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What to Do? Twice-Exceptional Students and Distance Learning

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

We’re excited to launch our “Teaching 2e: Supporting 2e Distance Learners” blog series with tips and perspectives on how to successfully work with 2e learners during the Covid-19 pandemic. Are you a teacher? Then this series is chock full of practical ideas. Are you a parent? Review the series for yourself, since you’re likely to be more involved in your child’s education than ever; then, send the link to your child’s teachers! And, check out our downloadable 1-pager with even more tips and tools:

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What to Do? Twice-Exceptional Students and Distance Learning

Every parent, student, and educator’s life was thrown into disarray with the Covid-19 pandemic. And it appears that we’ll all be on this rollercoaster ride for the foreseeable future. Given that, how do we make the most of the situation?

We conducted a focus group with a dozen parents of twice-exceptional learners to identify what has and hasn’t worked about distance learning in the Covid-19 era. And then we aligned their feedback to our “Top Tips for 2e Learners” that we present in our popular “Intro to the 2e Learner” workshops.

Let 2e Students’ Strengths Shine.

“My child wasn't taxed by school rule compliance or social demands and had time and energy to pursue his interests.”

“He struggles with writing so I found some Pokemon writing sheets that were appealing to him and allowed him to practice his writing.”

2e children often have deep passions and will go to great lengths to learn all they can about a special interest. Leverage the benefits of distance learning and student interests to help children grow in these uncertain times. First, connect with students and their parents to identify strengths and interests; consider starting the year by having every parent/child team fill out an interests and strengths profile questionnaire. Then, build on students’ strengths and weave in their interests to unlock their potential. Doing so may be easier than ever when children are learning remotely, because assignments can be individualized without taking the entire class off-track.

Be Curious and Empathetic.

“Live zoom calls were disastrous. He was overwhelmed and ended up curled up in bed keening for an hour after group classes where there was a lot of switching between people.”

“Structured online discussions meant he could communicate his ideas after having the time to deliberate (to compensate for slow processing speed), and get his thoughts out uninterrupted (to accommodate speech fluency challenge).”

Some 2e children love learning remotely. Others really struggle. There is always a logic to frustrating behaviors, so be curious about how new learning environments may be impacting students. Don’t hesitate to reach out to parents and students to learn what’s behind any unusual or difficult behaviors. Or before school starts, ask parents and students what did and didn’t work about distance learning in the past. Keep in mind what Ross Greene says, “Kids do well if they can.” Get proximal to the children’s experiences to understand how to support and teach them in these unusual times.

Adjust Level to Asynchronous Development.

“Written instructions and content materials meant he could go at his own pace, reread stuff he didn't get the first time, and skip through stuff he knew already.”

“Office hours allowed the teachers to check in with my son and meet him where he was at.”

2e children don’t master every subject at the same level or pace. Their emotional maturity often lags their academic ability. With worldwide upheaval, some are regressing in their social and emotional needs; they suffer from the lack of structure and interaction that school provides to their fledgling executive function and social skills. Others have more time now to focus on high-interest subjects, and are thrilled to devote more energy to their passions, so may move ahead more quickly in learning than expected. Ride the wave with them and know that, if you show them you care, they will trust you all the more.

Collaborate with Their Team.

“Having the kids at home helped a lot of us gain better insight into what our kids' experiences have been like.”

“I could see where my child struggled, support him, and learn tricks for next year's teachers.”

Now more than ever, lean into the parent/teacher relationship. Because teachers won’t have in-person interactions to get to know their students, such as those informal chats that help them understand their strengths and interests, it’s important to build a strong partnership between school and home. Parents have increased exposure to how their children learn and can see firsthand what is and isn’t working, in particular with remote learning. Establish and maintain regular contact with parents through parent meetings (small groups or even one on one), parent surveys and polls, and email. And, because you’re not able to connect as much in-person with school psychologists, counselors, and behaviorists, keep them engaged with your 2e students. It takes a team, and no one should feel alone in their work with 2e students.

Adopt Flexible Approaches.

“Kids typically can get more done at school under the guidance of a teacher than on their own at home. And the pandemic created anxiety for everyone so kids weren't able to perform at their highest capacity - they were processing so many other feelings and emotions as their regular routines were blown up.”

“We could spend more time learning in the way that best suited my child and skip over things that were too easy.”

“Zoom meetings just aren't designed for kids who need to move around while listening.”

Provide flexibility in how your students show mastery of learning. We are all experiencing more anxiety than usual, and this is even more true with 2e students. Everyone is learning how to do remote learning somewhat “on the fly” and adjustments may be needed to the workload along the way. With students working more independently, it’s easier to adjust assignments to each child’s learning, social, and emotional needs. Remove the pressure for students to perform in only one way by giving options for students to share their knowledge and growth; for example, let children choose between writing a paper, creating a movie, presenting a slideshow, or making art to show what they know. And, consider flexibility within instruction as well, such as allowing students to turn off their camera if they need to move around; with remote learning, it’s much less disruptive to an entire class meeting if a child needs to pace than it would be in a regular classroom. Plus, some students are distracted by or experience visual overwhelm with their own cameras, and it helps if they don’t have to see themselves. It’s okay to be flexible in helping be sure students are able to participate in a way that is meaningful for them.

Teachers, You Matter!

Teachers make a huge difference in the lives of their students. You don’t just teach students content - you connect to the broader world and serve as a role model for getting through the ups and downs of daily life. We’re all under stress, and perhaps none as much as you, our teachers. The more we all model and adopt strategies to stay calm, be present, and reflect on what is within our control, the better we teach our students how to work through adversity with compassion and respect for ourselves and one another.

P.S. Special thanks to the REEL parents who contributed their time and insights to help create bridges between themselves and teachers in support of 2e learners everywhere. And to the teachers who give so much of themselves in service of their students.

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