One of the most challenging aspects of remote learning is recreating the rhythm and structure of the school day in the home environment. Students at SBS are used to attending classes with their classmates and transitioning from one activity to the next on a predictable schedule. The external environment of the school day supports and reinforces the internal development of executive functioning skills through middle and high school. For older students who have had more time at SBS, finding their internal motivation and sense of rhythm is easier. For younger students and students who have a difficult time with executive functioning, learning from home can be a huge challenge because the internal structures are not as well developed.
One way to help students develop their executive functioning skills and sense of internal motivation is to create external structures at home. When I work with students in Academic Skills sessions, I help them identify windows of time during the day that are suited to doing school work. Ideally, these windows are times during the day when the student is well-rested, fed, and doesn’t have a lot of competing distractions. For most SBS students, those times tend to be 10:30-12:30pm, 2:00-5:00pm, and 7:00-9:00pm. Students won’t need all of those hours if they’re working efficiently, and it can be helpful to point out that there are often more hours available in the day than they need. Even if a student uses all those hours to complete work, there’s still time for exercise, downtime, family time, and sleep. One of the benefits of budgeting time this way is that it makes free time feel more free. If students know they have set aside enough time to do school work, they are more likely to enjoy their downtime.
Once a student has identified available windows, I help them schedule their time by going through Canvas and identifying which assignments they will do during each session. Some students choose to write their schedule in a planner, others prefer to do it in a notebook or a Google Doc. Color coding the different classes, and including the time allotted by teachers, can help them create a realistic plan that’s easy to follow. I always encourage students to cross off assignments as they complete them because it releases dopamine and helps to develop an internal sense of motivation.
One way you can support your child at home is by providing an external structure that matches their work schedule. If you know your child is planning to work in the afternoon, you could check in with them at the appointed time and help them transition into school mode by going over their plan, providing a snack, or inviting them to work near you. Many adolescents will balk at these strategies, but you can talk to your student about what would work best for them. If your student resists your offers outright (which is the more likely scenario), you can offer a trial period of independence and see how they do with it. Sometimes the opportunity to prove their abilities to you and to themselves is the nudge they need to take their independent learning skills to the next level.
If you’re not with your child during the day, you could send a text or set up a FaceTime to check in with them. You could also ask to see the list of assignments before and after the session to help them reflect on how the session went and whether their plans were realistic. There are many tools and apps available to support students as they work at home: timers, scheduling apps, website blockers, focus apps, etc. I have shared many of these tools on “The Skills Channel” (available in Canvas), and I recommend that you direct your student to these videos if they could use more guidance.
I will be highlighting these tools and other strategies in the Snapshot over the winter term, so please check back for more ideas in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I am available to answer questions and support you as you help your child develop these important skills at home.
-Apple Gifford, SBS Academic Center Director