Empowering students with language-based learning differences
The Siena School Blog
We’ve noticed a trend in our school population: many of our students are left-handed, but they’re not always aware of how to adjust to a right-dominant world.
In the U.S., there’s approximately an 89-10-1% breakdown between right-handed, left-handed, and mixed-handed people, respectively. Researchers tend to agree that there’s at least a correlation between left-handedness, brain lateralization, and language-based learning differences like dyslexia.
Although there is not yet a definitive genetic link between dyslexia left-handedness, handedness is linked to brain hemispheres. When the hemispheres don’t “speak” to each other effectively, children can develop language- and communication-based issues, since the left brain hemisphere is the seat of language and communication and responsible for the evolution of language understanding.
Resources for Left-Handed Students
In appreciation of left-handed learners within our language-based learning differences community, here are some resources, ideas, and links to help.
- Siena’s Math & Science Department Chair Jennifer Chambers recently wrote about valuing students’ input when setting up virtual learning environments, which parents can make lefty-friendly with a little extra feedback from their children. This could be as simple as having students work on the left side of their desks, as one of Siena’s students does. Another student puts her computer directly in front of her and leaves space on the left for writing. She also uses left-handed pencils, which prohibit smudging because they’re different from typical pencils.
- Independent School Parent has more useful advice for parents to help their left-handed children adjust to right-dominant environments, such as “facing your child when demonstrating a new technique...to create a mirror image of the actions.”
- Parents.com offers several great tips for virtual learning spaces, such as putting a lamp on the opposite side of the child’s dominant hand to avoid shadows while they write or draw. It also suggests having multiple spaces (if possible) for focused work, reading, and other tasks; if children are working in more than one space at home, parents can make sure each one is lefty-friendly.
Supplies and Technology
- Learning Without Tears goes over how to help left-handed children write by hand more effectively. Parents can help by ordering left-handed pencils, pencil grips, scissors, notebooks, planners, and other school supplies. This piece from September 2020 shares 15 school supplies for left-handed students. See other recommendations here and here.
- Students can also reconfigure their computer’s mouse or touchpad to be left-handed, whether they have a Chromebook (video here), iMac, or MacBook.
- The website for Left Handers Day (August 13) always has good material and resources.
- Facebook has groups like Everything Left-Handed and The Left Handers Club to meet other left-handers and share information.
- Pinterest has a lot of great left-handed ideas, like “Why it's awesome to be left-handed,” “Left-handed crocheting and knitting tutorials,” and other content.
- Anything Left Handed is a great news and research digest; it also has Facebook and Twitter communities.
- Read some recent news articles about a global study of handedness and neuroscience studying left-handers.
- Take a deeper dive in scholarly articles about brain lateralization, handedness and developmental coordination, and lateralization in humans and some animal species.
In a distance learning environment, left-handed students have more freedom to optimize their workspaces than they might in a classroom. This could be an especially good time for left-handed students to adjust their learning environments and supplies so they’re better prepared when in-person learning resumes.
Do you have any ideas or tips for optimizing left-handed workspaces for children or adults? Let us know in the comments.
Preparing for your student’s first day of school and year looks very different than past years. Instead of looking for a new backpack and lunch box, you are searching for an optimal space for your child to learn at home, in addition to gathering supplies that not only will help them learn but also make their learning environment inviting and fun.
Preparing Home Learning Spaces
As you prepare your student’s more permanent learning space in your home, are you considering what this looks and feels like for them? Have students reflect on what worked well for them this past spring; it will be meaningful to check in with them about possible changes to their learning spaces that can help them both academically and emotionally.
Depending on your child's age, you may use all or some of these questions and conversation starters:
- How do you best learn?
- Where in the house do you want to do school daily?
- What would be most comfortable for you?
- Do you need to have a variety of different positions and locations to learn? How could you help create a flexible learning space?
- Do you need to move all or part of your body during school?
- Do you want to be by yourself or with another person when in school?
- What will be distracting for you? What will help you focus during school?
- What supplies/materials do you need and want for your learning space?
- How do you want to organize those supplies?
- What rules or boundaries should we have for computer usage, beyond your school’s rules?
- Is your child left-handed? If so, read this Siena School blog post on left-handers learning from home.
- What will remind you daily to smile?
- Something from school?
- A family picture?
- A childhood memento or knickknack?
- A stuffed animal?
Distance Learning Ideas
When you have this conversation with your child, enter it with a mindset of collaboration, with each of you a member of a team working towards an outcome of establishing the best learning space for them this year. Most importantly, have fun working on this project together.
For ideas to engage with your child in this conversation, read this New York Times article by Melanie Pinola. She not only gives great ideas for establishing this space and its boundaries but also provides links to possible supplies that may help set up your child's learning environment. For a refresher on distance learning tools and tips, read Ms. Darefsky's March blog post on distance learning ideas and tools.
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.
Student Engagement in Online 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 emoji 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.
Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement
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.
Spring break will look a little different this year. Thankfully, there’s a lot that families can do inside and outside their homes in lieu of a traditional spring break trip.
Social time is especially important now. Consider setting up a Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype, Duo, or FaceTime meeting space for kids and parents. As we all keep finding new ways to stay connected and create communities online, remember that there are a lot of individual and virtual group activities to do with friends, classmates, teammates, and extended family members.
Here are some options for indoor and outdoor fun:
- Take a virtual cruise with Viking or Riviera, or take a trip to Florida and many other beaches.
- Ride the virtual roller coaster from Canada’s Wonderland amusement park. Kids can then create their own roller coasters.
- Visit our school’s namesake city.
- Go to Yellowstone National Park.
- Visit Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and see their penguins.
- Visit the Cincinnati Zoo and live stream with a different animal every day at 3:00 pm.
- More virtual field trips can be found on Siena’s distance learning resources page.
Virtual Groups: Activities
- Read-alouds let kids hear from the authors themselves. Parents could also take turns reading recent books and favorite classics to their kids and friends.
- Group cooking and baking: choose a specific ingredient or recipe and compare the results.
- Have a virtual picnic (indoors or outdoors).
- Learn to sew or knit in a virtual crafts circle. One of Siena’s students suggests reusing old t-shirts and turning them into a blanket! To start knitting with yarn, there are various videos on YouTube about how to cast on (getting the t-shirt yarn on the needle), how to knit, and how to cast off (getting the knitted t-shirts off the needle).
- Host a movie night using Netflix Party app (Chrome) or TwoSeven.
- Make music with friends using Incredibox.
- Host a virtual dance party or play Name That Tune.
- Karaoke Night! Select songs from YouTube, Spotify, or Plug.DJ, and perform them. There are two ways you can do karaoke with remote groups:
- Assign a song to each person or let them choose their own. Everyone records an individual session singing —using something like WeVideo or Screencastify. After, each person sends the clip to the organizer, run a virtual award ceremony that includes showing the best songs and awarding prizes.
- Another way to do virtual karaoke is to do a mashup harmony. Each team member sings the same song and records the session. Then, a video-editing master mashes the clips together into one song. You can then watch this video together, post it on social media, or share with family and friends.
Virtual Groups: Games and Challenges
- Do a backyard camping trip—tent, sleeping bags, ghost stories, and s’mores.
- Play some backyard games with friends (e.g., HORSE, soccer goals from increasingly difficult angles, beanbag toss/corn hole, and other sports challenges).
- Gardening: For a one-month competition, team members can plant and cultivate a garden from scratch. The competitors can sow seeds from fruit or propagate vegetables. By the end of the month, two things happen: (1) you see who’s got gardening skills; (2) you’ve made participants’ lives a little greener.
- DIY Craft Challenge is a 30-minute surprise activity you can play with family or friends. Bring everyone on a virtual call, share the rules and theme, and then start a timer. Each person has 30 minutes to build something from materials available at home. You could make pasta art, construct an epic pillow fort, or doodle a poetic harmony. The goal is to spark creativity.
- Typing speed races can be fun (and educational!). To begin, kids can take a typing test using typingtest.com. Then, they can share their results with family and friends. The more competitive members will reply with results quickly, and others will follow. Kids can then up the challenge by hosting a typing speed relay, even forming teams and adding up the cumulative scores to see which team wins.
- Virtual Jeopardy! lets you either play pre-built online games or do the research to build your own. As you put your scoreboard together, remember to include fun elements like Daily Doubles.
- See if you can adapt Werewolf and Can You Hear Me Now? for families or kids to play together over Zoom or Google Hangouts. For example, in Can You Hear Me Now? one person is the speaker and the rest are artists. The speaker uses a random image generator; the goal is to describe that image in such a way that the artists can draw it successfully. Without saying exactly what the image is, come up with your own rules to make it easier or more difficult.
- Have kids work on the same puzzle virtually through videos or pictures. Some have timers so you can compete against others.
- Remember these apps that kids can play either on their own or with family and friends: Words with Friends, Bingo, Origami Zoo, UNO!, Monopoly, Houseparty, Scattergories, and Mario Kart Tour.
Indoor Fun & Projects
- Have kids (especially younger students) pick an activity from a jar each day.
- See these Printable Lego Challenges for kids.
- Try some of your own Lego builds, challenges, or activities:
- Have kids create a scene from a movie or show and then have friends guess what it’s from. They could also challenge each other to build what they can only from a set number of pieces or colors.
- Kids could make something to use in their home workspaces, such as a pencil holder, paper organizer, or cord tamer. They could also Lego-ize their family, house, or favorite room and share pictures with friends and family.
- Play chess (vs. human or computer) or Sudoku.
- Repurpose household materials.
- Create cards or postcards for family, friends, grandparents, and others to mail. Send ecards too—such as through Punchbowl or Greetings Island.
- Set up a family scavenger hunt in the house with clues.
- Organize that box of photographs that’s on your to-do list.
- Do some Virtual Volunteering in your area (see Montgomery County’s site for an example).
STEM and Other Learning At Home
- Can’t go to the beach? Make your own sand.
- NASA has some great at-home STEM activities (sorted by grade level).
- The STEM Laboratory has some great Lego Challenge Cards.
- EYE (Educating Young Engineers) also has Lego Club Activities.
- Have kids take part in a coding program.
- See what free resources and daily schedules (broken down by grade level) the Khan Academy has for parents and teachers.
- See the KID Museum: Make It! Plus for live and interactive programming to create at home.
- Check out PBS Kids Full-Time Kid for DIY projects.
- Listen to free Audible stories for kids. Rediscover old favorites or find new ones.
- Attend one of these virtual concerts that NPR has shared.
- Pick a series like Harry Potter to read (or reread!) and then engage with podcasts about it.
- Encourage kids to be theatrical and write their own one-act play, perform it, record it...and then share with family and friends. They can do the same with making their own live- or stop-action movies.
- Enable kids’ creativity by having them make a comic, write a short story, or compose and record an original song using GarageBand or other software.
- Create a photo slideshow and put it to music. Kids could also create slideshows of fun times with their friends to share with each other and reminisce.
- Check out Round House at Your House from Round House Theatre. Their education department has a Theatre Education Challenges for Students: a weekly series of age-appropriate activities to encourage acting, movement, design, and playmaking. They’ll also have videos released by age group; see their website for more details.
- Imagination Stage’s blog hosts weekly 3-minute movie challenges and other performing arts options.
Staying active and connected while at home is a great way for families to enjoy spring break. Keep sharing ideas with fellow parents and others in your networks.
Like many K–12 educators, Siena’s high school math teacher Joel Mercado has had to be resourceful and flexible in teaching remotely. In his Algebra II classes, Mr. Mercado has found some useful, tech-friendly ways to replicate what he’d typically write on the board.
- Samsung Flow-Smart View: When projecting from his phone, he uses the lined paper template to emulate writing on regular lined paper. This allows students who cannot print at home to take notes in an organized manner. Students who can print from home can fill out the notes in the intended document.
- Squid: This app is used to emulate lined paper. It is also used to grade students’ work as he converts images into PDF and annotates them digitally. The idea is to provide feedback as close to normal as possible.
Math and science department chair Jennifer Chambers offers these alternatives for Mac users to mirror their screens:
- Penultimate: This app creates a white board on the iPad screen, which is easier for the teacher to use with their finger than the Zoom whiteboard. In addition, Penultimate has many templates from graph paper to music sheets with the ability to take a photo or import a photo.
- ShowMe: This can be used as an annotator with its connection to photos, the web, an iPhone or iPad’s camera, and so on. It also allows the recording of your screen as you write on its whiteboard and upload images.
Screen-sharing apps like these also allow Mr. Mercado, Ms. Chambers, and other teachers to use Siena’s teaching methodology, techniques and accommodations for our community, such as highlighting and/or color-coding when grading or taking notes. Examples of these are placed below.
For more tips on remote education from Siena, see our previous posts on teaching (and experiencing) art, virtually touring colleges, and setting up effective distance learning work stations for students.
While distance learning is the new normal in K–12 education, college-bound high schoolers have an additional task: college research and tours. Seniors might be wondering how they may tour and then choose a college for next year without actually visiting campus.
Many colleges are closed as a result of COVID-19 and are canceling admissions tours and other events. College visits and open houses are still happening, though, and resources continue to become available to learn about campus life and academics virtually. Here are a few ways to do so:
1. Understand how much the admissions process has changed as a result of COVID-19.
Usually, May 1st is the deadline for seniors to decide which college they'll attend. But, with COVID-19 making it impossible for seniors to attend accepted students’ days or overnight visits, many colleges are extending their deadline to enroll until June 1st. Students may reach out to the colleges they’ve been accepted to for more information. Here’s a list by ACCEPT of many colleges that have adopted the new deadline.
Seniors can make the most of this postponement by reaching out to colleges for more information as they weigh their options. Forbes has published “The COVID College Choice: How to Pick a College During a Global Pandemic”; it offers some helpful tips and a useful acronym to help college-bound students and their families keep things in perspective.
And, although the ACT and SAT have canceled their April and May test dates, students may still register to take the June test. Some colleges are considering going test-optional for the entire class of 2021 in light of COVID-19; check the websites of any colleges you’re interested in for their policies.
2. Take virtual tours of the colleges you’re interested in.
Many colleges offer remote 360° tours and virtual reality experiences of their campuses, as well as basic information about the schools.
Rebecca Chabrow, director of enrollment management at Gratz College, has assembled a detailed list of over 900 colleges that offer some kind of virtual tour; there’s also data on location and student population.
3. Reach out by phone or email to admissions representatives. It’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions in advance.
Katherine Daley-Bailey, an advisor in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Georgia, suggests a few questions based on those she’s received at orientations and other open-house events:
- What resources does the school have on setting expectations and time management? What can students start doing now to prepare themselves for college life? (See this example from Southern Methodist University.)
- What scholarships and other opportunities are available for tuition reduction?
- Do freshmen have to live in a dorm in their first year? And, can freshmen have a car on campus?
- How can students learn about the courses offered to freshmen? How does the registration process work?
- What does a typical workload, average credit hour disbursement, and first semester look like?
This is also a good time to ask prospective colleges about what kinds of learning support they offer students: e.g., the writing center, assistive technology, tutoring services, and workshops on study skills and library research. See here for some of the college-prep resources The Siena School offers its students.
4. Ask the admissions office to connect you with students at their school who share your interests. Get in contact with alumni.
Online communication and networking have become essential. To replicate the typical follow-up experience after a college tour, students could reach out to admissions and student affairs offices to get directed to relevant online groups or other resources.
Students could also schedule a call or video conference with any alumni that their school’s college counselor puts them in touch with.
Doing some research and outreach now is good training for what students will have to do at college: taking initiative, self-advocating, and managing their own time without direct guidance from teachers or advisors. Managing some of the college research process virtually can help students make informed choices about where they’ll attend in the fall; it can also start building an online support network to aid the transition.
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.
While we’re all being extra-aware of physical health and wellness, remember that our mental health, anxiety management, and self-care are important as well. We’re learning more each day about what to do to keep ourselves and others healthy physically. There are also resources to help support your own and your family’s mental health during this time of distance learning.
Note: The Siena School does not endorse or assume responsibility for any of the programs, services or individuals listed below. This list is solely for the reader’s information.
2-1-1 Maryland is partnership of four agencies working together to provide simple access to health and human services information. 2-1-1 is an easy to remember telephone number that connects people with important community services. Our specially trained call specialists answer calls 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Child Mind Institute
In addition to numerous articles helping parents navigate this challenging time, the Child Mind Institute is offering the following clinical and supportive resources:
- Facebook Live video chats with expert clinicians (10am and 8pm)
- Remote evaluations and telemedicine
- Flat-fee phone consultations for problem behavior
- Daily parent tips on childmind.org, Facebook and Instagram at 8am
During this time of heightened anxiety, EveryMind is encouraging people to utilize their phone, text, and chat call specialists. They are available 24/7 to listen and provide support. This service is free and open to all members of the community. You do not have to be in crisis to connect with EveryMind. Reach out even if you are just looking for ways to support someone you are concerned about.
GoZen is a suite of educational programs and tools designed to give parents and practitioners what they need to arm kids with essential life skills to not only manage anxiety but to live with deeper engagement and purpose.
During this challenging time, GoZen is offering video chats by four experts to discuss the myriad of challenges that families are navigating.
Helping Kids Play Independently - Avital Schreiber-Levy
Helping Kids Manage Coronavirus Fears - Dr. Laura Markham
Helping Parents Navigate Life Changes Due to Coronavirus - Dr. Shefali Tsabary
Applying Mindfulness to Quell Anxiety - Dr. Elisha & Dr. Stefanie Goldstein
Resources to Help Manage Anxiety
Counselor Keri Blog Post: Helping Kids Who are Worried About the Coronavirus
Counselor Keri: Worry Warrior Videos for our 4th-6th grade students
NY Times Article: 5 Ways to Help Teens Manage Anxiety About the Coronavirus
CNN Article: How to Keep Coronavirus Fears from Affecting Your Mental Health
Resources to Help Manage Anxiety - Apps/Online Activities
Calm: Free Curated Resources for Guided Meditations, Calming Sounds, Movement, etc
Reach Out Australia: Various apps to help manage stress and anxiety
Positive Psychology: 25 Mindfulness Exercises and Games
Free Mindfulness Classes: For Elementary Students
Note: We do not endorse these apps. Check the privacy and appropriateness for your teen.
Our physical and mental health are strongly connected, and you can get the support you need to maintain both for your family—and yourself. Siena will continue to share valuable tips and ideas as we learn more about how to take care of our whole selves. Help is available online and in our communities
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.