How We Helped Our 2e Son Succeed With Virtual Learning

Nicole Mastropietro

When I first realized my kids would be distance learning, I was interested in seeing how their two schools would handle it. My 7th grade neuro-typical daughter goes to our local public middle school. My 2e 5th grade son attends a private school for kids with learning differences.

Within a few short days, the administration and teachers at my son’s school decided to teach lessons via Zoom. With a small student population of 6 students per class, it seemed like a perfectly viable option. And I was thrilled. While my other friends were struggling to help their children learn via emails and PowerPoint presentations, I was excited my 2e son would see his teachers and classmates and learn from them every day.   

At his school, remote learning was held 8:30 a.m.-12:20 p.m. each day. Classes lasted 30 minutes, with 10 minute breaks in between. If a student was ill and missed class, classes were recorded and posted for later study. It sounded like a good plan, but pretty soon we hit some bumps in the road.

Here’s how things progressed:

Day 1: The first day went beautifully. But, I knew I would have to keep an eye on my son during at-home class time to make sure he didn’t act silly and would pay attention and do work. So, I moved my own desk and computer from my office into a common area, where I could see him from many different rooms. At the end of it, he was happy and I was relieved to see the day go smoothly. I was already contemplating moving the computer and desk back into my office so he could have more privacy during school. 

Days 2-5: Things began to go downhill for my son. He began to pick up on all the fun things Zoom offered while class was in session:  changing his displayed name to something funny, changing the background so he seemed to be learning in outer space, or making his video appear upside down. I would hear the teacher asking him to stop and I would try to help her out to keep him focused and prevent him from taking away from class time.

My husband and I took turns with him, sitting somewhere nearby, to redirect him back to his classes when we could hear or see things going awry. The worst day came when my son and I both ended up in tears. He wasn’t listening, his teachers couldn’t teach, I was trying to force him into it and to behave--difficult things to do with a neuro-typical child, but nearly impossible with a 2e child. 

Day 6: Our new plan—Working in partnership with my son’s teachers, we developed a new plan: He would sit in live for the first class (“specials” such as art, physical education, or music) and the second class (math), which he usually got through easily. The teacher then recorded the rest of the classes on Zoom. At 1 p.m. when the recorded classes were posted online, I would sit with him and watch the classes and apply the lesson the best way possible. 

Daily Schedules

Original Schedule

8:30-12:30 in virtual classes (4  hours)

8:30-9:00 am    Special (Music, Art, PE)

9:00-9:10  Break

9:10-9:40   Math

9:40-9:50  Break

9:50-10:20  Science

10:20- 10:30  Break

10:30-11:00  Language Arts

11:-11:10  Break

11:10-11:40  Social Studies

11:40- 11:50  PE

11:50-12:00 pm  Break

12-12:30  Community Meeting

New Schedule

8:30-9:40 am in virtual classes alone; 1-2:30 pm reviewing virtual lessons with parent (70 minutes virtual classes; 90 minutes with parent)

8:30-9:00 am  Specials (Classes he can sit easily for)

9:00-9:10  Break

9:10-9:40  Math (This is his strong suit, so he is engaged)

9:40-1:00 pm  Free time and lunch

1:00-2:30  View previously recorded virtual classes (Science, Social Studies, Language Arts) with a parent

This worked much better, for many reasons:

  • My son no longer has to sit still at the computer for 4 hours. We can now advance through the recorded lessons more quickly; we can tweak lessons to suit his interests. 
  • We can explore areas of interest in a deeper way. In Social Studies, he is learning about the Crusades, so I found some animated, funny videos that appeal to his sense of humor.
  • In Language Arts, we take turns reading to one another, instead of different students reading (we could fast forward through those). We discuss interesting things as we go along. Again, all tailored toward what we know will hook him. 
  • We cut his total computer time by 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Ways to Support 2e Children During Remote Learning

Here are my suggestions for parents and educators who are trying to implement distance learning with 2e learners:

  • Sit live for classes that hold their interest.
  • Ask the teacher to record the remaining online classes for future playback.
  • Review recorded classes with your child; fast forward through unnecessary instruction/ things they already know.
  • When possible, search for and share high interest, additional resources for enrichment or further explanation.
  • Be sure to play to your child's strengths and interests.
  • Request options for independent projects.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, upon reflection, some of the strategies we implemented are the same strategies recommended by experts when working with 2e children in face-to-face classroom experiences: lead with the student’s strengths, use appropriate curriculum entry points, modify the learning environment to minimize distractions, pace lessons to align with student’s abilities, integrate movement (longer breaks), and partner with school to find alternative solutions.1

By modifying his remote learning experience, our son was much happier and did not feel guilty for all the things we were previously upset with him for that he was unable to succeed at (e.g., focus, silliness). And, while 90 minutes for the parent-led sessions takes a big chunk out of my own day, I know that if I dedicate that time to him, I can be more productive the rest of the day.

And we know that we’ve provided him with what he needs and can handle, even if it doesn’t look like regular school or remote learning for most kids. 

Nicole Mastropietro is mom to two middle school children, one of whom is twice-exceptional, and is stepmom to a 21-year-old. She lives in Carmel, IN.  

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of NAGC