Answered by Martin Smit, Educational Consultant, LDAO
The last day of school for Ontario students was March 13, 2020. Since then, students of all ages have been working through online learning activities. This form of education works well for many students but can be a struggle for others. When school resumes in September, teachers will be faced with students who are apprehensive about returning to their studies and concerned they have fallen behind academically. Students with a learning disability may return with concerns that they will not be able to catch up. This anxiety may hinder a positive return to their studies.
Teachers will need to be sensitive to these concerns and consider how best to support students with LDs to ensure a positive return to their academic studies. We know that it is likely that all students will have fallen behind, to some degree, during the school closures. Educators need to give themselves permission to spend time discovering where students’ understanding lies and what knowledge and expectations need to be reinforced or relearned. This is particularly important for students with an LD, as their gaps can be compounded by their disability. If an educator rushes the learning, students may become frustrated. Students with an LD may also experience anxiety or have mental health issues. Here are some things a teacher can do to help make the transition back to learning easier and more positive:
1. Meet Your Student at His or Her Level
Find out what academic work was completed during the COVID-19 school closure. Spend time reviewing academic work and even good work habits. Scaffold new learning and instruction on current understanding. These steps will help to reduce the likelihood of a new learning gap being created.
2. Make Your Expectations Clear
Focus on the key expectations that students need to know - be efficient with teaching and precise with the learning goals. Don’t lower your expectations but be flexible with the curriculum and expectations.
3. Build a Relationship with the Student
Having some discussions with the student will help the teacher better understand what the fears and concerns are. Several of these concerns may be addressed immediately, such as questions about homework, test schedules and work expectations. Continue to revisit the concerns to ensure the student is not becoming anxious and developing a negative attitude toward learning. Any student who feels they are falling behind will not feel good about attending school. Students with LDs may have already experienced this feeling in past years, so it is important to build their confidence right from the start. Setting short term goals and regular check-in times can keep the student on track and confirm understanding. Educators can help connect students to the school in a meaningful way. A strong connection helps students feel positive about learning and being at school. Continue to build a strong relationship with the student and show that you enjoy working with them and believe in them.
4. Understand the Student’s LD
One of the keys to supporting a student with an LD is to gain a complete understanding of the student’s strengths and needs. Read reports in the OSR, and if possible, speak with other teachers who have worked with this student. Ensure the student has access to the appropriate tools and modifications noted in the IEP (e.g. Assistive Tech, Resource Support, extra time). Use appropriate assessment techniques to let the student demonstrate their learning in the most comprehensive manner (e.g. verbally, using technology). Students with LDs (especially younger ones) may also fall behind with their behavioural and social skills. Educators should pay close attention to these skills because poor behaviours can quickly ostracize a student and make it difficult for a student to interact appropriately with their peers, which will add to their stress or dislike of the school environment.
5. Keep Parents in the Loop
Work with parents to help them understand any special supports or procedures that have been put in place, which can also be supported at home (e.g. work schedules, timelines, etc.). It is important to know whether work is being completed at home. When parents have the tools to ensure work completed at home is done properly and efficiently, the student’s academic confidence continues to strengthen. Help the student and his or her parents to understand all the resources that the school and community have to offer (e.g. resource staff, guidance, tutoring etc.). Accessing these supports outside of the classroom will help students take more control over their own learning.
We may not know what September holds for our schools and communities, but we can be sure that supporting students with an LD will require serious thought and precision. Knowing what specific skills require development and what accommodations and supports a student needs to be successful will help students with an LD stay motivated and progress well. Building strong connections and relationships with these students will help to keep them motivated and interested in learning. Understanding and planning for their individual learning needs will allow them to progress to the best of their ability.