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Lessons Learned from Remote Learning: Tips for Parents

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, September 3, 2020

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By Stacey Sargent and Robert Kahn

Mid-March of 2020 thrust all of us into a brave new world, and parents, students, educators, and administrators worked hard to bring their expertise and experience along for the ride!  Ultimately, June arrived and curriculum, teaching strategies, and personnel had become more or less accustomed to a routine of remote learning. But while educators came at this task from a perspective of “How does pedagogy, methodology, and curriculum translate?”, families often had to confront broader and more challenging perspectives involving multiple students in different schools, utilizing differing models, and competing for shared resources. Heading into this school year, at least we have been forewarned of the uncertainty ahead. There are factors we cannot control, and learning may take several different forms, including remote or hybrid phases, before we return to the world we knew in early 2020. Here are some tips from our experience to date specifically for parents on how to make remote learning most effective.

Create a successful learning environment

Just like in a classroom, it is important for students to feel comfortable and productive in their learning environment. Talk to your child about where in your home would be a good place to attend remote classes and complete school work. Ideally, the spot you choose should be a quiet, well-lit area with a desk or table and a comfortable chair. Remove items that could be a distraction and add needed supplies, such as writing utensils and paper. Many schools have published an at-home supplies list for the hybrid model, focused on the home learning center. In some cases, items like printers and articulating cameras are useful but costly. Less expensive versions are often fine, and schools or districts may have these items to loan out. Some parents may want to explore a cooperative pod approach to resources, bearing health mitigation in mind, where multiple families have access to items which may not be cost effective for individual households. 

If your home allows, we recommend avoiding bedrooms as a learning venue, but space may be an issue, especially when multiple family members are going to school online and parents are working remotely. Teachers understand the drawbacks and constraints of virtual learning. However, as parents, you can help students focus and stay on task by being aware of the distractions posed by siblings or even adults passing through the learning area or lingering just off screen. In general, recreate the ‘class experience’ by not being a presence when your student is going to school. It’s an issue to talk about as a family if necessary.

Establish consistent routines

Your child’s school day is filled with routines at different parts of the day. Establishing routines at home can provide structure and consistency conducive to learning. Talk to your child about what routines they think would be important. Some routines to consider are meal and snack times, organization of school work and supplies, getting ready for classes, and break times. One consistent observation of many faculty was the need for supplemental executive functioning (EF) support in an all-remote mode.  

Time management, preparation, memory aids, planning organizers, focus, and motivation are different depending on the level of monitoring available to your student. Several veteran instructors noted that they were impressed at how students responded to the EF challenges of remote learning. It was a “learning to swim by being tossed in the deep end” experience: overwhelming for some but a trigger for independent growth in others. As a parent, the more you can be a supportive observer and coach, while keeping it positive and collegial, the better.  One tried and true method to avoid mixing the roles of parent and EF coach is to consult with your student’s teacher, advisor, or counselor about any observations before directly intervening with a strategy. Once a rapport is established, a school counselor or teacher can connect with other faculty, and meet with your student directly. In the case of an all-remote mode of learning, they will also have the opportunity to reach out to a person designated as your student’s executive function coach. Private tutorials in the pandemic have not dried up at all; many educators are available to help students with their organization, work load, and proactive planning.

Make the most of breaks

Help your child make the most of their down time in between classes. This is the time to use the restroom, grab water or a snack, and engage in movement activities. After class, encourage your child to step away from all screens, including phones and televisions. Take a family walk or engage in physical activities outside. Talented remote educators have learned the value of alternating activities on screen with other parts of the lesson that explicitly send students away for a task or a reflection. Screen fatigue is real; many working parents need no convincing of this. If the remote learning mode does result in some post-pandemic aversion to screen time, we may agree it’s a silver lining.

Keep in touch

When your child is learning at home, it is important for him/her to maintain a connection with the school. Check emails on a consistent basis for important school-wide updates. Maintain communication with teachers and advisors and reach out to counselors if needed. Even when your child is at home, he/she is still a supported and valued member of the school community. Deans, advisors, and counselors all conduct meetings virtually, similar to the drop-ins or scheduled visits they would normally have on campus. Take advantage of these extra opportunities to connect with faculty and team members. We’ve found a variety of creative ways that schools are continuing to build community online. One very simple one is for teachers to allow classes to have some group discussion time before and after the lesson. While maintaining an adult presence in the group is critical for safety, student feedback to teachers has been amazing when teachers allow less-structured ‘extended time’ for students to connect at the end of class for 10-20 minutes. Website hubs are great places to browse for community-building opportunities. In a remote mode, be alert for options to connect with school faculty and peers in non-class settings built into the school day, such as meetings, clubs, office hours, designated breaks, while continuing to encourage time away from the screen once the school day is done. As a parent, you may have a chance to provide input into your school’s plan for remote learning, so take that opportunity to suggest ways for student-faculty connection apart from the classroom hour, in hopes of approximating the way a school community functions.

As we navigate through the pandemic, remote learning has taught us a great deal; not only about the strategies and techniques that do and do not adapt to a digital interface, but also about the emotional and psychological demands of being a student and a teacher in circumstances where you often cannot control the interaction in expected ways. As an overall tip, patience and flexibility are even more essential to remote teaching, where despite the best efforts of both teachers and students, communication can take some unexpected turns. We will all benefit from absorbing the lessons that make us better, and making peace with the factors that are simply beyond our control.

About the Authors

Stacey Sargent is a teacher at Landmark Elementary•Middle School. She has over three years of remote teaching experience as a reading tutor and an English language instructor. She has taught students all over the world through virtual learning platforms. 

Rob Kahn was head of Landmark's Elementary•Middle School from 1985 to 2020, and before that was a tutor, teacher, academic advisor, department head, and dean of students at the school. He began teaching at Landmark in 1972 while at Harvard, and has his Master's Degree from Simmons University. He continues to stay involved at Landmark in a variety of roles.

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Tags:  remote learning tips for parents executive function strategies

Becoming Your Child’s Learning Coach

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, August 13, 2020

father and son doing homework

“Homework sucks!”

I am sure you have heard this before. So have I. I have heard it from students who would like to be doing anything other than more schoolwork. And I have heard it from parents who feel that homework is driving a wedge between them and their children. I hope to help you develop some strategies to structure at-home-learning time to keep emotions in check and to promote better learning. While parents can implement these strategies at any time, they are particularly useful when students are learning remotely with less structured learning time and without the close support of a teacher.

Provide Structure for Optimal Learning 

optimal learning graphic

Some learning tasks can be completed with relative ease because they are clear and engaging. Students say “Homework sucks!” when they are thrown out of the optimal learning zone and into the zones of boredom or frustration. 

Students become bored if tasks do not interest them or seem below their level. Even if too easy or uninteresting, the practice of learning is worthwhile. (Tip: If your student is bored, have them stand up to get a physiological boost to compensate for low demand on mental energy.)

Frustration Creates Avoidance Behavior

Frustration happens because, well, learning is hard work! It is hard mentally and emotionally. Students often become frustrated with tasks and develop the negative behavior of task avoidance. This is a regularly observed phenomenon and is studied by motivation theorists around the world. Being motivated to avoid difficult tasks is often thought of as procrastination or laziness, but it is actually a result of students not having a strong growth mindset to help them persist through difficulties or not having strong help-seeking abilities. In this post I want to focus on coaching students through their academic tasks so they achieve success through the use of strong learning habits that will provide greater confidence and fewer avoidance behaviors.

Planning Your Learning Time

Intentionally structured learning time is intended to keep the student in the optimal learning zone as much as possible. Establish set times for learning each day and make sure that you are available for some of the learning time to support your student with more difficult tasks. 

At the beginning of the learning time, take 15–25 minutes to make a plan for the learning session. 

Establish set times for learning each day and make sure that you are available for some of the learning time to support your student with more difficult tasks.

Students should work on the tasks that they are most interested in and are most competent with when you are the least available. More challenging tasks that cause the student frustration should be planned for a time when you are free to provide the patient guidance and support of a learning coach. In time, you can encourage your student to work on these more difficult tasks independently if you feel that they will be able to use metacognitive strategies to identify where they are having difficulties and then share those difficulties with you to debrief and receive guidance.

Creating the Learning Task List

  • List all learning tasks that must be completed during the learning session.
  • Put the tasks that the student feels most comfortable with at the top of the list. These are tasks that the student can do on their own without support. Acknowledge this independence to help boost their confidence and let them know you would be interested in seeing their completed work to celebrate their independent learning abilities.
  • List the tasks that are challenging for the student. These are tasks that the student needs support to accomplish. They need a task attack plan! Sometimes adequate support can be delivered in helping the student structure the task. Ask the student:
    • Do any of these tasks need to be broken down into smaller component parts? Writing down this plan of attack will help the student maintain effort and focus without escalating into frustration. For example, if a student is assigned an essay, have the student plan to spend 25 minutes on pre-writing with a graphic organizer, 40 minutes on writing the essay, and 10 minutes proofreading. For an elementary student, directions for completing an assignment can be confusing. Rewriting multi-step instructions as numbered bullet points can help students tackle each discrete task in the assignment.
    • Are there instructional resources from the teacher that might support you with this task? Teachers have often created or curated resources and shared them through the learning management system (like Google Classroom, Blackboard, Schoology, or Canvas) or as physical resources. Students may also have other resources that they are familiar with like Khan Academy,, and ReadWriteThink.
  • If the student is not aware of any resources or is still uncomfortable completing the task without support, let them know when you will be available for a set period of time to assist them. Write down the time that you will work on the activity together on the learning task list so no further mental or emotional energy is spent considering how and when that work will get done.

Task Management During Learning Sessions

To stay on task, we must help our students avoid distractions, keep their emotions in check, and not overburden them! Creating a learning environment free from distractions is hard, but by using a task management strategy you can use behavioral practice to keep distractions at bay while you are on task and then reward your student with a break to check social media, play a quick game with a younger sibling, or practice a new dance step. 

One way to track time-on-task and provide regular breaks is through the Pomodoro Method. This time- and attention-management strategy has the learner set a timer to self-monitor 25-minute work sessions followed by a 5-minute break. After completing four sessions successfully, the reward is a longer break. This provides a physical and mental break at regular intervals as well as a rewards structure—strategies supported by research for all students and particularly those who experience challenges in executive function, attention, and self-regulation.

Be More Than Their Learning Coach

I hope that these tips are helpful for you as you work to help your child with their learning, but remember that you are more than a learning coach. If you are working from home, try to make time to have lunch with your kids during a longer break. And if you do need to ask a question about learning, don’t ask them about their schoolwork…ask them how their learning methods are working. Revise until you have a plan that keeps them in the optimal learning zone.

About the Author

Michael Hildebrandt, Ph.D., is the founder of RenewED Learning–educational consultations and coaching. He teaches courses in special education and educational psychology at Gordon College and the University of New Hampshire and has over 15 years of experience providing educational support to students and families.

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Tags:  Executive Function growth mindset homework homework strategies metacognition pomodoro method remote learning

Mobile and Online Tools to Help Students with Writing and Organization

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 15, 2020 Byline:  By J. Birch

boy at desk

Technology has become an increasingly essential part of modern education. With the Covid-19 pandemic that has prompted widespread remote learning, it seems more likely than ever that the digital age will bring in a new era of education, one that maximizes technology and connections. According to EdTech, school districts have been interested in developing their capabilities for e-learning— also known as distance learning or remote learning— in order to meet the needs of K–12 students.

With the Covid-19 pandemic that has prompted widespread remote learning, it seems more likely than ever that the digital age will bring in a new era of education, one that maximizes technology and connections.

Steps to expand the horizon of education through the use of technology are already underway. For example, journalist Daniel Ling describes how augmented reality can be a useful mobile tool in education by adding an interactive component to learning. For students who have trouble paying attention in class, it can help certain aspects of history and science come to life.

Similarly, when it comes to the writing process, there are several apps that students with access to tablets or smartphones can use to help them organize and practice effective writing. As students learn to maximize their independent study, these apps become important parts of the learning process. Here's a list of a few of these useful apps.

Organization and Storage Apps

Evernote. Evernote is one of the most popular notes and organization apps around, and with good reason. It allows students to take notes and keep them organized in their preferred system, alongside checklists, links, attachments, audio recordings, images, PDFs, and more. Evernote also allows syncing across devices, making data transfer much easier. Evernote is available for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Planner Pro. Planner Pro helps students organize their school lives, including homework and project submission schedules and grades. It comes with a grade tracker, GPA calculator, and is able to sync into your Google Calendar. Students can set daily, weekly, or monthly goals, as well as coordinate with different people for group projects. Planner Pro is available for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Snap&Read. Snap&Read is a next-generation learning and reading tool that both teachers and students can use. It reads text aloud from PDFs, websites, and Google Drive, and is also able to adjust the readability of text without altering the meaning. Students can use it to organize and add notes for easier study. It also has the ability to remove distracting content and adjust fonts on browsers, as well as reading line guides. Teachers can also use it to assess individual students' reading needs. Snap&Read is available for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Writing Tools

Skitch. Skitch helps students organize their thoughts and communicate them visually with friends and classmates. It can be used to annotate, share diagrams, capture and mark-up maps, highlight PDFs, and share files. Skitch is available for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Ginger. Ginger is a proofreading app specially designed for students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities that make reading and writing challenging. It has a grammar checker that focuses on analyzing context and differentiating between tricky words like there/they're/their, as well as text-to-speech functionality so students can hear their writing read aloud. It also offers practice sessions that help students correct past mistakes. Ginger is available for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Ghotit. Ghotit is another app that was designed with students with learning disabilities in mind. It was developed to help users who struggle with writing accuracy, especially in terms of spelling and grammar. Ghotit has text-to-speech capabilities and is able to recognize split and merged words. It also comes with an integrated dictionary that allows students to quickly look up words they may not know. Ghotit is available for iOS and Android mobile devices.

About the Author

J. Birch is a freelance writer who specializes in edtech.


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