Remote/Digital Learning · UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

A Parent’s Story of Emergency Remote Education

Guest Blog by Liz Latoria, Parent and Freelance Editor,

This school year was a hard one for my boys.  I have two sons, 12 and 16, and when it was announced that the schools would be closing due to the threat of COVID, I was worried.  I should first mention that my family moved from Louisiana (48th in education in the country) to Massachusetts (#1 in education in the country)  (Ziegler 2020) in the middle of the school year.  In Louisiana, they were both in all the honors classes and the gifted program.  My middle schooler scored one of the highest grades in math at his school on the LEAP test, which is Louisiana’s version of state testing.  Fast forward to Massachusetts, both boys were put in regular ed classes, and my high schooler even had to retake two of his math classes that he had previously taken in Louisiana, based on a placement test.  The middle school did not give a placement test, so I don’t really know how they decided where to place my son.  But I think it’s safe to say that both boys struggled to adapt to their new schools, new challenges, new expectations.  I also worked at the middle school that both boys had gone to in Louisiana, so they were well known there. 

Anyway, moving on to March 2020, once we realized the boys would be doing remote learning, I initially felt worried, but I tried to be positive in front of them.  After several weeks, my middle schooler’s teachers had begun to reach out to me about his poor performance and organization.  I should also mention that both boys have ADHD.  I knew how to keep them on track when they were attending school.  I’ve always set clear guidelines for them with equally clear consequences for failing to meet those guidelines.  I’ll be honest though, my house is not the most organized place, and it does not promote focus…something that both my kids struggle with.  They were not used to having so many distractions during their school time.  It was an issue for both of them.  I do feel that their distraction was exacerbated by being at home.  Before this year, home was a place to relax; it was fine if they stopped what they were doing to pet the dog or get up and get a drink or a snack.  It was fine if their attention was grabbed by something else.  But with remote learning, those things were unacceptable!  No, you can’t get up from your Zoom meeting to get a snack.  No, you cannot show your teacher the dog while she’s trying her best to teach you something about geography!

Meanwhile, both my husband and I were working from home.  This was another distraction for the boys.  They were eavesdropping on their dad’s Zoom meetings, and I’ll suffice it to say that my husband is not a quiet speaker.  He has two volumes, completely silent or loud and booming.   

For my son’s electives, which his school called IA’s (Integrated Arts) he had to complete three activities each week and submit them via the school’s form that they had set up for this purpose.  One major problem for my son with this was that he FREQUENTLY did not fully read the directions for the activities, so what he submitted was rejected and he had to redo it.  This made twice as much work for him.

Another aspect of distance learning was that each day had a different schedule for Zoom meetings, office hours, etc.  My middle schooler had a terrible time keeping the days straight.  I also caught him MULTIPLE times watching YouTube videos about video games when he thought I wasn’t looking.

cats-eyes-2671903_1920.jpgIn a word, our home school setting was completely devoid of structure, which is something that my kids have always flourished under.  I quickly realized that I was going to have to get involved.  Even though I was trying to work myself, I sat my kids down and told them that I was there to help them with whatever they needed.  I told them they had to let me know if they were struggling with something, instead of just skipping it, and that I would put aside whatever it was I was working on and come and help them.  I wanted them to know that #1 they weren’t alone in this craziness and #2 SOMEONE WAS WATCHING.  

smartwatch-828786_1920.jpgFirst, to help with remembering what Zoom meetings took place each day, my son and I both set reminders in our phones to help us remember what was happening each day.  But even then, if I trusted my son to know what he was supposed to be doing, he still missed meetings, or he forgot to do assignments.  This alone wasn’t enough.  One of his teachers suggested that we start “school” an hour or so earlier than his first Zoom meeting.  This made a big difference, and I’m embarrassed that I didn’t think of it myself.  If there was an 11:00 Zoom meeting scheduled, my boy would wait until 11:00 to log in.  So we changed our phone reminders to 10am, giving him an hour to log in, suddenly decide he was hungry or needed to use the bathroom or whatever other distraction he could come up with.  

One of the amazing and wonderful staff members at my son’s school put together a weekly schedule for all the kiddos that showed what needed to be done every day in each subject and what time the Zoom meetings took place.  This made a HUGE difference, as my son could go to one place and see what was required of him that day.  It also allowed me to be able to see what he needed to do and to ask him “did you do this?” 

With the IA’s I asked him every week, for every assignment, if he had read the directions, if he had submitted the correct form.  He would get an email if his work was not correct and was given the chance to redo it.  When I saw that email come in, I made him stop whatever fun activity he was doing and go fix it.  This was enough to make him be more careful about reading the directions.  If he didn’t do it correctly the first time, his free time was interrupted, and he hated for that to happen. 

I made it a priority to show him how to do remote learning.  I had to show him where to sit to maximize his focus, how to think about remote learning.  He had to change the way he thought of it.  That became my goal.  And honestly, I would not have known whether or not it was working without feedback from my son’s teachers.  It was a CONSTANT battle.  Literally every day, I felt that I was reminding him to do something, checking behind him.  And had his teachers not told me they saw a change in him, I would have considered remote learning a failure.  Before remote learning, I checked the boys’ grades weekly, but I assumed if I didn’t hear anything from their teachers, then no news was good news.  After remote learning, I quickly realized that I needed to ask how the boys were doing, especially with my high schooler.  He was missing multiple assignments and was just planning to ignore them.  I emailed the teacher and got an idea of what he needed to do, and I made sure he did the missing work. 

Bottom line, remote learning was truly a learning experience for all of us.  I think the best thing that I did to help my boys was getting involved, and yes, they had to do the work themselves, but they knew that I was watching.  And if they failed to meet the requirements that I set for them, they knew what the consequences were. 

That was what I truly believe made a difference for both of them. They had to understand that remote learning was to be taken seriously, just like learning at school. Once they adjusted the way they thought about it, both boys had an easier time of it, and thankfully, we all survived our first year of Massachusetts education, which is outstanding by the way.  

After it was all over, I asked both boys if they took anything positive from this experience; anything at all that they enjoyed or perhaps they might be able to put to use in the future.  My 16 year old said that he did learn how to set goals for himself and how to prioritize his time so that those goals were met.  This is HUGE for him, and I hope that he will remember what he learned in the future.  He also said that he enjoyed being able to work at his own pace.  I think this means that he enjoyed being able to space out his assignments, so he did just a little work each day.

painting-911804_1920.jpgBoth boys enjoyed being able to “bring” their teachers and classmates into their home.  For example, if my younger son could show his teacher and classmates his dog, that made his day.  If my teen could show off his collection of models that he built and painted, that made his day.  They both truly enjoyed that aspect of remote learning.  When I asked my younger son if there was anything positive he took from this experience, he gave an adamant NO.  He hated it, there was nothing positive about it…complain, complain.  But I did observe him enjoying the arts and crafts that he was forced to do for his IA’s.  He was forced outside his comfort zone, and he discovered that he’s actually pretty good at art.  He’d never admit that though. 

Ziegler, Brett. 2020. U.S. News.

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