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Five Tips for Online Learning During COVID-19

COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, has turned the world upside down, seemingly overnight. The latest change came this week, as Idaho announced that schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year. While this wasn’t a big surprise to some, it does mean that all students will now be doing their learning online, either through school programs or other resources. At Huntington Learning Center East Boise, we’ve had all of our students shifted to remote learning for over two weeks. It’s been a great experience for both our amazing teachers and our fantastic students. To help that process, we’re suggesting five useful tips for online learning during COVID-19 that will hopefully make the transition a positive one for you.

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Relax and enjoy!

Parents and students have been stressing about COVID-19, then toilet paper shortages, then home-bound boredom, and, now, online learning. I’ve taught online extensively before I came to HLC, and it can be a really rewarding experience. Our tutors are the same great teachers you would have in-center, and our digital curriculum is exactly the same as it would be if you were working in-center. Sitting in front of a computer screen with one of our educational experts will bring you the same benefit as if you were sitting at a desk with them. So come ready to work and have fun with the best online instructors around! Whether your student is prepping for the ACT or SAT, AP exams, or just everyday academic work, we can help!

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Have a good headset!

One seemingly minor detail that can make a big difference in the online learning experience is having a good headset or a good set of earbuds with a mic. Most students have these already, and using them for an online session can be incredibly helpful. Being able to hear your instructor makes it easier to focus and process through what’s being taught.

And a good webcam!

Along with a good headset, a well-functioning webcam is crucial. It makes the experience far more personal to have that face-to-face contact with your instructor. And from a teaching perspective, your teachers will be able to anticipate your questions and your focus if they can see your facial expressions and body language.

Pick an ideal study spot!

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When working through an online class or session, location is key! Be sure to pick a spot that’s quiet, that has all of your necessary materials close at hand, and that is far from potential interruptions. Sitting at the kitchen table while dinner is being made–or served!–is not an ideal spot for learning. But if you have a desk in a bedroom or home office, that generally works well.

Use the time wisely!

Finally, this crisis has given everyone a potentially golden opportunity for learning. With students essentially stuck at home, they have the time to make big gains in challenging classes. Set a schedule for the day, even if the school hasn’t done so. Have students spend time on each of their core subjects, and hold them accountable.

So there are five quick tips for your online learning during COVID-19! At HLC East Boise, we would love to partner with you to help you make the most of this time and to come out of it with the knowledge needed to succeed next school year!

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Mom Guilt vs. Dad Judgment

How parents see their students’ academic lives differently

While each student who walks in to Huntington is treated as an individual with her/his own strengths and struggles, there are definitely tendencies and similarities that link every child. One of these tendencies is the way in which moms and dads look at their students’ need for help. In short, it’s a difference between mom guilt and dad judgment.

Mom Guilt is Real

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Given the nature of a mother’s relationship with her child(ren), she tends to be more nurturing, more empathetic, more self-sacrificing, and more affirmative. Because of this, when a child is struggling in school, Mom typically falls on her proverbial sword.

  • “Why didn’t I read more to him?”
  • “I was too easy on her when she was younger.”
  • “If I’d been better about being involved with his homework, he wouldn’t have fallen behind.”
  • “I was a good student… I don’t understand why she is having so much trouble.”
  • “I always struggled in school, and I think he got my genes.”

Dad Judgment is Just as Real

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Dads, on the other hand, tend to look at their students’ relationship with the real world and see their parental roles as preparing their children for life. As a result, fathers’ assessment of their struggling students is slightly less empathetic.

  • “He’s just lazy.”
  • “If she’d just do the work, she’d be getting better grades.”
  • “He doesn’t even try.”
  • “I’ve taken away her tablet until she brings her grade up.”

The Reality Probably Lies Elsewhere

Both of the typical perspectives are extremes, and neither is the whole truth. If homework time has become a battle, for example, it’s likely not because Mom has failed or that the student is lazy, as Dad believes. Children often complain about homework because they’re struggling or, more typically, have struggled for some time. If Chris complains about doing his math work every night, a major reason for that is probably because he struggles with the concepts and skills he desperately needs.

Let’s say you were asked to build a bookcase, but you didn’t have a good sense of how to measure out the wood, cut it to length, or assemble it. That would end up as a frustrating project, even though people who do possess those skills would find it enjoyable. In the same way, when a student is given a multiplication worksheet, it can be incredibly daunting if her/his addition skills or math facts are lacking. No one–young people especially–enjoys working through an exercise they’re not really prepared for.

There Is a Solution

Fortunately, there is a solution to the core issue. At Huntington, we have students work through a full skill assessment to pinpoint their real struggles in math and reading. By figuring out what’s truly going on, we can create a plan for students that will help them get back on the grade-level track and begin to feel real success. Which also cuts down on the number of guilty moms and judgmental dads!

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Putting the “Smart” Back in Smartphones

When I was working as a classroom teacher in the early 2000s, cell phone use by students was a relatively new phenomenon. My policy–as well as my school’s–was that cell phone use was unnecessary during school hours. Students who were caught using their phones at school had them taken away and given to the administrative office, much to the chagrin of the students involved.

Fast forward to 2019. While some teachers and parents are still fighting the tide of technology, nearly every student from elementary school on up carries a cell phone. Fortunately, if used prudently, smartphones can be great tools for educational purposes.

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Homework tracker

Many students still use paper planners to keep track of their tests, assignments, and other obligations, but cell phones are increasingly becoming the mode of choice to organize students’ calendars. Because students carry their phones everywhere, they are able to check their upcoming work quickly and easily, and they can continually adjust as new events arise.

Reminder setting

For students of all ages, smartphones can be used to help remind the students to carry out tasks throughout the day. Your child can be reminded to get a parent release signed, to be sure his/her pencil bag is filled, or to attend their weekly improv club meeting.

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Fact finding

Of course, cell phones put the knowledge of the world in students’ hands. If a teacher mentions a topic or term that is unfamiliar, a quick Google search can fill in the information gaps.

Taking board or screen photos

Teachers can sometimes move quickly through material in the classroom. Any time a student feels confused about that last trigonometry problem or the timeline of Christianity’s progression through the ancient world, she or he can snap a quick picture of the board to either revisit the information or to show it to a tutor, like the wonderful ones working at Huntington.

Note taking

Typing–or Swyping–is generally much faster for today’s students than writing by hand. Given that, smartphones can be a great way of taking important notes from class. Using apps like Evernote or OneNote can make recording and using ideas from class much more efficient.

Apps, apps, apps!

Finally, many classrooms now use specific educational apps that tie in to what’s being done in class. Teachers now routinely use document sharing apps, like Dropbox, as well as study apps, such as Quizlet, to administer their classes. College Board, the maker of the SAT, offers an SAT Question of the Day app. Smartphones make it easy for students to utilize these apps on the go.

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Of course, as with all technology, parents should set expectations with their children when it comes to cell phone use. Talking with your students about the dangers of the online world is always a good idea. But used correctly, cell phones can be a great way to enhance students’ academic experience, putting the smart back in smartphones!

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Developing Critical Thinking at Home

One of my kids came up to me a few weeks ago, and it was obvious he was itching to deliver some information.

“Everyone should be taking cold showers,” he declared triumphantly. When I asked how he’d come to this decision, he said, “A study has proven it.” Intrigued, I asked about his research. “I read a story on the Internet about a rich guy who felt like he was healthier because of cold showers, so he got some scientists to do a study. They found out he was right.”

I saw this as an opportunity.

“So he had a belief, and he paid for a study to be conducted,” I replied, “and the study that he paid for confirmed his belief?” Yes, my son nodded enthusiastically. “Do you see any potential problems with that?” He shook his head as a confused look crossed his face. So we talked a bit more about the reliability of single sources–particularly those on the Internet–and he agreed to do more digging to see what others said on the subject.

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Now, to be fair, I didn’t have an opinion one way or another when it comes to the ideal shower temperature (we found out that there are lots of opinions on the topic, but many studies have shown lukewarm to be the best, coupled with a skin moisturizer afterward). But I do have strong feelings about teaching my kids the value of critical thinking.

Just as there are seemingly countless opinions about our ideal shower temperature, there are myriad articles about the necessity of teaching our children the value of critical thinking. Predictably, the tips and findings of many of those articles overlap, so I’ll give you the best bits here.

It’s never too early to help your kids develop critical thinking skills.

Preschoolers may not be ready to learn the difference between a major premise and a minor premise, but they can be taught to think more critically. The website parentingscience.com, a great general resource for parents and teaching, urges parents to start working with their kids early, encouraging them to restate ideas in their own words. The article also stresses the need to talk with children about biases and how those biases affect what we hear and read.

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Ask the right questions.

In his insightful TED Talk, Brian Oshiro encourages parents to ask follow-up questions to their kids. Instead of focusing on the “what” of a subject, ask kids “how” or “why” something is true. “How do you know?” is an easy way of teaching kids how to think through their sources and beliefs.

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In a recent Forbes magazine article, author Helen Lee Bouygues urges parents to have their children question the media and individual sources. Especially in our age of social media, kids need to be shown the value of confirming their information with multiple sources–what a Stanford University study called “lateral reading.”

Encourage emotional intelligence.

Because much of the misinformation in cyberspace is designed to evoke feelings of outrage or frustration, it’s also important that parents encourage children to learn to manage those emotions.

Making the home a safe place for kids to express and discuss their emotions is key, as is providing good emotional role models for them. Showing kids that emotions can be freely talked about and managed can go a long way to avoiding knee-jerk reactions to false or biased information.

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For many of us as parents, the 21st century can be a scary place. Because so many outlets are working for our children’s attention, it’s vital that we equip our kids with the skill of discernment. Fortunately, parents can take the lead, helping kids learn how to properly navigate the stormy Internet sea.

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The Impact of Executive Functioning

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Bethany sat in class, nervously fidgeting with her pencil and trying to avoid the teacher’s gaze. Mr. Johns repeated his question: “Who wants to read their answer from Question 3 on the homework?” Bethany felt herself sinking lower into her chair. She knew she was supposed to complete the worksheet last night. She’d even brought it home–a triumph, since she usually ended up forgetting it at school or losing it after tucking it away in a textbook.

But she got distracted with other work, then a few YouTube videos, then some aimless web surfing. And then, suddenly, it was time for bed. She had decided she would work on the questions the next morning. But, when the morning came, she had struggled with getting her hair just right and forgotten. And now, here she sat, questions undone and prayers sent to the classroom gods that she wouldn’t get called on. 

Does any of that sound familiar? If so, then it’s possible that your student lacks the set of skills known collectively as executive functioning.

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning, in general, is composed of three main areas: working memory, flexible thinking, and self control. Working memory involves remembering information so that it can be used later. One example of this would be a student remembering the main idea of a paragraph so she or he can answer questions about it. Flexible thinking involves problem solving or being able to approach a problem from multiple angles. Self control is the skill to resist distractions and temptations and to stay focused on a task.

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Not Lazy, But Lacking

Over the past several years, more emphasis has been placed on executive functioning skills than ever before. Where some students would previously have been labeled as “lazy” or “unintelligent,” research now shows that the real culprit is a lack of executive function. Those skills begin developing at an early age and continue developing all the way into a person’s early 20’s.

Without well-developed executive skills, a student has difficulty setting goals, regulating emotions, understanding others’ point of view, and sticking with tasks–all vital skills of successful adults. And while some people may possess one or more of these executive functioning abilities naturally, everyone can improve and sharpen their skills with training and practice.

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What Can We Do?

Here at Huntington, we help engender those important skills as we work with our students, making them accountable while helping them plan out tasks, use critical thinking skills, and complete assignments in a timely fashion. But there are also several helpful strategies parents can use at homework time and beyond. 

  • Look for resources. Huntington offers help for organizational skills that are proven to work, and many websites, such as Understood.org, give great suggestions.
  • Use timers for tasks, both ones involving homework and ones involving household chores.
  • Write things down–have goals for tasks readily visible.
  • Offer rewards for tasks successfully carried out.
  • Organize frequent, planned breaks (3-10 minutes) for your student. Write out their work schedule so that it can be easily seen and understood.
  • With younger learners, many games can be used to teach executive functioning skills in a non-academic format.
  • Emphasize a focus on completion of the task and not on the grindstone. Get your student to begin to see tasks as a means to an end.
  • Give pep talks–a word of encouragement can go a long way toward getting a student to repeat desirable behavior.
  • Show compassion–struggling with executive functioning can be daunting. Try to understand the difficulties your student is facing, and let them know that you’re there with them to help them succeed.

Executive functioning is sometimes known as the “CEO of the brain.” For many students, a lack of executive functioning skills is a sizable obstacle to success. By being aware of the necessity of these skills and by being willing to guide students through the process, we are ensuring that the next generation of lifelong learners will be well equipped for long-term success.