Remote Learning – Teacher Perspective: Executive Function on the Edge

Our  Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series is shedding light on how students with learning differences, and their parents, are adjusting to the challenges of remote learning. But what about teachers? How are they holding up?

Not surprisingly, the rapid shift to remote learning has been challenging for teachers, especially those who work with students with learning differences. Here’s a blog post from a special education teacher, who is worried about her students as they struggle to adapt.

 My students are sinking in the new online learning environment where they no longer have teachers chasing them daily for work and doing all their organizing for them. The ones who have paras who help them get through the day are struggling the most.

When we were at school, I was on them every day about planning their work and not disappearing down a rabbit hole of online research that starts on the effects of alcohol and ends with a hundred hours of cat videos. Since school went out, none of them have done a single thing and now it is a huge overwhelming crisis and they are losing the plot. One student called me in tears because he had been staring at the assignment all day and didn’t know where to start.

Students with learning differences often receive support in school, from check-ins with their teachers to help with breaking down assignments and tracking unfinished work. A lot of that support evaporated overnight. This dramatic shift can hit students with learning differences the hardest, and leave parents scrambling to figure out how to help in a supportive way at home.

As teachers, figuring out how to provide executive function support will be crucial to success in the coming weeks.

As I have said many times before, we used to explicitly teach this stuff in primary school. I had a class called “study skills” where we learned how to handle multiple projects at once. That somehow fell off the curriculum and now we expect kids to figure it out for themselves and they can’t.

This persistent and outdated idea that, “kids will just figure out executive function on their own” has always put students with learning differences at a disadvantage. Remote learning creates a whole new slew of executive function demands, and we cannot expect students, with or without learning differences, to “just figure it out.” Students need explicit instruction in how to navigate their new roles.

I am looking for ways to teach executive function strategies remotely. So far I have found some videos and other resources. I would like to avoid having to do a Zoom meeting or something because many of these students don’t have computers or internet access at home. Trying to get everyone on at a set time is pretty much impossible. While doing that, I am still teaching my three other classes, plus trying to homeschool my own kids. My EF skills are being stretched to their limits.

Technology is not a magic bullet but there are ways to use it effectively. And of course we must be aware of our own executive function capacities as well. As educators, we need to find solutions. The best we can do, like our teacher here, is to find resources that our students can access. While we won’t have a solution in a day or a week, by taking time to integrate explicit executive function strategies, and making sure that students and parents understand the executive function demands of remote learning, we will be on the right track. The SMARTS team is here for you! Keep your eyes on the Remote Learning Resources page for strategies you can use during this challenging time.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

This post is part of our Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series.