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Keeping Up in the Digital Classroom

Gifted Education and Support

One of the ongoing challenges families are facing this school year is how to keep track of and stay on top of class assignments. Classes may be switching between in-person and remote instruction or teachers may be using different platforms, and your child may be struggling as a result.

This article will cover –

  • What You Might Be Seeing
  • Why Your Child May Be Struggling
  • What You Can Do to Help

What You Might Be Seeing

Parents may be noticing a change in their children’s school engagement. Perhaps it has been slowly building or maybe things have been okay, until suddenly they are not. The chances are that even the best of us are missing some deadlines.

Some sings that your child is struggling may be the following:

  • Can’t seem to get started on assignments
  • Gets distracted when working on assignments
  • Easily frustrated when working on assignments
  • Can’t find notes, assignment details, or other class information
  • Turning in incomplete assignments
  • Entirely missing assignments

It is important to understand these behaviors for what they are: a signal that shows there is a mismatch between the expectations being placed on the child and the child’s current skillset.

Why Your Child May Be Struggling

Executive functioning is a common issue for gifted and twice-exceptional student. Executive functioning is the part of the prefrontal cortex that helps us execute tasks. Some of the skills under this umbrella include planning into the future, prioritizing, time management, organization, focus, task initiation, motivation, follow-through, self-regulation, introspection, and working memory. It is important to note that this area of the brain continues to develop through a person’s 20s, sometimes completing at 25 or 30 years old. When it comes to remote learning for children in K-12 schooling, they may not have the skills in place yet to keep track of what is expected of them.

Many children get messages that they are “lazy,” “don’t try hard,” and “don’t pay attention” when they might be struggling with executive functioning. Once these messages sink in, procrastination becomes an emotional issue. Stress and anxiety may start to build up around assignments or even thinking about school, so it is natural for children to want to push these feelings away. The trick at this point will be to train the brain out of having these negative associations when logging in to do schoolwork.

What You Can Do To Help

Make a “Central Intelligence File” for your classes. It may sound silly, but one of the issues families are faced with is how to keep track of different class announcements, deadlines, and information. Was this person on Canvas or Blackboard? Zoom or Google Classroom? Do they send email reminders or post them online? It can be so confusing! Take an afternoon to create your “Central Intelligence File” with your child. This could be either a physical document or Word.doc that lists out all crucial class information, such as teacher name and preferred contact method, where and when they post announcements, where and when they post assignments, where and when office hours or teacher conferences are available, where and how often will grades be posted, where students can turn for help outside of class, and any other key details. It may take some time up front to get this organized, but it will save time weekly when you’re scrambling to find answers.

Figure out where the child is getting stuck. Parents and educators can begin talking with the child to build self-awareness so that they recognize their own patterns and where they are getting stuck on assignments. Helping them identify their areas of challenge and explaining how it links to executive functioning can be a helpful first step. This conversation should also strive to reframe the situation so that it is about building executive functioning skills and not reinforce the idea that they are “bad” at school.

Create a Stable Study Space. Students need a dedicated area that is fully supplied for them to do their work. Things should be easily accessible and within reach, as this helps with on-task focusing. This space should not be used for other things like gaming or housing a laundry pile. Think through other aspects that will help the student focus. Lighting? Noises? What can they realistically study with? Minimize distractions, maximize focus!

Keep Digital Distractions to a Minimum. Keeping an organized digital space helps children stay on-task too. Set up two browsers on the child’s computer, one for school like Chrome and one for non-school related work like FireFox, to help the student get in the mindset of working versus surfing the web. Set the school browser to automatically bring up tabs related to their work so that they don’t have to think about trying to find these. Examples of helpful, school-related tabs are their digital calendar, email inbox, and class homepage or school poral. In addition, set up blockers on tabs so that the child can’t access games, social media, or other distractions during schoolwork hours. A few examples of blocker apps to minimize online browsing are StayFocusdFreedomKeepMeOut, and Switcheroo.

Block Out Time for Work and Time for Breaks. Research backs up the use of the “Pomodoro Technique” when learning or working. Essentially, this method asks that you tackle one task with intentionality and focus for 25 minutes. This means no distractions – no phone, no social media, no side conversations, not even other work or tasks. After the time is up, take a 5-10 minute break to move around or reward yourself with something like a favorite song. The reward piece is crucial because it helps train our brain out of the negative associations we may have built up around a certain task. After about 4 “pomodoro rounds” have been completed, then it is time to take a longer rest of 30 minutes or more to recharge. The brain uses these periods of rest to help it consolidate and solidify the learning. After a while, your brain looks forward to these periods of focus because they have been reinforced by a small, positive reward like a favorite snack.

Conclusion

As remote learning becomes more ubiquitous, educators and parents will continue to offer new ideas and solutions to help students transition to this new environment. We hope this article has provided a few ideas for your family to tackle remote learning. If you’re looking for more ideas, try some of the following resources!

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Please note, the Davidson Institute is a non-profit serving families with highly gifted children. We will not post comments that are considered soliciting, mention illicit topics, or share highly personal information.

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