Supporting Advanced Learners: New Roles for Parent Advocates During Times of Remote Learning

Patricia Steinmeyer

For advanced learners, remote learning provides a wealth of online and hands-on opportunities for interest-based projects, individualized instruction, and enrichment. Freedom from the school schedule also provides flexibility for children to work at their own pace and take time to explore topics of personal interest. However, remote learning also presents challenges, such as limiting a teacher's ability to interact in person, observe students, monitor each child's motivation level, and note student learning pace and work completion in "real time."

The best outcomes for children happen when educators and parents work together to embrace opportunities and address challenges for meeting advanced learning needs. During these days of remote learning, parents can take the time to observe and record evidence related to their children’s at-home learning experiences and/or advanced coursework. When students return to school, this information may be helpful in identifying learning needs or informing advanced program placement decisions. Parents can also help their children make the most of their time at home for exploration and growth. These following six suggestions highlight new roles for parent advocates during times of remote learning:

1.  Be a "remote classroom" observer. Collect and share observations of your child's experience with your child’s teacher to assist with identifying your child’s learning needs. The following questions provide a guide.

  • Does your child show more sustained attention/interest in certain subjects?
  • Are there activities that your child is especially motivated to complete (e.g., problem-solving, writing projects, videos)?
  • What teacher-assigned challenge/enrichment activities engage your child?
  • Are there activities that your child tends to finish quickly and/or appears to have already mastered?
  • In what subjects does your child struggle or show frustration?
  • Are there patterns that you observe (e.g. times of day, surroundings) in which your child seems more engaged in learning?
  • How does your child respond when challenged? (e.g. Does your child ask questions or try multiple strategies to find a solution? Does your child tend to avoid difficult or unfamiliar learning tasks?)

2.  Keep records. If your child completes learning activities at home or online, such as advanced coursework, record the programs used and keep any skill mastery reports provided by the program. These records may help your child’s teacher with respect to the following:

  • Determining whether additional assessments may be appropriate to indicate your child’s readiness for an accelerated or differentiated learning program.
  • Identifying potential areas of strength and/or gaps in learning.
  • Avoiding unnecessary overlap and/or repetition with school and home-based activities.

3.  Let go of “gifted” labels. Rather, advocate for instruction that matches your child's learning needs. When advocating for the best fitting school programming to meet your child’s needs, be mindful of the following challenges:

  • Advanced or enriched activities that your child completes at home may not match skills and understandings that are addressed in advanced programming at school.
  • Acceleration may be appropriate for advanced learning in some areas, but not others.
  • Regardless of academic placement, celebrating your child’s effort, learning, and incremental progress supports development of a positive, growth mindset.
  • Your child’s access to, skill for using, or preference for technology may create additional learning challenges that need to be addressed.
  • Schools may need to adjust advanced learning programs, assessment, and/or placement protocol in light of remote learning. Parent advocates should stay informed about changes that may impact their child.

4.  Maximize “stay-at-home” time. Help your child to take advantage of online and offline opportunities to grow and enjoy life.

  • Reserve time for your child to step away from the computer for other activities -- to build, cook, read, exercise, write, play, and create/invent using materials and resources that are available at home.
  • Support learning in a real life context. For example, if there is a subject or issue about which your child is passionate, supervise and help your child to express his/her views or seek information by writing to government leaders or experts in the field.
  • Spark curiosity by challenging your child to create a list of his or her own questions to explore.

5.  Support self-advocacy skills. Communication skills and the ability to seek help when needed are keys to success in academically rigorous learning environments and beyond.When school-related challenges arise, remote learning provides fertile soil to help empower your child.

  • Help your child create a list of helpful references for each subject (e.g. books, websites). Make an "action plan" for when difficulties arise and help is not immediately available. For example, try the problem for 5-10 minutes, then write a question to submit to the teacher. Set work aside and complete another activity until help is available or the problem can be revisited.
  • If your child reports that he/she is not feeling challenged by school activities, encourage your child to be specific. Assist your child with reaching out to the teacher in a positive way through email or a scheduled online meeting to address concerns.

6.  Help your child to set goals and reflect. Student goal-setting, reflection, and tracking of progress are effective ways to support academic growth and independence. Encourage your child to take ownership of learning.

  • Schedule time to set appropriate daily/weekly learning goals and reflect on progress together.
  • Help your child to create a daily schedule including school, break, play, and chore time. 
  • Encourage your child to keep a portfolio of work and projects about which your child is most proud during remote learning.
  • Challenge your child to keep a learning journal and to share it with you periodically (e.g. once per week). Daily reflection prompts may include:
    • What challenged me in my learning today?
    • What is a question that I have about what I learned?
    • What activity did I enjoy the most today?
    • One thing that I might do differently next time is ___.  Next time I will try ___.
    • What was the thing I learned today that was most meaningful to me?

By taking on new roles as advocates during remote learning, parents can help their children when they return to school and nurture skills to help their children navigate future pathways on their learning journeys – pathways not as “remote” as they may seem.

About the author: Patricia Steinmeyer is an educational consultant and the Executive Director for the Illinois Association for Gifted Children. She has served children for over 14 years as a teacher, gifted coordinator, presenter, and an assistant principal. Her blog, P.S. Learns: Journeys in Education, explores a variety of topics related to teaching, educational leadership, and gifted education. Ms. Steinmeyer holds a B.A. from Yale University, an M.A.T. and an Ed.S. from National-Louis University, and a J.D. from The University of Chicago Law School.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of NAGC.