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3 tips for teaching special education online

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The rapid switch to remote learning this spring was a baptism-by-fire experience for our school district. We had to ramp up and get comfortable with technology seemingly overnight. It was pretty intense; teachers had to learn how to be “actors” on screen, with the right scripts, appearance, character, and delivery. 

Checking off learning boxes for special education students is challenging in the physical learning environment, where there’s a classroom. It gets even more difficult in the online-learning space. Getting students to attend class is an effort in and of itself. It’s even more unpredictable online because teachers don’t always know what students are doing while they’re at home.

Here are three strategies we are using to keep our special-education students on track, engaged and moving forward in this new virtual education norm.

Give Teachers a Single Platform

Special-education teachers need to know how to aggregate learning materials in one easily accessible, centralized location. They don't want -- or have time to -- reinvent the wheel. To help, we pointed them in the direction of Google Classroom, where they have learning information and resources to work with, and the ability to add their own content as needed.  

Maintain a Predictable Schedule

We worked with our parents to create a climate -- or “mindset” -- for going to school. We used Google Classroom to list the students’ responsibilities. We advocated for keeping a regular schedule of waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast and “going” to school. 

This has worked out well in terms of keeping our special-education students on task and progressing. They just can’t roll out of bed at 1 p.m. because they have a meetup at 1:30 p.m.. They should be up at 8 a.m. just like they would be on a typical school day.

Empower Parents With Curriculum and Tools 

Thanks to the shift over to remote learning, more parents are getting a firsthand look at the strong curriculum and technology tools that our district uses in its special-education program. They now understand the value of these resources for their children’s learning. 

For example, parents are working with their children in Lexia Core5 Reading and Lexia PowerUp Literacy. The platform helps students improve reading skills, word study, grammar comprehension and vocabulary. It includes data that shows gains, units completed and areas that need more support. Tools like this have helped parents keep up with -- and take a more proactive role in -- their child’s progress.

Express Our Appreciation for Teachers

Thanks to the shift over to remote learning, more parents are getting a firsthand look at the curriculum and technology tools that our district uses in its special-education program. They now understand the value of these resources for their children’s learning. 

One tool we use is Lexia Core5 Reading and Lexia PowerUp Literacy. Parents are working with their children in the platform, which is designed to build reading skills, word study, grammar comprehension and vocabulary. It includes data that shows gains, units completed and areas that need more support. Tools like this have helped parents keep up with -- and take a more proactive role in -- their child’s progress.

Remote instruction is not ideal for students in special-education programs. But it can work. With the right tools and support from teachers and parents, students can learn, grow, engage and achieve. 

Lee-Ann Mertzlufft is district assistive technology specialist at the City School District of Albany in New York. 

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