Your LD child might already have been struggling with academic engagement, but now, in this new and unfamiliar age of virtual learning, both you and your child may be in uncharted territory.
As someone who grew up with learning disabilities, I can fully understand the anxieties and stress you must be going through right now.
And as someone who has dedicated their life to helping LD children just like myself and your child accomplish academic success, I am here to help.
For starters, let’s define academic engagement, to better understand what it is and therefore, how your child can strive for it.
There are a variety of definitions across many scientific studies on the concept.
Simply put, academic engagement is the quality of effort, commitment and involvement your child puts into learning activities, and to accomplish specific learning goals.
In other words, academic engagement is when your child is committed and participating in school, and working to meet academic goals, like getting good grades.
In this new era of virtual learning, with the familiar routine and structure of school missing, your child might be anxious, confused, overwhelmed and demotivated about learning.
And all of this can end up interfering with their ability to academically engage meaningfully.
To make sure your child does not miss any learning opportunities and stays on track with their education even in these uncertain times, here are my tips on how to remain academically engaged in virtual learning.
How to Remain Academically Engaged in Virtual Learning
1. Stay Motivated with Shorter Study Sessions and More Breaks
There are online classes and assignment deadlines, but many of the cues which might have helped maintain their focus and reduce academic anxieties and overwhelm are missing.
For instance, they might not have a teacher on call to ask questions by just raising their hand.
Their classmates aren’t around just a desk over from them to help discuss particulars of the assignment or topic.
Your child has to study independently a lot more now than they might be used to, and this, coupled with the lack of structure of school, might make studying an overwhelming task.
It might cause your child to feel anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed to the point that their ability to process and absorb information comes to a standstill.
Helping your child time their study sessions, with properly placed breaks in between, can make a great difference in keeping your child academically engaged.
For starters, shorter study sessions, spaced out by short breaks, are a neuroscience-backed method of effective learning.
When your child is learning they’re using their working memory – what they’re learning is temporarily stored in their brain’s hippocampus, a part of the temporal lobe that plays an important role in learning.
Unlike long-term memory, working memory is finite; the information kept in your child’s hippocampus is waiting there to create connections with their existing knowledge.
But if your child continues to push themselves to absorb new information, it surpasses the capacity of their working memory.
If your child grows frazzled and overwhelmed, unable to recall and retain what they’re learning, it could be because their working memory is overfull.
John Sweller, a leading researcher in learning science, says, “We can’t hold information for more than about 20 seconds without repeating it to ourselves.”
“If a student has trouble understanding something, what we mean is their working memory is overwhelmed,” he continues.
The good news, though, is that working memory recharges pretty quickly – a short break of 5 minutes after every 20-25 minutes of studying is enough to restore working memory to full charge.
And the even better news is that when your child isn’t using their working memory, their brain is in its default mode, where it consolidates memories by associating new knowledge to existing knowledge and past experiences, and formulating ideas out of them.
So, taking breaks actually allows your child to make sense of what they’re learning, as well as retain and absorb this information.
Keeping study sessions short also helps your child maintain their focus and stay academically engaged longer than spending long ineffective hours trying to study and not getting much done.
Plus, being able to complete these shorter study sessions and retain what they learn better can motivate them to keep learning and stay academically engaged, as you’ll see in the next point!
2. Break the Task Down to Stay Motivated
I frequently recommend this strategy in my course The ABCs of Academic Success – it’s not only a great way to help your kids focus and feel in control of their schoolwork, but also helps motivate them!
Breaking a task down into smaller tasks, which I refer to as smashing the task, is a science-backed method for boosting productivity and motivation.
Where your child might feel demotivated and/or overwhelmed by a long list of tasks they’re expected to complete, often by themselves considering the limitations of virtual learning, when the tasks are broken down into a series of mini-tasks, they feel a lot more manageable.
Break a task like an essay down into a series of steps – research topics, choose main topic, brainstorm key points, write thesis statement, and so on.
Instead of setting themselves a potentially overwhelming, anxiety-inducing and demotivating task, like “finish the essay” they instead have a to-do list of several smaller tasks.
And each time they complete one of these items on their to-do list, their brain’s reward pathway lights up, resulting in a dopamine spike in their system.
Dopamine is known as the motivation molecule.
When your child’s dopamine neurons are active, they anticipate the sense of reward and accomplishment they experienced when they completed the first task whenever they complete something on their to-do list.
As a result, the brain keeps wanting to experience that pleasurable sensation, and that expectation of a reward caused by the higher dopamine activity keeps your child moving on to the next item on the list.
In this way, your child is better able to focus on their workload in a systematic, comprehensive and thoughtful way – they plan it out, and individually focus on every element of the assignment.
This means the final outcome after checking off all the items of the to-do list is also likely to be of a higher quality.
Not only is your child better able to focus on individual elements of an assignment or task better, they also feel in control of their workload and can stay better motivated by smashing the task.
3. Study According to Their Learning Style
Visual learners are at an advantage in traditional school settings because many of the assessments schools carry out are in the visual format, like written tests.
This does not mean any one learning style is superior to others.
It just means that different styles and modalities learn differently and knowing the right strategies and how to combine strategies from different modalities can prepare your child for any learning situation.
And virtual learning might actually allow them to do this more effectively!
For instance, visual learners process images, maps, charts, graphs etc. better.
They are naturally adept at converting information into mental images, which are several thousand times faster to recall than text.
So, when learning remotely, your visual learner child might benefit from instructional videos about the topic they’re studying, and resources representing information in charts, graphs, and other visual information!
Auditory learners, who learn and recall information better through hearing, might benefit from recordings of online lectures and podcasts.
They can use online readers to help them get through their assigned readings, and to read over their essays and written assignments, maintaining their focus and helping them catch mistakes.
Kinesthetic learners, who learn better by physically interacting with and engaging with their learning environment, can actually move around, pacing or skipping or bouncing a ball off the wall, to stay engaged with classes or learning material, something they could rarely do in a classroom.
With portable devices, they can move around while listening to lectures or lecture recordings and can also use online readers to help read assigned texts aloud while they engage in physical activity.
Your child is likely going to be a combination of the three learning styles, with one or two dominating styles.
It’s important to figure out what this specific combination is, because then you and your child can work out the combination of learning style strategies that best suits your child.
During virtual learning, without the more traditional schoolroom format, your child has plenty more opportunities to adjust their strategies to the way they learn best!
4. Help Them Work on Expressive Language
In the The ABCs of Academic Success, I discuss how expressive language involves the use of speech, writing and non-verbal communication, like facial expressions and gestures, to convey a message to others.
If your child experiences expressive language difficulties, they might struggle to respond to other people by using verbal communication, written communication, and/or body language.
Your child might be perfectly grasping what is said to them and the ideas others are communicating but might struggle with knowing how to get their own responses and ideas across.
In virtual learning, when there’s an extra barrier between your child and their teacher and classmates, the need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively is of even greater importance.
Knowing how to get their thoughts across will play a big role in helping your child participate in meaningful class discussions, clear up confusions about the material, and ask questions or request feedback.
You can help your child improve on their expressive language by asking them who, what, when, where, and how questions – avoid questions that have simple yes-and-no answers.
Ask them to describe things in detail – instead of simply saying “he ran”, ask them exactly how did he run? Quickly? Clumsily? Distractedly? With determination?
Reading with your child is an excellent way to expand their vocabulary, as well as providing subject matter to discuss with them.
Try and read some of your child’s assigned readings with them.
Once you’re done, ask them about their main takeaways. Discuss the finer details with them and ask about their thoughts. Explain words they don’t understand to them, and practice these with them.
Teach them that more than worrying about right and wrong answers, discussions are to better understand the text and material.
If they feel that they can ask questions to understand what they don’t get better, and that their own ideas will be listened to and taken seriously, they will feel more confident in expressing themselves.
Which leads us to the next point –
5. Review Class Material with Your Child
Hermann Ebbinghaus, the mathematician who formulated the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting, also illustrates how, the longer the gap between the beginning and end of a study session, the more likely people are to forget what’s in the middle, if no attempt is made to retain the information.
This is why review is so important.
When you review something you learned, the neurons associated with this memory activate, and the more they activate, the stronger the memory of this knowledge becomes.
So, after a class, your child might easily forget what they covered in the short period they spent online with their teacher and friends, if they don’t make the attempt to recall, review and retain this information.
If they aren’t able to retain much, they will struggle with the next lesson, and any assignments set on the topic.
This in turn might discourage them and create stress and anxiety.
However, by reviewing their lessons with them daily, you’re helping your child retrace the ground covered during class but without being bound to the class period.
They are able to move forward at their own pace, and by discussing what they don’t understand and revisiting information they’ve encountered, they build a sounder memory and understanding of their learning.
And when they find they’re able to answer your questions, or complete exercises, or score well in quizzes better, the dopamine and resulting sense of accomplishment will keep them motivated to stay academically engaged!
Remember, these review sessions are excellent opportunities to help your child work on expressive language issues.
They can also be the perfect tool to help your auditory or kinesthetic learner child absorb information better, by saying and hearing it out loud, or acting the information out to you.
Also remember to keep study sessions short, with breaks in between, and to break items down into smaller tasks!
With these tips, I hope your child knows exactly how to remain academically engaged in virtual learning.
I offer many such simple but effective strategies for parents to guide their LD children to academic success in my course.
Once you sign up, you can sit in for a 15-minute FREE consultation session with me, where I’d be happy to answer any other questions you might have about virtual learning or your LD child’s academic success!
As an Educational Consultant and Learning Specialist for over 30 years, Dana created an easy-to-follow, step-by-step online course called The ABCs of Academic Success so you can help your child thrive academically! Check it out and get a free 15 minute consultation with Dana too.