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Helping Your Child Gain Independence while Learning Remotely

One of my favourite lines about child development comes from Dr. Alex Russell, a psychologist who specializes in supporting families and educators. He says — and I’m paraphrasing slightly — children need a healthy dose of “non-catastrophic, painful failure.” Now, I should note that the last few times I attended a speaking function where he shared this great line was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so things, I’m sure, have changed quite a bit. But, with Dr. Russell returning to present to the Bialik community this Thursday and our school’s latest rapid transition to remote learning, I continue to feel that Dr. Russell’s sentiments remain true even in these strange and unusual circumstances. Whether at home or at school, our students still deserve the opportunity to struggle, fail and thrive in a safe environment.

Ongoing formative assessment is an integral part of our program at Bialik. Teachers are constantly carrying out brief assessments to obtain feedback on their instruction and their students’ learning progress. These assessments are integral to early literacy and operational sense: reading, spelling, writing, adding, subtracting etc. You might even see some of these assessments in action over the coming weeks, for example as our primary students read in small groups or complete math problems using a number line. These activities help provide our teachers with a clearer picture of your child’s progress and present understanding, and allow them to adjust their instruction to further meet the students’ needs. 

During online learning, this process becomes even more essential as it’s difficult, and not ideal, for teachers to use observational assessment over Zoom. Teachers are aware that while children are working, parents might be tempted to guide them through some of the challenging questions, such as spelling a new vocabulary word, sounding out a multisyllable word while reading or correcting subtraction errors. My advice to parents: don’t! 

Not only does this provide our teachers with inaccurate data for planning and assessment purposes, but it robs your child of the opportunity to make mistakes, learn that doing so is perfectly okay, and perhaps most importantly, learn from those mistakes and develop the reading, writing, spelling or math skills that will make them more successful and independent learners in the future.

What can parents do?

  • Gradually release responsibility with daily routines. Work with your child to establish a daily remote learning routine to help them gradually develop independence. Connecting to Seesaw or Google Classroom, organizing their space and collecting the requisite materials for the day are all steps that will require your support at first. As your child builds routines, slowly step back and give them more of the responsibility.
  • Be the emergency “unstucker.” Sometimes, during learning, all of the scaffolding and independence in the world can still lead to a child getting stuck. Whether it’s difficulty with instructions or a concept that is just too complex, not having a mindful teacher scanning the room can mean that a child really can’t progress without some support. On these rather rare occasions, this is when jumping in to clarify instructions or re-explain a complex concept is needed. Once they are “unstuck,” let them keep progressing on their own.
  • Talk behind your child’s back. This is another Alex Russell adage: the caring adults in a child’s life are certainly permitted to share feedback and plan for ways to support a struggling student. This is particularly true with older students as they seek independence and might be hesitant to “allow” parents to intervene. If your child is having a hard time during remote learning, it’s crucial to email their teacher and let them know what’s happening at home — they will need this input to make the right plan to help your child.

As of writing, we’re embarking on the second week of our school-wide Remote Learning Program. We all learned from the experiences of teaching remotely in the spring of 2020. While Bialik teachers continue to improve on an already exceptional program, one thing that won’t change is their commitment to providing your children with the best — remote — Jewish education possible. 

Here’s hoping for a short, but meaningful, time online.

Blake Enzel
Associate Director of General Studies