August 22, 2020
I’m a teacher that has been working online with students all summer. Most all my students have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia. I’d like to share what I’ve learned, so you can prepare your children with learning differences for the new school year and online instruction.
I’d like to begin by helping parents set up classrooms for their children of all abilities, beginning with this list of study space considerations. These considerations can help your child stay organized, connected, and engaged.
Earbuds or Earphones with a Mic
If your child cannot be heard by their teachers, it will be a significant disadvantage to your child. It was difficult for me to hear my students that worked on laptops and tablets. Earbuds and headsets improved our interactions and their engagement in our online classroom.
If your child will be working on a laptop or tablet device, you can improve conditions before they have a negative impact on student learning. For some, it was a matter of praising students for projecting their voices and encouraging them to not be shy and speak clearly. For others, I was able to coach students on how to be directly in front of the devices. All parents can get the school year off to a good start by doing this, along with anticipating how they can reduce background noises and develop a plan for when it cannot be avoided. It is not likely that your child’s school teacher will be able to do these things, so you may have to.
I recommend investing in comfortable earbuds or earphones with a mic. Earbuds/earphones with a mic can make a significant positive impact on improving students’ interactions and connections with their teachers. This will help them stay focused and engaged because they are able to hear their teachers and their teachers will be able to hear them during lectures, Q&A, and when siblings (and you) are making noises nearby.
This year, almost all assignments will be completed by students digitally. No need for papers and pencils, right? No. Here’s why: Even though many assignments will be turned in electronically, students will have to print out reference material (i.e. periodic table, maps for History, Spanish vocabulary). Having a hard copy of reference materials will help most students accurately complete their digital assignments. Toggling back and forth, referring to maps, the periodic table, reading passages (to answer comprehension questions) can fatigue most students with learning differences. Many will stop referring back and answer incorrectly, and hence learn incorrect information. Think of the consequences when students “learn” misinformation.
Expect to print math assignments, especially multi-step math problems. Most math assignments require writing multiple steps to get the correct answer. If math is not printed out, “careless” errors will be made.
Also, printed information like math assignments, reading passages, study guides, and rubrics can improve the efficiency of learning, and hence improve their grades, morale, and confidence. Printed information also gives students an opportunity to step away from the computer, which can prevent or alleviate fatigue, eye strain, poor circulation, and poor posture.
Elementary school children must practice handwriting on a daily basis. I have serious reservations about elementary teachers who do not provide opportunities for their students to practice written expression and handwriting on a daily basis. No matter how digital we become, handwriting is a life skill.
Cubbies/Bins or Bookshelf or Storage Cart
If your child is organized, then a folder, binder, or file folder for each subject might be good enough. Most high school students will be able to keep all their paperwork in their respective binders.
However, for students that struggle with organization, I highly recommend clearing >5 bookshelves or cubbies/bins and designating one shelf or cubby/bin per subject. Here’s why: Most students will have 7 or 8 subjects. Many assignments will be done electronically. As noted earlier, students will have to print out reference material, reading passages, study guides, rubrics, and completed assignments. That’s why I recommend that all my students devote one cubby/bin or shelf for EACH subject. If your child does not have bookshelves or cubbies, consider buying a rolling storage cart that has at least 5 levels (for Science, Social Studies, Math, English, and Electives). A vertical file holder on the desk or on the wall is an option if space is limited.
Charging Station Near Deskspace
Time to take a test online, but oh no! They can’t! Why not? Their battery is at 3% and will cut off before your student sends the submit button. Best to make sure the laptop/tablet/phone is charged every night and ready for the following day.
Cork Board and Dry Erase Board
Important assignments can be pinned on a corkboard, and students can write test dates, project dates, and to do’s on the dry erase boards.
In the very least, print out the school district’s calendar with dates of grading periods. Students must have a wall/desk calendar of some sort.
Cell Phone Calendar App
Model to your children how they can benefit from using technology to set timers, alerts, and alarms for tests, project due dates, and events for Band, Athletics, etc.
If your children are not ready for using a calendar app, let them select their own agenda book.
Desk and Supplies
Make sure their desk is clean with plenty of space for books, papers, and supplies:
Sharpened pencils and map colors, sharpener, erasers, stapler, white-out, calculator, ruler, squishy stress ball(s)
A clipboard or lap desk will help when students want a break from their desk.
Screen Filter F.lux Glasses
Some students may need a break from the computer screen. Some people have had good results with screen filter f.lux glasses, which take out blue light. There’s not a lot of studies that prove these glasses work for everyone. However, multiple people have shared with me how these types of glasses have helped them. They are not all created equal, so you really have to do your research to find quality glasses that filter the light.
Collaboration between parents and teachers will be essential given the conditions we are all experiencing. Parents with children who have learning differences, don’t forget to email a Parent Letter to your teacher when school begins. Include any accommodations that you feel will help your child be successful, given the new challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Best to all the students, parents, and teachers! May we all have a successful year!