • They may add unnecessary or nonexistent vowels to consonant blends when pronouncing certain words. Here is what that might sound like:
    • “Fullufy” for fluffy
    • “Beraid” for braid
    • “Gulasses” for glasses
    • “Falower” for flower
    • “Sinack” for snack
    • “Sakunk” for skunk
    • “Teruck” for truck
  • Conversely, early learners may also have difficulty separating sounds, as well as blending them. If a child struggles to distinguish the two sounds in the word “no,” nnnnn—oooo, then there could be a potential problem.

 

Elementary Age

Since children are under somewhat of a language microscope in their early elementary years, dyslexia is more often diagnosed during this time. These are the formative years in terms of reading and writing, which is why it is that much more obvious when a child is struggling with a language disability. Signs include:

  • Difficulties pertaining to phonics, meaning the relationship between letters and sounds; they may pronounce p as b or d.
  • Elementary-aged children may struggle to read sight words, which are high-frequency words that appear in everyday reading and writing. These words are typically abstract and essentially have to be memorized, meaning that they do not have physical images to accompany them or their spelling. The expectation is that students will memorize and recognize these words automatically as they learn to read and write. Examples of some sight words include and, or, the, of, is, with, but, that, by, if, can, were, them, was, has, so, etc.
  • While reading, students may substitute certain words while reading or spelling. These are often synonymous terms or words that are in the wheelhouse of the intended term, such as “mom” instead of mother, or “home” as opposed to house, “kid” instead of child, etc.
  • Some learners may invert numbers or confuse mathematical signs; they may confuse a multiplication sign for an addition sign or a subtraction sign for a division sign, etc. 
  • They may invert letters when writing or reading. This often occurs with letters such as m and w, n and u, p and d, q and b, and s and z.

Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

Times have certainly changed since my elementary school days. Granted, it was not that long ago that I was furiously memorizing times tables and MLA works cited formats. However, today’s youth is experiencing something that I didn’t recognize until my adult years: extreme stress. This year, especially, I’ve found myself repeating stress-relieving mantras to our students on a daily basis. From tears over B grades to pressures at home, my current students are slowly breaking my heart with their ever-growing worries and concerns.

Yes, I worried as a child—we all did at some point. But my students this year have been talking candidly about debilitating, sleep-interrupting, all-encompassing anxiety and stress. I’ve seen children break down in sobs, asking questions like, “How can I be better?” What I want to tell them in these moments has nothing to do with literary elements or plot diagrams. I want to tell them the same things that I wish I could tell my 12-year-old self when I felt stressed or lost.

You will not be the best at everything.

…But you don’t have to be. You will find that you are amazing at something—maybe even a few things. These are your passions—follow them, nurture them, be proud of them.

You will make mistakes.

…But your mistakes are your greatest teachers. You will learn more from your mistakes than you will from your successes. So use this knowledge and know that you will learn from your errors.

Your parents are always proud of you.

…Even when you fail, stumble, and struggle.

It’s okay to disagree with your friends.

…They are not always right, and neither are you.

People are going to be mean.

…But pay them no mind—it’s not you, it’s them.

Apologize when you mess up.

…And forgive those who apologize to you. Remember that saying sorry and being sorry are two different things—know the difference.

Life is not fair.

…So do not expect it to be. There will always be people who have more than you.

The only thing that you can control is yourself.

…Do not frustrate yourself with things beyond your control.

Trust yourself.

…You are capable of much more than you’d imagine. Take chances—you will likely surprise yourself.

Everything will be okay.

…It might not seem like it right now, but you will get through these tough times. The struggles will only make you stronger, so don’t give up.

Remedies for Reluctant Readers, Part II

When reading for pleasure is not an instinct, it can begin to feel like punishment for kids. This is not where we want to end up. It may not be possible to turn every anti-reader into a little bookworm, but there are plenty of strategies that parents and educators can use to help make the process less cringe-worthy. Additionally, some strategies, when put to regular use, can help students become stronger, more critical readers.

 

Movement breaks

Reading can seem like a rather dull activity, especially for little ones. This is understandable—as reading is a quiet, still, and often solitary task. But it doesn’t have to be. One regular strategy that elementary teachers utilize as a best practice is to incorporate movement breaks when students are expected to read for a length of time. Depending on the reader, a movement break might involve a trip to the water fountain or kitchen to get a drink of water after reading a chapter or section. For others it may involve jumping jacks, a quick dancing brain break, or squeezing a stress ball while reading. Some students also find it helpful to read at a standing desk, on a yoga or balance ball, or on a wobble stool to help engage the body and allow for some rhythmic movement while reading. The key is to allow and encourage reluctant readers to expel energy to keep their minds engaged and focused.

 

Preview for background info

For many students, the dislike of reading comes from the fact that it can be tedious and strenuous, especially for struggling readers. Therefore, offering various reading strategies to students can help ease the difficulty and, in effect, increase engagement. One of these strategies, especially for nonfiction or textbook reading assignments, is to preview the reading and search for background on the topic. 

 

Depending on the reading and the student, this practice will look different each time, but here are the basics:

  • Pay attention to the titles, subtitles, headings, captions, photos, bolded vocabulary terms, etc. Students can garner a great deal of what the text will involve by looking at the text features beforehand.
  • Skim sections of the text to ground their reading; this will help orient readers and allow them to plan ahead in terms of seeing how long the reading will be.
  • For terms or concepts that are totally unfamiliar, students should be encouraged to do a quick Google search to help ground their understanding of the term, concept, or event.
  • Jot down questions while previewing; this helps students begin to engage with the text and practice close reading and critical thinking. The goal is to then revisit and answer or follow up on those questions after reading. 

 

Highlight as you go

Along with previewing as a reading practice to boost engagement and comprehension, highlighting is a common tool for successful readers as well. This practice builds strong, active reading skills and helps visual learners at the same time. Students should be encouraged to mark areas of the text for any of the following purposes:

  • Highlight words or phrases that connect to vocabulary terms or important concepts from class; this visual helps to engrain definitions and understanding into working memory.
  • Highlight main points of a section, chapter, or column of text. This way, when students revisit the text, they are able to identify the key points immediately. 
  • Highlight areas of the text that they find confusing or have questions about. This will act as a visual cue to remind students to follow up with the teacher, do a little more research about the specific topic, ask follow-up questions, etc. 

Highlight answers to any of the questions that they asked themselves at the start of the reading; again, this is essentially the foundational skill for active, engaged reading.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part III

In addition to building strong relationships and maintaining consistency, students with autism who are struggling more than usual due to distance learning will also greatly benefit from specificity. Below are additional strategies that educators can use to help best support their students on the spectrum while we continue with virtual learning. 

 

Make everything as specific as possible 

When it comes to Zoom class sessions and online learning in general, teachers sometimes forget that students are not hanging on our every word like they would be more inclined to do in the physical classroom. Since Zoom meetings are often a passive form of learning—even when we try our hardest to keep it engaging—students, especially those with autism, are probably not absorbing every major point, example, instruction, etc. Because of this, students require significantly more repetition, clarification, and specificity to succeed with virtual learning. Teachers should consider taking the following steps to ensure that instruction, assignments, directions and tasks are as specific as possible:

  • When assigning reading homework, teachers should be careful to phrase the chapters and pages very specifically. For instance, when saying, “Please read chapters 1-3,” some students may interpret that to mean read up to chapter 3, not including it. Be sure to clarify specifically what page number students should stop reading for a particular assignment to avoid this miscommunication. 
  • As discussed in part two, naming or labeling assignments and resources consistently is key to streamlining materials for students. The same is true regarding specificity. Titling an assignment “Writing Homework #1” is too vague. This name does not help students to identify the details of the task when looking at Canvas. Remember, students have anywhere from 5-7 classes; therefore, specifically titling tasks in Canvas or other virtual portals will help trigger their memories and clarify the exact task that you are asking them to complete.
  • Provide specific times for assignment submission as well. Canvas allows you to just set a due date; however, some students may appreciate having a specific cut off time for submitting an assignment just to be sure. For example, I always set the time to 11:59pm whatever day the task is due. This way, students know that they always have that final full day to complete and submit without penalty. 
  • Consider providing students with a reference sheet that specifies what you mean when you say certain high-frequency, tier 2 and 3 vocabulary terms in class. Abstract words, such as analyze, evaluate, critique, and assess can cause stress and uncertainty for students with autism. Accompany these terms with specific examples and explanations so that students know exactly what is expected of them. This is a great practice for all students, especially when teachers are introducing key unit questions, objectives, and writing prompts. 

When providing written feedback, especially since virtual learning leaves less time for 1:1 conferences and writing workshops, it is especially helpful for teachers to use a higher level of specificity. If students are not able to directly connect a teacher’s feedback to an area of weakness and how they can strengthen that weakness in the next assignment, then the feedback is essentially worthless. One worthwhile activity to gauge whether or not your feedback is specific enough is to ask students to reflect on the feedback that they received on an essay or project. This ensures that 1) they have actually read the feedback, and 2) that they fully comprehended their errors and areas for improvement.