Empowering students with language-based learning differences
The Siena School Blog
Believe it or not, the school year is fast approaching the halfway point. For some parents, it’s time to start weighing options for the summer. Once summer camps and other traditional activities resume, families may feel students need more individual attention on academics to make up for any gaps in learning this past year.
Finding Appropriate Academic Programs and Local Tutoring Options
Education consultant Ann Dolin has written about parents’ summer anxiety regarding how to find the right amount of academic practice and intellectual rigor over the summer. After almost a year of online learning for many children, parents might not be seeing the typical gains in reading, math, and other skills. “You certainly don’t want a summer where kids aren’t involved in any learning at all, and that’s because they can lose up to two months of progress,” Dolin observed in 2019, “But you don’t want to go overboard, either.”
While summer school may have negative connotations for students, finding the right balance of rigor and relaxation to help parents keep their children learning is key. Summer academic programs and tutoring that adopt both approaches have significant benefits. Continued academic practice and specialized training throughout the summer are especially important for students with language-based learning differences to prevent summer slide regression in reading and writing skills.
The Siena School offers both summer academics and tutoring programs for area students (not just current enrollees) to offer a continuity of education between school years.
Summer Academics for Students with Learning Differences
Siena Silver Spring’s summer academic program provides students in grades 4–9 with a positive instructional experience that works on review, reinforcement, and enhancement of academic skills. Small classes and a nurturing environment provide fun and creative learning opportunities in reading, writing, and math skills and concepts. Students who participate in summer academic courses get the opportunity to experience the school on a smaller scale and ease into the school community. Seeing Siena’s curriculum, faculty, and strategies before the school year starts smooths students’ transition to a new school after they’ve gained comfort in a new learning environment.
Siena’s summer academic program provides the same individualized, multisensory approach practiced throughout the school year in a relaxed but rigorous setting. (See Siena’s academics page for more curriculum information.) Students learn and practice using assistive technologies, specific executive functioning techniques, and writing and reading skills that are applied in each class. It’s been consistently beneficial for our new students to attend summer academic sessions to start creating a community with other students who have similar learning differences.
By first learning new skills, technology, and strategies and then practicing them in class without the added pressure of grades, homework, tests, or quizzes, students can best prepare for the coming school year during the summer. Attending a summer academic session allows students an opportunity to build and practice using a toolkit of skills to carry with them into the fall.
Summer Tutoring for Students with Learning Differences
Another good option to prepare for the new school year is tutoring in specific subjects. Summer tutoring offers consistency of learning, new skill development, one-on-one instruction, and individualized learning—all at a pace structured for the child. Tutoring can give some structure to a student’s summer day and exposes them to healthy learning practices that they can then continue once the school year starts.
Siena Tutors, Siena’s virtual tutoring program, provides students in grades K-12 with a positive instructional experience focused on each individual’s growth in core academic subjects including reading, writing, math, science, and Spanish. We additionally offer tutoring services with a focus on executive functioning, which includes scheduling, prioritizing tasks, managing workloads, organization, and goal setting. See Siena’s tutoring page for more details about our program and tutors.
These individualized virtual tutoring sessions—which can be tailored to their needs—equip students with various skills applicable to both their virtual and traditional schooling. The tutors are educational professionals extensively trained in multisensory instruction and accustomed to individualizing lessons. By using the same multisensory approach that Siena does, these tutors offer students new strategies and tools while delivering important educational continuity.
Summer tutoring sessions can offer students an opportunity to preview next year’s curriculum if they struggle with information processing or executive functioning. This preview will help when a student accesses that curriculum the next school year. One-on-one time with a tutor enables solid review time for students to build on their skills and start a solid foundation for the next school year.
While summer school may sound scary for students, trying the approach of summer academics or summer tutoring might be a great compromise. Offering either option to your child this summer can still give you the desired end results of knowing the learning process will continue through those dreaded summer slide months.
Resources for Students with Learning Differences
- See The Siena School blog for posts about our multisensory and movement-based curriculum, as well as ideas for at-home work and free time over the summer.
- See Ann Dolin’s website and YouTube Channel for more resources and tips for avoiding the summer slide.
- LD Online and the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center (ASDEC) have a wealth of resources for families navigating academics and tutoring needs.
- Reading Rockets also has good information for finding a tutor for children with dyslexia.
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.