Special education teachers find providing instruction through remote learning especially challenging. From establishing a routine to meeting social-emotional needs, to engaging students through their individualized learning modalities, there are several supports that special educators find difficult to duplicate in a remote learning environment.
Many special education students who require hands-on learning, when denied in-person school interactions, can very quickly lose concepts and routines that take months or even years to learn. Regressing and losing skills they fought hard to obtain perpetuates the ever-deepening gulf between general education and special education.
What can special education teachers and parents do to arrest this decline and turn the tide for these children?
While all children need structure and consistent routines, children with special needs require them even more. This is why fundamental changes as are being experienced in our current pandemic can be especially difficult to navigate.
K-12 special educator Success In Special Ed encourages the parents of students, especially those in lower elementary, to establish a daily schedule for their children learning at home.
“The uncertainty and confusing nature of ‘learning’ while at home may be difficult for students to grasp,” she says. “Setting them up with a schedule, similar to what they use at school, may help them to feel more comfortable with at-home learning.”
Remember that creating the child’s schedule must be a coordinated effort between the special education staff, the student, and the family. Everyone needs to share what works in their domain, the parents what works at home, the teacher what works at school, and then work this out with the student. After soliciting everyone’s input, let the case manager create the initial schedule and see how it goes.
Christine Reeve at Autism Classroom Resources inspires teachers to encourage families to explore how they can use the materials within their homes to help their children with language enrichment. “Going on scavenger hunts around the house and outside to find specific items and talking about them can be a good way to work on building everyday vocabulary,” she says.
“If you are doing distance learning with video chats, you could have the student work with the parent to find the items and then talk about them in the video chat (or use visual supports for students to answer questions about them). This models for the parent how to enrich the students’ language skills, while also allowing you to assess the student’s performance.”
Children with special needs tend to respond well to interactive learning. Many teachers are looking for digital activities that include manipulative pieces which students can move using devices. A great place to look is resources made for Google Apps™ to find interactive lessons that use Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, or Forms.
To assist these children in navigating digital resources, Noodle Nook suggests teachers make a Google Drive folder for each child and share a link to that folder with either the student’s parent or caregiver. Afterward, you can add interactive resources to each student’s file folder to keep focused on specific IEP goals.
When teaching remotely, special education curriculum developer Susan Traugh suggests that educators keep the social-emotional needs of their students as a high priority in conjunction with their academic needs. “Students cannot learn if they’re so stressed with world events that it’s all they can think about. And feeling powerless in the face of overwhelming information can lead to mental paralysis,” she says.
“By acknowledging their very real fears and providing them with the tools to deal with those fears, we can free our students from panic and allow them to address the important skills necessary to continue their education remotely.”
Many special education teachers have admitted that, while they have made meaningful connections with most of their students in one way or another, this is not the case regarding their families. They hardly ever see a parent outside of an IEP meeting or conference.
But this can change. Understanding that families and caregivers are the gatekeepers of their children’s at-home learning and an integral part of the remote special education team, supporting and empowering them will initiate a trickle-down effect for students. Try inviting them to join you at the beginning and/or end of each session to build rapport, demonstrate techniques, and collaborate on homework assignments.
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