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Why Students Are Struggling With Distance Learning

Hello, August! With school looming around the corner, many of us are thinking about another semester of distance learning, the fears associated with returning to the classroom, or the difficulty with managing schedules for both in a hybrid model.

Return to school plans are changing daily in an effort to keep everyone safe. But, it’s creating more stress and chaos!

Dealing with the unknown of what will happen this school year is stressful for parents, teachers, and students. In particular, parents of adolescents (ages 13-18) are concerned with the thought of starting another semester filled with endless hours of reminding their children when their classes are, keeping track of assignment due dates for them, and making sure they manage their time effectively. Teenagers crave their independence with their distance learning, yet it can be difficult for them to organize and manage their schoolwork and social calendars as well as they did before the pandemic.

So, why are adolescents struggling to stay focused and organized with distance learning?

1. Students are working in more distracting environments. Students are being asked to complete all their assignments in their own home with various distractions. Papers are all over their desk. Clothes are piled on the floor. Cell phones are lighting up with constant notifications. Netflix is paused and ready to watch when they sign off from their classroom video call. Effective and efficient learning is not possible when teenagers are struggling to set up their workspace.

2. Teenagers require consistent modeling from their teachers and peers to develop strong thinking skills. Before the pandemic, middle- and high-school students had many built-in supports to help them develop these mental skills and stay on track with their learning. Seeing friends write down important assignments or hand in projects reminded students of tasks they needed to complete. Walking by their math teacher in the hallway reminded them to study for their upcoming math test. Looking at the classroom walls triggered reminders of upcoming assignment due dates or clarifying questions to ask their teachers.

Now, without these built-in supports from a consistent classroom setting, students are required to rely on strong thinking skills to organize and manage their classes, assignments, and social activities. But…

3. The adolescent brain is still developing! The part of an adolescent’s brain that houses their executive function skills – their ability to stay focused, think flexibly, and control impulses – is not yet fully developed. In fact, this area of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex, does not fully develop until around age 25-30.

What if my child needs help to develop these strong thinking skills?

Enter executive function coaching.

Executive function coaching helps students learn and implement strategies to improve their ability to focus, think flexibly, and control their impulses. (Read more)

Without consistent, implicit learning in the classroom and built-in support from their peers, students require additional guidance and explicit instruction to nurture and develop their executive function skills.

Strengthening their thinking skills provides them with the strategies to better manage their time, stay focused and organized, and shift their thinking when plans change.

Instead of waiting for the schools to determine a plan (that may very well change again!), let’s find some structure in the chaos and start the school year off successfully.


Jenny Traver, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS

What are you waiting for? Email to learn how we can work together to strengthen your child’s thinking skills.


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