Empowering students with language-based learning differences grades 4-12
The Siena School Blog
Stress management and self-care tools are needed for our students in normal times, but it’s especially important to offer these tools now.
How do we as educators and counselors keep teaching students about self-care and stress reduction when so much has changed—and continues to do so? When possible, practicing the following exercises virtually alongside our students allows them to feel the benefits in the moment and take them outside class time.
Mindful breathing: While teaching the biology of deep breathing and its activation of the parasympathetic nervous system can be helpful, practicing the following breathing exercises can allow students to feel a sense of calm immediately after the practice. Some breathing exercises to note are:
- 4-7-8 breathing,
- 5-finger breathing,
- shape breathing (such as square breathing),
- hand tracing breathing,
- infinity breathing,
- extending the exhale by one or two breaths,
- taking 10 deep breaths.
Progressive muscle relaxation: You can guide students through a brief relaxation exercise of tensing specific muscle groups and then relaxing that muscle group completely. Continue this from head to toes. This is a great stress reliever that students can easily do on their own.
Mindfulness: There are numerous ways to practice mindfulness, many of which our students might be doing every day. Grounding exercises help students better understand the concept of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. A simple way to introduce the concept of mindfulness is to have students practice the 5 senses by naming:
- 5 things they can see,
- 4 things they can hear,
- 3 things they can feel,
- 2 things they can smell, and
- 1 thing they can taste.
Positives: Research has shown us that when people list 3 Good Things that happened during their day for a period of at least two weeks, they have lower stress and anxiety. Having students list 3 Good Things, big or small, regularly encourages them to focus on the positives in their lives. For instance, Siena teachers and students shared some early positives from our move to distance learning.
Gratitude: Ask students to write a letter of gratitude during a class and what they appreciate about a person, object, topic—or even themselves.
Emotion check-in: Create a routine in which students label how they are feeling. This can be done through a Google form or in other creative ways; educators can offer new emotional vocabulary to help students expand their (evolving) feelings.
Controlling what they can: Ask students to draw a circle on a page and write things they can control inside the circle: e.g., their attitude, their perspective, their hygiene, their next meal or drink, how they spend their time, how they care for themselves, and so on. On the outside of the circle, ask students to write things they cannot control at this time; e.g., how others act, the virus, when things will open, etc. Identifying what they can and can’t control can help assuage students’ anxiety, as well as ground them in the moment.
Creative projects: Often when students engage in creative endeavors, they are naturally practicing mindfulness. After working on a project, ask students to reflect on how they felt while doing it.
Movement: Whenever possible, add movement into your lessons. For example, there are many chair yoga poses or other quick bursts of movement that students can do. See this blog post from Siena for how teachers keep students (and themselves!) moving during online classes.
Self-care: Ask about your students’ self-care routines. Encourage them to name ways they take care of themselves. Normalize self-care and allow students to share this with one another; hearing from their peers may just encourage them to adopt a new tool. If they’re reticent about sharing, consider giving them some suggestions based on your own self-care techniques. (See below for an example of a weekly wellness challenge.)
Anxiety management and attention to mental health will continue to be important in the coming weeks and months. Getting students to think now about self-care and anxiety management not only helps them finish the school year; it also sets them up for similar practices in the summer when they might miss the structure of school.
As teachers, counselors, parents, and others in students’ support networks are caring for our whole selves, we can keep ensuring that students know how to care for themselves and others.
I know my students are engaged when their eyes light up and they can’t sit still while waiting their turn to contribute ideas! — Siena teacher
A key tactic for me is to try to get my students to laugh. If they laugh at my jokes, it means they are really with me. — Siena teacher
In the classroom and online, ensuring that students are engaged is always important for teachers. Using multisensory teaching methods and getting students (and themselves) moving helps teachers maintain engagement, especially during distance learning.
But what does an engaged student look and sound like remotely? Siena's teachers shared their top suggestions. Here are some ways that teachers could be looking and listening for engagement to assess whether students are taking initiative and feeling invested in the material:
- Asking engaging or clarifying questions
- Excitedly sharing their work
- Participating in discussions
- Quickly responding to questions and/or providing thoughtful answers
- Eagerly volunteering to read out loud, share what they’ve written, and/or respond to a question
- Giving good verbal feedback to classmates, as well as personalizing responses
- Directly asking for individual assistance via breakout rooms, chat, or after class
Visual Cues and Body Language
- Looking (and smiling) at the computer screen
- Raising hands to speak, waving, or giving a thumbs up
- Laughing and/or moving at appropriate times
- Leaning forward when they’re excited to talk
- Nodding or shaking their heads when agreeing or disagreeing with classmates
- Holding up or showing work they want to discuss
- Standing up to signal they’re done with something a teacher has asked them to do
- Smiling at a joke (even if it’s terrible)
- Signing “I agree” (ASL with thumb and pinky extended)
- Signing “I have something to add” (ASL with fists on top of each other, used when a student wants to add on to a discussion)
- Raising their index (“pointer”) finger to show they have a point to add
- Not having the telltale bluish glow from another device on their faces
Actions Showing Initiative
- Keeping up with the notes or shared Google Doc and helping their peers
- Having productive conversations in Zoom breakout rooms
- Eagerly showing that they’ve met a class goal
- Wanting to share anecdotes about their distance learning experiences
- Sharing clear, thoughtful responses in learning platforms like Kahoot or Pear Deck
- Utilizing the reaction emojis through Zoom
- Requesting individual teacher feedback in person and then scheduling a meeting time
- Enthusiastically reading aloud and then saying “Pass” (the next person must pick up where they left off)
- In general, teachers agree that students’ expressions go with the lesson: if there’s sudden laughter or their eyes are regularly off screen, they’re probably not as engaged as they should be.
Here are some engagement checks and strategies that teachers can do when they’re not in the same physical space as their students. These can be adapted for various class topics and sizes:
- Regularly polling students informally, such as by asking for a fist-to-five rating of how well they understand the material
- Asking students to respond to a check for understanding with a thumbs up (“I get it!”), thumbs down (“I don’t get it”), or thumbs sideways (“I sort of get it”)
- Stopping the lesson a little early to parse out students who need additional clarity or instruction; offering an individual or small breakout session for those needing help
- Giving immediate feedback on assignments or other student-created material (which helps with retention)
- Adding voice comments to provide further feedback to a Google Doc; having the students respond in kind
- Asking students to participate in a content-based scavenger hunt (which also gets them moving)
- Having foreign-language students (1) conduct interviews in whatever language they’re studying and (2) develop vocabulary list based on items in their home (optional: sharing pictures of the items)
- Arranging student-led discussions for a given week
- Letting some students do independent work, while others have a discussion in a breakout room (teachers can then flip the groupings after 10–15 minutes)
- Asking students to share their screens for everyone to see a project they’re working on
- Creating a master reference document for students to collaborate on
- Encouraging book club sharing to get students both reading and talking enthusiastically about what they’ve read. (Optional: the host can spotlight the video of whichever student is reading or presenting.) This helps students know they’re being seen and heard in a virtual classroom.
- Developing assignments that ask for creativity and engagement with the text in a book or other reading; creating buzzwords that require inflection or particular phrasing
- Deciding on actions for certain words—in particular for read-aloud activities—and then having the students perform the action whenever they hear the word
- Employing grammar lessons to create movements associated with punctuation—e.g., clapping at periods, snapping fingers at commas
On Zoom, teachers can create multiple breakout rooms to provide more individualized instruction and offer clarification to small groups. Teachers can also use learning sites such as Kahoot and Extempore to maintain (or increase) student engagement.
Siena’s math and science department chair Jennifer Chambers keeps finding ways to develop her distance teaching. Like her colleagues, Ms. Chambers has always integrated technology into her multisensory teaching, which she’s continued to do in her virtual classes.
Zoom has become ubiquitous in distance learning. To increase her accessibility to her students, Ms. Chambers has used a separate Zoom account so she can monitor two breakout rooms at the same time and/or help an individual student in a breakout room while monitoring the whole group. She likens this to having a student approach her while class is in session. Teachers who have access to multiple devices can use them to be more available to their virtual classes and participate in multiple conversations.
Ms. Chambers has also used technology to illustrate scientific concepts she’d otherwise demonstrate in her classroom. See these clips for how she’s made her online teaching even more multisensory by using (1) her iPad as a document camera to illustrate the atomic structure of lithium with household foods and (2) an online whiteboard to practice building atomic structures and hone scientific vocabulary to help students practice their morphology.
See some of Ms. Chambers’s screen mirroring tips for Mac users in this post about the virtual math classroom.
How can teachers and students keep things moving—literally—during distance learning?
Daily active movement in each lesson, especially during distance learning, should involve the whole body, balance, and cross-lateral movement activities to awaken the brain to learn and help to anchor what is learned. This movement will get the different regions in the brain “talking” with each other so that information may be stored within the brain’s network.
Physical activity is integral to multisensory teaching. There are many simple yet effective methods for distance learners and teachers to move. Here are some helpful, adaptable ways that Siena’s teachers have kept themselves and their students mobile:
Movement While Learning
- Pose yes/no or true/false questions and have students move to answer—such as by putting their hands on their heads for yes/true or on their shoulders for no/false. This works for multiple-choice questions as well, with each corner of the screen indicating an answer.
- Teachers can associate key terms, people, or ideas with different physical actions. For example, English teachers could have students jump up and down if they sympathize with a character’s motivations or stand on one foot if they don’t sympathize. Science teachers could have students crouch, stretch, or rotate their arms to mimic important principles (e.g., how protons, neutrons, and electrons behave).
- A short scavenger hunt to search for specific items can be a fun way to grasp a class concept. (Be sure to set time limits for the object hunting, though.) For example, art teachers could task students with finding an image or object related to a concept or artist.
- Physical analogs for concepts help students “act out” their learning. For language arts or reading lessons, have students stand when emphasizing a syllable, punch out syllables in the air or tap them on their chins, write a word or letter in the air, or trace it on their tabletops. Ask students to position their bodies in the shape of the letters to spell out each new vocabulary word. Teachers can encourage students to move with the melody or tempo of a song being shared.
- Use a whiteboard or notepaper as part of a learning game. Teachers can ask students to move several steps back from the computer. After the teacher asks the question, students have to rush up to their whiteboard or notepaper, write down the answer, and hold it up.
Warm-Ups and Exercise
- Use a Google Form quiz and have one of the questions be “Stand up and do 10 jumping jacks,” which students could do and then click “done” when finished. Foreign language classes could have student-led exercise classes, incorporating new commands and vocabulary.
- Try trashketball. Ask questions about the lesson and have students write their answers on a whiteboard. If they get the answer right, they can throw a ball or balled-up paper into a receptacle for a bonus point.
- Charades or pantomime are good for fun movement and vocabulary review. Teachers can have students make a shape that reflects a theme of the day, animals, personality, sports, etc.
- Use an online dice roller or spinner, assign an exercise to that number/color like jump, spin, one-leg hop, squat, stomp or skip.
- Energizers like “Simon Says” can be used for mini-breaks to keep the students moving.
- Students could find and touch ten items in their learning area that match an announced color or start with a certain letter.
- Cross Laterals help both sides of the brain talk with each other. “Pat your head and rub your belly” is an example of a crossover activity. Many of these are used in Brain Gym.
- Have a student lead a short opening or midway-point yoga stretch. They could also try a brief exercise competition: Who can hold the longest wall sit? Who can balance on one leg the longest?
- Reimagine paper-rock-scissors as movements related to class material.
- Breakout rooms can be used to make teams and play Heads Up! using the “Act It Out” category.
Presenting and Performing
- Students (and teachers!) can stand up whenever they’re reading out loud or sharing their opinion.
- Students can create skits or act out a scene from their readings—maybe through Zoom or by creating a video to submit and share using Screencastify.
- In elementary language arts classes, students can march while working on grammar lessons. They could read a sentence aloud and then act out specific motions to represent where they think punctuation should be in a sentence.
- GoNoodle and Brain Gym can help teachers further integrate movement into their lessons.
- Aching Back Among Online Students and 10 Chair Yoga Poses for Home Practice are helpful to break up long stretches of sitting.
Making learning more physical makes teaching more effective, as well as fun. This powerful tool will help to stimulate your students’ minds and embody learning. Visit our website for more of Siena’s distance learning resources, including blog posts about teaching math and art remotely.
Whether you need to liven up your queue or want to take a virtual trip to Broadway over spring break, Siena's Performing Arts teacher Stephanie Wendell recommends these must-sees currently available online through Broadway HD (free content for a week then a monthly subscription is available):
- Swan Lake
- She Loves Me
- Stars In Concert: Sutton Foster
- An American in Paris
- 42nd Street
- Memphis (recommended for high school and up)
- Putting It Together
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
- Gypsy (with Bette Midler)
- Peter Pan
Ms. Wendell suggests these other performances and sites for more virtual Broadway options:
- Hamilton: One Shot to Broadway (Amazon Prime)
- Newsies: The Broadway Musical (Disney+, Amazon Prime)
- Ballet Now (Hulu) (Note: one scene has adult language, might only be appropriate for high school and up.)
- Alvin Ailey's Revelations (YouTube channel) and Alvin Ailey All Access are posting their most famous works for free!
Watching some of these with the family—and maybe encouraging the kids to reenact scenes or learn to sing and play their favorite songs—could be a musical way to spend some time over spring break.
Distance learning continues to push teachers to find new, flexible strategies to keep the learning going. Regardless of the subject, flexibility and resourcefulness are crucial for learning at home. Art instruction helps children with the development of motor and language skills, decision-making, risk-taking, and inventiveness.
Siena art teacher J. Coleman has transitioned the classroom experience to teach his classes virtually. Mr. Coleman has used software and apps—like AirServer Universal, IbisPaint, and Isosceles geometry sketchpad—to mirror his screen, demonstrate a specific style, teach color and perspective, and zoom in on something he’s drawn. In his first week of distance-teaching, Mr. Coleman screen-shared an optical illusion drawing that he did on his tablet. Then, his students shared and discussed their own drawings.
Mr. Coleman also had high-school students set up their own still lifes from common household items; they then shared the results to compare and discuss their styles (pictured below).
Media is important to distance learning as well: Mr. Coleman has had his students watch YouTube video resources from art teachers; they’ve then discussed what they’ve viewed and completed various drawing exercises modeling the style of the artist. The Arts Education Partnership has also shared an extensive list of resources to aid telework, virtual arts education, and more.
In addition to drawing and creating art in the home, students have many options for free virtual field trips to learn from artists, visit museums, and close-study specific works of art. Google Arts & Culture is a good portal into many different works of art, museums, and other art-focused content, such as Frida Kahlo’s diary and some little-know facts about Claude Monet.
Interactive Art Classes
- A handful of famous illustrators are offering free, family-friendly art classes and read alongs. For families with younger children there are also Mo Willems’s Lunch Doodles with Mo, featuring some of his beloved characters (Pigeon, Gerald, Piggie, and more).
- New York Times bestselling illustrator Wendy MacNaughton continues to do #DrawTogether on her Instagram page.
- Closer to home (for us) is this art contest for families in Montgomery County, MD; check for similar online contests in your area.
Viewing Famous Paintings
Families can also see many well-known works of art more closely than they ever could in person:
- Vincent Van Gogh, The Bedroom
- Rembrandt van Rijn, The Night Watch
- Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring
- Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait With Monkey
- Tawaraya Sōtatsu, Waves of Matsushima
- Jacob Lawrence, Ambulance Call
There are also some multimedia guided tours of famous works of art:
- Pieter Bruegel, The Tower of Babel (Leslie Feist)
- Claude Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare (Jarvis Cocker)
- Van Gogh, The Starry Night (Maggie Rogers)
- Edvard Munch, The Scream (Maggie Rogers)
While the museums themselves are closed, many are open for virtual tours. A weekly museum trip could be a good creative opportunity.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, MetKids (New York)
- Guggenheim Museum (New York)
- National Gallery of Art (DC) - Link
- Musée d’Orsay (Paris)
- The Louvre (Paris)
- Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam)
- Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam)
- National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul)
(Note: We do not endorse any of these apps/sites. Please check the privacy and appropriateness for your child.)
Whether it’s making art oneself or experiencing it remotely, creativity is especially important now that most of our community-building is virtual. Exposure to the arts and the continuance of artistic expression may be a meaningful outlet for many.
Distance learning is as much about staying connected to the school’s community and support network as it is about continuing instruction.
With school closings across the country, many families are abruptly facing the need to establish new routines and structure at home. Children find comfort in consistency so establishing a daily routine with expectations is important. Here are some helpful tips for families to keep students learning, connected, and focused on their work while classes are meeting virtually.
At-Home Flexible Seating
In addition to establishing a traditional workspace for your child, we encourage providing various options so that students have a choice of spaces for different types of activities. Students could use the following to situate themselves:
Different options are important for keeping students engaged and appropriately active. They also prevent extended sitting, allow for varied postures and positions, and can help with focus.
Having supplies accessible keeps students on task and cuts down on time away from their workspaces—and from instruction. Make sure students have ready access to:
- Headphones with a microphone
- Paper, pens or pencils, books, and other essentials
- Accessories for laptops, tablets, e-readers, and other charged technology
A distance learning plan is contingent on Internet access. Consider how multiple people working online at home will affect your broadband speed, and then plan accordingly. Consider these as you adjust your home and family to distance learning:
- Where will each family member work?
- How many devices will be on the home network?
- With multiple members working online at the same time, is there enough bandwidth?
Structure is especially important with distance learning:
- Have a consistent schedule (e.g., regular wakeup, bedtime, breaks, or meals).
- Review your at-home routine each week with your child.
- Remind younger students what day it is, as it is easy to lose track of days of the week. E.g. is there a visual they can use at the beginning of the day to keep track?
- If provided, make sure students have easy access to the school’s daily schedule and grade-level information from their teachers.
- Incorporate breaks and free time. It’s important that students have time to be creative during the day.
- Allow time for transitions between tasks/activities.
- Think about your family’s needs when organizing your day. Have a ‘go to’ activity for younger children if you have an unexpected work call e.g. a puzzle book, a coloring book or audiobook/podcast.
- Know where you’ll store school-issued laptops and other technology when not in use. (Tip: don’t store tech in students’ bedrooms)
- Make snacks and lunch the night before (just as you would for a typical school day) so students can be independent and reduce interruptions as you work from home.
Successful distance learning can mean replicating the in-school experience as much as possible, which also could mean adhering to school rules and expectations like:
A successful distance learning plan allows schools to continue instruction when the building is closed, as well as gives students the necessary continuity of education. Let’s invest in ensuring as smooth a transition as possible for students and families.
Siena will continue to share valuable tips and ideas as we learn more about creating a productive online learning environment for students and teachers. Be sure to follow these hashtags for more resources #onlinelearning, #elearning, and #remotelearning and for ideas specifically on learning differences #ldonlinelearning, #ldedonline.