Posts

Talking Points for Substance Abuse

Much like the “birds and bees” talk, many parents shy away from or are unsure of where to begin the conversation about drugs and alcohol. Yes, children will get plenty of information about the risks of substance abuse in their health classes at school, but those topics are not always introduced until middle school. And as shocking as it may sound, it is important that children in the elementary age group be aware of the harmful effects of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use. 

 

Having these conversations early can help set the foundation for open and honest communication between parents and children. Furthermore, while peers have a strong influence, parents should be the ones with the strongest influence—so these talks must start at home.

 

  • Use teachable moments to broach the subject of substance abuse. For example, when your child gets a cold, make a point to talk about how cold medicine is helpful for combatting cold symptoms, but that it can be harmful for the body if taken when unnecessary. This is also a good time to talk about how medicine should only be taken as directed, i.e., always ask a parent before taking any medicine, follow appropriate dosage instructions, use prescription medications exactly as prescribed, and do not take any medicine unless given to you by a parent, doctor, or school nurse.
  • If giving your child a daily vitamin, use this time to talk about how we cannot over do it when it comes to medicine—even the super tasty gummie vitamins can be harmful if we take more than directed. 
  • Make a point to stay involved and ask about how your child and his friends are spending their time. There is a difference between being curious and being nosy. Stay neutral in your response, reserve judgment while your child is sharing, and come from a place of compassion and understanding so that your child will feel comfortable opening up without the fear of getting in trouble.
  • Have conversations about peer pressure and how something that seems “cool” can be very uncool in the long run. Use vaping as an example of a habit that seems harmless but is actually anything but. Without scaring your child, let her know that the effects of inhaling these unknown chemicals are dangerous—just like you wouldn’t eat something if you didn’t know what it was, we should never put these flavored chemicals into our bodies just to fit in.

Use goals as leverage. For instance, if your child is very into athletics or music, talk about the logical consequences when it comes to performance and drug use. A smoker is going to get extremely winded on the soccer field, just as an intoxicated person won’t be able to follow sheet music as smoothly/clearly. Discuss the risks of underage drinking as well. Remind them that these sorts of citations or problems in school remain on their record. Colleges, hiring managers, etc., will want to see a candidate’s full background. Ask your child if the risk is worth the reward—they will never be able to say that it is when keeping their goals in mind.

What’s in a Name?

No, we are not talking Shakespeare. We are instead tackling the distasteful tendency to name-call, which is a behavior that nearly all parents and educators have to deal with at some point. In confronting this obnoxious behavior, some parents might believe that they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Some common instincts or remarks are: What’s the big deal, anyway? Everyone gets called names at times. It’s just a little harmless teasing. Follow the “sticks and stones” mindset and you’ll be fine. While these reactions to name-calling do not intend to do harm, the impact may be a different story. 

 

Intent vs. Impact

For middle and high school age groups, a teen’s level of social-emotional intelligence has matured enough to have a serious discussion about intent versus impact. This distinction helps adolescents realize that their words have power, whether they are wielding them maliciously or not. Parents and educators can help clarify this with open and honest conversations. For instance, today, we unfortunately see and hear the term “gay” being thrown around as an insult or put-down. While this is nothing new, and may be intended as a harmless joke between friends, the impact could be devastating. 

 

If you hear your teen throw terms or slurs around in jest, without snapping or placing blame, ask your child the following questions:

  • What do you mean when you call someone gay?
  • Is it a dig at or comment about their sexuality? Or are you actually outting your friend?
  • If neither of those was the intent, what statement are you inadvertently making when you use “gay” as an insult?
  • Do you think being gay warrants random insults?
  • What if your friend actually is struggling with his/her sexuality? What message are you sending him/her when you use it as a slur? 
  • Think about the LGBTQ+ community; how are your insults or jokes inadvertently hurting or putting down that entire community? Were you aware of this when you decided to name-call?

 

A predictable response from many teens is the obligatory eye-roll or a retort such as, “I was just kidding, it’s just a joke, relax.” To which a simple response might be, “A joke is meant to be funny; there is nothing funny about a slur that insults an entire group of people.” Again, the purpose of this type of dialogue is to demonstrate how “just a joke” can end up having a much greater impact, unintentional or not. Use this talk as a springboard to discuss other related issues, such as current news stories, social media posts, text chains, and any other forms of communication. In this day and age, and with everything going on in the world, children need to know that what they say (or type) can and likely will come back to haunt them in the future. Politicians, celebrities, and other adults behaving badly should not give the green light to teens to engage in nasty, bullying behavior.

 

Finally, an additional point to make when addressing this issue with adolescents is to talk openly about how their use of slurs or offensive generalizations makes them look to the people around them. When name-calling or jokingly humiliating a friend in public, people around you may not know that you are kidding. If nothing else, this is simply a bad look and may cause others to look down upon them for their crass words and behavior.

Trauma Response: Tips for Parents

Part of an educator’s job is to recognize and help mediate potential trauma that a student might be dealing with. Of course, guidance counselors are much more equipped when it comes to trauma response for children and teens, but it is still something that we unfortunately see in the classroom on a regular basis. With many students now attending classes virtually, it is more important than ever that parents also be able to recognize the signs of potential trauma and respond supportively.

 

One major takeaway for parents is to remember that every child reacts differently to trauma or traumatic experiences. Furthermore, what might be considered a traumatic event for one child may not be as significant or impactful to a sibling or close friend. Therefore, it is important for parents to really tune in to what children are experiencing, even if they seem “fine” with a recent traumatic experience or event.

 

The response to trauma can occur anytime—it might involve a bicycle accident, parent separation or divorce, loss of a beloved pet, or even a current event witnessed in the news. In the same way that kids react differently to trauma, some children experience trauma right away, while others do not show any sign of distress until a bit of time has passed. This is why it is important for parents to stay acutely aware of any emotional or behavioral changes that take place. Just because a child seems fine in the immediate aftermath, it does not mean that he or she will avoid the impact of traumatic events down the line. For some children or teens, it could be days, weeks, or months before they begin to exhibit signs of trauma. 

 

In addition to maintaining vigilance and awareness after a traumatic event, parents should also be cognizant of their own responses and reactions. De-escalation should be a parent’s immediate response. Children are very much aware of stresses in their environment, so when parents respond calmly, they tend to feel at least somewhat more at ease. This is especially true for youngsters—they tend to follow mom and dad’s lead. 

 

If a child has experienced a recent traumatic event, parents should make a point to do the following:

  • Encourage their child to express whatever emotions he might be feeling—this is not the time to hold it in or retreat. Explain that there is no shame in being sad, scared, confused, etc.
  • Answer her questions and explain the situation if she asks, but always lead with the fact that she and the family are safe and secure. Remind her that she is loved and that everything will be okay. This is the reassurance that she needs during times of high stress or instability.
  • Avoid going into unnecessary details, especially with regard to current events or news-related events. Especially for young children, news coverage and firsthand accounts can be unnecessarily scary, stress-inducing, and/or graphic. With little eyes and ears absorbing their surroundings, it’s best to turn off the news.
  • Focus on the immediate here and now. Reassure their child of his/her safety by keeping routines and messages consistent. Spend quality time together as a way to provide comfort and a sense of security.

Remind their child that, like everything else in the world, there are things we can control and things that we cannot. The best way to cope when things get difficult is to focus on what is within their control.

Visualization for Comprehension

Visual learners will certainly understand thisbut truthfully, anyone, regardless of learning styles, can benefit from utilizing visualization strategies for learning and comprehending. Whether working with young readers or helping to break down and make sense of math problems, conjuring up and discussing the images that correspond to certain topics or concepts can help learners conceptualize what would otherwise be too abstract to comprehend. Below are various strategies that parents and educators can use to help students cash in on their mind’s eye for learning.

  • While reading aloud, ask children to pause at the end of a paragraph, page, or section to participate in an oral recollection of what they have just read. Ask prompting questions, such as:
    • After reading about these characters, how are you picturing them in your head?
    • What do they look like? Sound like? How are you visualizing their actions?
    • Where are they? What does the setting or their surroundings look like? Have you been to a place like that? 
    • Based on what they are doing, what do you think the weather might be like? Can you tell what time of year this is taking place?
    • What descriptive words help you to specifically visualize the story’s plot?   
  • To motivate collaborative discussions and increase perspective-taking, perform the visualization in small groups. Then ask students how the images in their heads might be similar or different from their peers’ images. 
  • Ask students to sketch, draw, or paint a scene from the book/text that they are reading. Stress the fact that this practice is not about artistic skill; it is more about conveying an understanding of the text through images or pictures. For students who are reluctant to draw, ask them to create a diagram using simple symbols or stick figures to represent the actions that they visualized. 
  • Have students swap drawings and discuss the different scenes with questions like:
    • What part of the text do you think your partner drew?
    • Which characters are present? Where are they in the image?
    • Did anyone seem to draw the same scene or section?
    • How are these two scenes depicted similarly or differently?
  • Similarly, ask students to draw or sketch predictions for what they think will happen next in the story. This makes for rich collaborative discussions, and it also provides parents and teachers with an opportunity to check in on comprehension. If a student’s prediction is off the walls, then it’s probably time to reread.
  • When reading math word problems, ask students to pause for a second before beginning their calculations. Prompt them to simply sketch the terms of the word problem using hash marks, symbols, or icons to represent the numbers they will be working with. Encourage students to talk through the problem while sketching; this way teachers can catch and clarify any missteps before students begin the actual math calculations. Visually speaking, a quick sketch helps students to conceptualize the otherwise abstract calculations and helps them to comprehend how the numbers and functions are represented.
  • Parents and teachers can also use manipulatives or tokens to represent math problems. Just like a sketch or drawing, the physical manipulatives help students see the variables while they are physically calculating terms.

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.

Managing Impulsivity

Children are naturally impulsive to some degree—this is due to the fact that the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is not yet fully developed. In fact, it is not until one’s mid-twenties that the prefrontal cortex reaches full development and maturation. While we educators see varying degrees of impulsivity regularly in the classroom, one main calling card of students with ADHD is a tendency to be impulsive to a larger degree and/or more frequently. As we slowly transition back into classrooms for in-person instruction, children will undoubtedly and understandably be excited and eager to interact. However, it will be just as important as ever to set expectations and utilize strategies that help students monitor and manage their impulsivity.

 

Important things to consider

When it comes to ADHD, it is extremely important to remember that this disorder impacts the way the brain works. This means that hasty or involuntary levels of response are not solely a behavioral deficit; students’ brains are actually hard-wired to react immediately. More importantly, no level of scolding or punishment will help to curb these impulses to act out or speak out. Reprimanding a student with ADHD for a behavior that he or she cannot fully control is not only wrong, but damaging. Therefore, teachers, as much as possible, should control their own impulses when reacting to students who yell out or behave rashly.

 

Another important consideration is the fact that students who are impulsive do not always register or recognize that they are being impulsive. They are often unaware of the disturbance or disrespect that their inadvertent outbursts demonstrate to others. Due to this unawareness, it may be helpful to try a tally chart for one day as a way to show your student the frequency of his/her disruptions. Pose this practice gently—the tally practice should not feel like as though you are trying to show them how “bad” they are. Reassure your student that this is a way to recognize our impulsivity and work to curb it with time and patience. Here’s how it should work: ask your student to estimate how many times he/she calls out during the course of a school day. Then ask him to mark a tally each time he notices that he has spoken out of turn or yelled out; you will keep your own tally as well. At the end of the day, return to the original estimate and ask whether the student still agrees with that original estimation. Then compare tally marks and discuss how or why you two may have come up with a different number of tallies. Is it because you both have differing interpretations of what is classified as “calling out?” Or does your student not always recognize when he is calling out? Again, this is meant to be an open discussion about how we can improve—not a scolding session. 

 

It is important again to lead with understanding and compassion. This is not a conversation to place blame or highlight the student’s struggles. Instead, this is meant to open up a dialogue between teacher and student about how both parties can implement strategies for a more positive classroom environment. Consider also asking the student the following questions:

  • Where in the classroom do you believe you would be most successful and focused?
  • Is there a subtle hand signal or gesture that we could use as a reminder to raise your hand before shouting out?
  • Would a small/discrete sticky note on your desk with participation protocol be a helpful reminder?
  • How many times today do you think you participated using the appropriate protocol vs. calling out?
  • Do you appreciate positive praise in front of others or do you prefer positive feedback privately?

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.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part II

In part one, we discussed the importance of implementing strategies to help build strong relationships with students remotely. This is no easy task, but establishing a strong sense of community is a critical aspect of success for students with autismthey must feel connected, supported, and heard in order to truly meet their academic potential. In parts two and three, we will discuss additional tools and methods for supporting students on the spectrum remotely, including consistency and specificity

 

Consistency is key

For students on the spectrum, change might throw them for a loop on a greater level. As if the changes that happened this past year were not enough, the sudden switch to virtual schooling undoubtedly shook many students. Now that many students, educators and families have settled into somewhat of a routine for remote instruction, it is essential to maintain those procedures and expectations as much as humanly possible. Any abrupt changes or inconsistencies bring unnecessary stress into students’ lives, especially those students with autism, who tend to thrive in sameness, continuity, and routine. Below are some simple suggestions to help keep things consistent for your students who depend on those measures and routines:

  • When setting up a new module for each new week or unit for your class, click the three dots to edit and set every new module to be “moved” to the top. This way, every time students want to find the most recent course materials, they can see everything at the very top of the page when clicking into their modules—no more scrolling! 
  • Use the same procedure for your warm-up every day. I prefer to keep it casual by asking students some sort of activator or daily question on the shared intro slide so that they see it immediately when they enter the Zoom. I ask students to respond in the chat every day so that I can use their answers as starting points for discussion, as well as for taking attendance.
  • Organize assignments clearly and consistently in Canvas. For example, if the assignment is called “Written Response: Night chapter 1” on the Google slides, be sure to title it exactly the same way in your assignments tab on Canvas. As teachers, we can of course keep track of our various assignment names. But for students, consistency will remove the second guessing when it comes to locating and completing their work.
  • Consider setting up due dates for weekly homework assignments that remain the same throughout the semester. For instance, if you are reading a novel and plan to track students’ reading and comprehension, explain that their novel notes or annotations for the week’s chapters will be due every Friday. Keeping that running Friday due date will help ensure that students are organized and better prepared to mentally or physically plan out their homework tasks for the week. 
  • Consider setting up individual check-in times for students with autism on a weekly or biweekly schedule. Students on the spectrum may need additional one-to-one teacher support that extends beyond the allotted weekly office hour. Ask students if they would like more assistance and when in their weekly schedule they could plan to chat for 15 minutes or so. Assure them that this is not a punishment or a mandatory check-in, but rather an opportunity to ask individual questions, review assignments and feedback, and gain clarity on anything. Keep the check-ins on the same day at the same time every two weeks and send out calendar reminders. Teachers can also encourage parents to pop in on these check-ins as well.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part I

Distance learning, as well as the potential for hybrid and the return to in-person learning, has presented students with many unknowns. Educators and families know a lot more about how to successfully support students than we did last spring; however, there are always areas for improvement and aspects that we may be overlooking. 

 

It is especially important to ensure that students with autism are receiving a greater level of support during this time. It is inevitable that students with autism are experiencing more significant learning challenges right now, which places them at a greater risk for learning gaps. Because of the challenges that distance learning brings, these students are impacted on a greater scale than their general education counterparts; however, there are things that educators can do to help students navigate the remainder of this precarious school year.

 

Building community remotely

Fostering relationships and building a positive rapport with students over Zoom has been one of the greatest hurdles of distance learning. Teachers are doing anything and everything to engage students and to reach them on a personal level. This is a critical element for student success, especially when it comes to students on the spectrum. Knowing your students means knowing their learning styles, their preferences and interests, their communication styles, and their areas of strengths and weaknesses. For students with autism, understanding and accommodating these ins and outs of learning can mean the difference between engagement and disengagement, comfort and discomfort, success and failure. 

 

To better reach all students, teachers should consider taking the following measures:

  • Present students with a survey on learning styles and make an effort to use that information for differentiation as much as possible. 
  • Use examples, samples, and texts that incorporate student interests, especially instructional resources that connect to your students with autism on a personal level. Making sure they are acknowledged, appreciated, and understood is the first step to building strong relationships.
  • Arrange alternative or additional modes for participation and communication. Some students, especially those on the spectrum, are highly uncomfortable on Zoombeing on camera or speaking in front of peers can be an unnecessary stressor. Some teachers may find it helpful to arrange additional office hours or check-in times to make sure students feel comfortable participating in a smaller group. 
  • Remind students of the chat function for participation as wellthis is a great way for hesitant or shy students to answer and ask questions without “putting themselves out there.”
  • Acknowledge a job well-done and provide specific examples of the growth that you have seen with your students. Those learners with unique educational needs, especially those with autism, often find that school has been a place of perpetual struggle. Therefore, when you recognize students for their accomplishments, no matter how small, the outcome of this positive reinforcement can be life-changing. 
  • Reach out to parents about their child’s learning history and preferences. As we all know, parents know their children best. So when it comes to getting to know your students, parents can provide a wealth of knowledge regarding a student’s interests, hobbies, academic and personal needs, friend group and peer history, etc. Teachers may want to set up a few parent Zoom meetings to help build a positive rapport there as well. Open and consistent communication between parents and teachers is essential for students with autism, especially during these difficult times.

Connecting with Students Virtually

One of the biggest downsides of online learning, in my personal opinion, is the loss of community and the severely diminished level of engagement that comes from no longer having a physical classroom. Regardless of our content area or our students’ age group, there is something about being in the same physical learning space that conjures up a special type of magic. Personalities emerge, connections are made, and peer interactions are lively when in the comfort of the classroom. Try as we might, much of the magic is lost in the virtual realm. For many teachers, our students are known only to us as faceless black boxes on Zoommany of whom we’ve never actually met in person. Students may be connected in the literal sense, but they are often understandably disconnected when it comes to engagement, interest, and intrinsic motivation. With such little to go on, many teachers find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel for tips and tricks as to how to truly reach students over Zoom. In the same way that we engage students and build a rapport in the classroom, teachers should start small and recognize that a little bit goes a long way in terms of building connections with students.

 

Celebrate milestones

Although we are not physically in the same room, or even the same building for learning, teachers can take simple steps to make students feel welcomed, acknowledged, and appreciated during online class sessions. 

  • One simple detail that I make sure to use every single day is to acknowledge students’ birthdays on the opening slide at the start of each week. Since my opening Google slide format stays the same throughout the yearit’s just the agenda and objectives that changeI can easily update the birthday announcement in less than a minute when prepping for the week ahead. By checking Synergy/gradebook, I am able to quickly see which students are celebrating a birthday that week, add their name to the “Welcome” slide, and wish them a happy birthday at the start of class as they enter the Zoom session. This is a small but simple way to acknowledge a student’s special day. It may also be the first or only mention of their birthday, so I like to make a big deal out of it, even if we’re not in the classroom together.
  • If I’m lacking a good warm-up question for the day, or if students are coming back from a long weekend or holiday break, I use the activator/warm-up opportunity to check in on what students have been up to. I keep the options for response casual and conversational to prompt full participation. Some students will prefer to speak out loud to the whole group about their weekend plans; others prefer to respond privately using the chat function. As I’m taking attendance, I’ll make quick notes about soccer games, volleyball tournaments, siblings visiting from college, etc., so that I’m able to follow up with students about things other than their English assignments. Again, a little bit of personalized attention helps students to feel more comfortable in the virtual space. These small conversations add up over time, helping to build a positive rapport and encourage participation and open dialogue.
  • When I’m providing feedback on written assignments, I use those comments as an additional opportunity to connect with students, not only about their writing skills, but about the content of their writing as well. For instance, I may compliment a student who has shown growth in her sentence structure or vocabulary since her last essay. I may also ask follow-up questions in the comments. For instance, since many of my seniors are writing about their plans for next year, I use my essay feedback as an opportunity to prompt them for more detail. I’ll make a point to ask the following questions, especially when students submit personal narratives:
    • What was the number one factor for choosing that school?
    • Do you know anyone else attending the same college?
    • What was your first impression of the campus?
    • What are you most nervous about after graduation?
    • What is one thing you hope to do before leaving for school?
    • How have your goals/career aspirations changed over time?