A director discusses tutoring under lockdown in an article published in nasen Connect magazine Sep 20.
Director John Salmon, M. Ed, examines how tutoring evolved during lockdown and how tutees responded.
nasen Connect magazine (Sep 20)
Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective
Unlike schools, tutoring agencies arguably experience closer contact with the everyday reality of many households as they directly partake in both the academic and emotional vicissitudes of families. Our first-hand knowledge has shown that adapting to online schooling has been an onerous challenge for families (as well as schools), but at the same time it has offered a more personalised learning opportunity for many
students, especially those with SEN.
As a tutoring agency that supports many students with SEN, we have naturally been concerned about the emotional and academic impact of lockdown. Lately, we have received a number of calls for help from concerned parents, which shared a common pattern: their child had lost interest in writing, reading and numeracy and no longer tried to fulfil school expectations. Parents reported unattainable assignments
amidst mounting levels of frustration, anxiety and disengagement. The lack of structure left children fending for themselves, with minimal assistance, save for that provided by their parents – who cannot be expected to play the role of trained teachers. Traditionally, our agency had focused on in-person tuition, so we had to transition to online tutoring to adapt to the lockdown.
For some, the physical presence of a facilitator was necessary, but many tutees with SEN embraced online sessions and realised that, with the right guidance and nurturing support, much could be gained. Far from being emotionally affected by the lack of traditional schooling, many felt perfectly at home (no pun intended) with the new situation, as social interaction at school was often a cause of anxiety.
One such case was a Year 7 tutee with ADHD, who was not affected by feelings of isolation, but by lack of motivation when faced with the sudden prospect of doing all his work without the solid support system provided by school. Worse still, he was being asked to complete assignments using the very electronic devices that distracted him in the first place. Overstimulation led to distraction, which in turn led to frustration and eventually refusal to work.
Our adaptation to remote learning with him proved to be fruitful. First and foremost, as a student with ADHD he was less prone to distractions at home, as opposed to the myriad of stimuli in a school setting. Restricted internet access was necessary, but technology allowed for better differentiation, by addressing individual learning events; one specific topic could be delivered in multiple ways and be adapted to his unique style. Thus, a multimedia history session could include videos, downloadable materials, audio and interactive games. He was also able to work at his own pace, being free to view lessons and materials at his convenience, allowing for maximum flexibility. Since deadlines were relaxed, he had extra time to complete tasks. Additionally, his workspace was adapted to suit his preferences, creating an environment conducive to learning.
He liked technology because he found it more impersonal and nonthreatening. There were no peers there to judge him, no teachers there to pressure him with impending deadlines. He dreaded the idea of completing mammoth projects under severe time constraints, but smaller chunks no longer seemed insurmountable. His innate curiosity for technology developed into a learning opportunity, as he experimented with the different features in PowerPoint, Word or Google Drive, mastering the subject matter in the process. He learned to be less dependent on text-based learning when using audio books and videos online and felt at ease with no one watching over his shoulder.
A way forward
This experience has taught us that the value of direct support from well-qualified teachers is irreplaceable. But we also know that online learning is here to stay, not only for children who are home schooled full time, but also as an integral part of school life.
The technology industry takes giant leaps much faster than most industries, to the point where it permeates all human activity, including education. Lockdown prompted an impromptu trial for teachers, tutors, parents and students and learning from this can surely guide us when moving forward, but not by simply replicating lessons in the shape of online lessons, with ensuing workloads that must be completed by students autonomously. When managed appropriately and combined with optimal support in the hands of capable, well-trained instructors, applying technology in a student-centred learning environment can bring forth a wealth of benefits, including for those with SEN, as it provides the flexibility and sense of ownership that can be lacking in traditional classrooms. However, a balance must be struck between digital and screen-free activities and independent and teacher led activities.
With the right support, combining pedagogical and technological expertise, students with SEN can meet learning targets in nonthreatening, customised environments.
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