According to QS in their article What Support Should Universities Provide to Students with Specific Learning Difficulties, a specific learning difficulty is defined as a condition that makes it harder for someone to perform learning-related skills such as reading, writing, concentration, time management, and abstract reasoning.
Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) provides aid for students with learning difficulties and ensures accessibility to learning tools through extra mentoring and overall support. However, during this period of confinement due to the COVID-19 virus, many students other than those with learning difficulties will also find it harder to perform learning-related tasks in an online class – experiencing anxiety, lapses in memory, and having difficulty focusing on university assignments. In such cases, the lessons learned assisting students with traditional learning difficulties can be applied across a broader spectrum of students to help them achieve their full potential. The simple tips below serve as a reminder on how we can reach our learning outcomes even in lockdown.
Tips for Assessment
1. Students may fare better if the assignment or the research paper is cut into sections, with separate due dates. For example, outline and list of resources due Monday, Section 1 Wednesday, etc. Feedback on the sections, however brief, can help the student modify the rest of the work. Safe Assign allows this very efficiently.
2. Offer to look over a draft of a student assignment before you give the final grade. Make sure the student has the grading criteria in advance. You can then say that: content is complete, format needs to be revised according to our guidelines on Black Board and the English is in need of review.
3. Give feedback to the assignments and assessment promptly.
4. Review your assignment and quiz directions to make sure they are very clear. This is the hard part. Instead of “discuss remote teaching in a short paragraph”, the following will lead to fewer questions on the part of the student: “In a paragraph of no more than 15 sentences, present three reasons you believe that remote learning is advantageous for students even during a normal academic year”.
5. Offer students with sight difficulties the option of writing their assignments by hand, taking a picture of the assignment and sending it to you over WhatsApp. Students with sight difficulties may also wish to hand in their assignments orally. Students who have hearing difficulties may want to write their work and send it in as attachments rather than participating in live sessions.
6. Be flexible with deadlines. Anxiety may make students unable to finish their assignments as early as they would wish or you would wish. They may have multiple assignments due on the same day. This is a time for encouragement. Remind them that the more they keep up with deadlines, the earlier they will finish their requirements. Send them their previous grades showing that they have accomplished a lot already. Encourage them to keep up the good work. For example: One of my students wrote to me saying he was worried he wouldn’t be able to complete my coursework the due to his senior project for FAAD. I wrote back and commended him for already completing 8 of their 10 assignments. I asked him to finish the next two, which look at before our formal due dates and before his senior project was due.
7. Send students frequent reminders of work that has been completed and what work is left. Congratulate them on doing a good job.
Tips for Teaching
1. Send out a brief outline of the session you are going to teach, or post the questions on readings on Black Board ahead of the Skype for Business or Zoom session and tell students that the class will be organized according to those questions. At the end of the session, ask students if all the questions have been answered. If anyone has any further questions, they should write them to you so that you may cover them at the beginning of the next session.
2. Plan your sessions with ample time to repeat the main ideas you are planning to cover. Students may have lost connectivity, or without the face to face interaction, may have problems in understanding. You may ask one student to summarize one main idea and ask other students to add one new idea they have acquired. At the end of the 2 minutes, for example, summarize the students’ responses.
3. Give students sample answers to assignment questions. This will help them judge how long answers should be, whether they should be in complete sentences, or in bullet points and how thorough you want the answers to be.
4. Though frowned upon in the past, teachers now can benefit from being a member of the student WhatsApp group. With this practical tool, students can either send you a written question or a voice message which can clear up issues very quickly.
During times like these, it is important to remind ourselves, instructors and students alike, that staying safe and healthy has become our first priority. Keeping ourselves aware of how well we are doing and how much we are learning about remote teaching will reflect positively on our classroom success.
Dr. Carol Ann Goff-Kfouri
Professor of Education, Department of Psychology, Education, and Physical Education, Faculty of Humanities