With many Florida schools now shutting down for extended/indefinite periods of time due to COVID-19, many public and private schools are turning to “distance learning.” For many students this switch can be challenging, and for the 2.24 million students in the country who receive special education services for learning disabilities, the change can be particularly disruptive.
“Remote learning is a dream come true for many students, but for those with learning disabilities, it may be a nightmare,” says Dr. Nicki Nance, a licensed mental health counselor and associate professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg. “Learning how to learn in a new way is often more difficult for them than the material they are trying to master.”
Dr. Nance, along with Dr. Oksana Hagerty, an educational and developmental psychologist who serves as a learning specialist and assistant director of Beacon College’s Center for Student Success, developed a list of 10 tips to help students adjust to this new way of learning.
- Maintain a healthy balance between consistency and flexibility: Establish times for work, but give your student some freedom, such as deciding in what order to complete their work.
- Be specific: Avoid generic instructions, and instead draft a straightforward to-do list and ask the student to checkmark each item as they are completed. This will provide a sense of progress as well as accomplishment.
- Press replay: Each student with learning disabilities differs in the amount of practice needed to learn a specific objective. Learning may prove a “rinse and repeat” routine for them. Be prepared to repeat information or demonstrate a skill multiple times if necessary.
- Expect evaporation: Be prepared to see a skill fade after a few days. That is okay, just remember to “press replay.”
- Take time for adventures: Play games while taking a break from learning so that your student keeps their mind active but has a minute away from actual work.
- Establish rewards at short intervals: Praise, a treat or a break can act as a reward after your student completes a certain task. (You can give a reward without discussing it with your student beforehand).
- Provide reassurance: Assure your student that most of their struggles are more related to the major change in learning environment that everyone is facing, rather than to their specific learning difference.
- Be transparent about your own struggles: If you are working from home, tell your student about your own challenges. Children learn by example. If you work from home, try “I thought this task would be hard to do from home, but I’ve already finished.” Empathize with “I know this is hard, and all of us are struggling to get things done. It’s good we have each other to talk about it.”
- Listen: Ask your student about their ideas regarding what might help move their learning process along.
- Take Breaks: Your student needs breaks in order to stay focused when working, and you will also need breaks to help them effectively.