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Online and Overwhelmed? Advocating for Your Child’s Needs During Digital Learning

Overwhelmed by daily school requirements, many families share with me what homework is like each night during the school year; a dreaded daily occurrence because of its overwhelming stress and continual feelings of failure.

As a special education teacher and an individualized education coach, the original intent of this blog post was to not only give you, the empowered parent, the understanding and permission to advocate for your child’s individual needs, but how to change assignments appropriately.

Now, all of a sudden, school has changed drastically.

All of us are moving quickly to navigate the brand new landscape of remote learning. Digital platforms like Seesaw, Microsoft Team, and Google Classroom are now not just for the tech savvy, but are a necessity and are providing learning experiences to your child in different ways.

There are so many advantages remote learning offers to students who struggle. Highlighting tools, voice to text, text to speech, and video captioning are just a few of the accessibly tools at our disposal on most devices.

But is technology the answer to all learning difficulties? Can it solve organizational needs or calm anxiety? Will it make multi-step math problems easier to solve, inferences in reading assignments better to understand, or well organized paragraphs quicker to produce?

Unfortunately not.

So many of the families I have worked with over the past 15 years as a case manager and a coach believe that their child’s success is determined by the amount of work completed. If 20 math problems were assigned as homework, then it must mean that all 20 are equally important, right?

The truth is, learning is exponential, and the speed at which we acquire and make sense of new information is based solely on how sturdy our foundational skills are. In other words, you can’t put up the frame of a house until the foundation is poured. Overwhelm comes to all of us when we are being asked to build on shaky ground.

Here’s What You Do

It is ok if your child is being asked to continue to add new ideas and understandings to their foundational understanding of math, reading, and writing even if their skills are still solidifying. There is an effective amount of stress that promotes learning (optimal stress) and an ineffective amount (overload stress). The right kind of stress can motivate us. “If we felt no stress, we would not be compelled to act in ways that bring about…meaningful change.” Learn more from Habits for Wellbeing’s website

Develop Awareness

Begin having conversations with your child about the different kinds of stress. Do this during times with they are not triggered by anxiety or overwhelm and come up with a cuing system you both recognize that signals when“ optimal stress” has turned into an experience of “overload.”

Pare Down

If you are as overwhelmed as your child trying to get through the number of problems an assignment asks, know that “doing more” doesn’t necessarily mean “better learning.” In fact, if your child is working really hard to understand a math problem or construct a well-organized paragraph, getting that one skill and process solid is more beneficial in the long run than trying to complete all 15 problems without true understanding. This is equally the case for assignments like 5 paragraph essays where your child may feel overwhelmed by being asked to build their house too quickly and would benefit more by honing their writing skills with reduced requirements.

Prioritize

Many assignments cross-curricularly ask your child to practice multiple skills at once. For example, a reading assignment might require your student not only to decode new words, understand what they are reading, and identify key vocabulary, but then synthesize what they have read in a written reflection requiring accurate conventions. For a child who has a deficit in any, if not several of these areas, it feels like being asked to do 10 hard things all at once. Choose 1-2 to practice each time and let the others go. If your child needs to first build a foundation for how to summarize details he or she has read in a story, it’s ok to let the spelling go.

Communicate

Let your child’s teacher know when they started to experience “overload stress” on an assignment and how you made accommodations. Teachers are under a lot of pressure to promote rigor in their classrooms and produce optimal learning experiences for their students but communication about what your child’s “overload stress” looks like is a way to foster the collaboration and partnership of your child’s home/school team.

Written By Cynthia Kruse M.Ed SpEd - c.kruse@hopkinseducationservices.com

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