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Remedies for Reluctant Readers, Part II

When reading for pleasure is not an instinct, it can begin to feel like punishment for kids. This is not where we want to end up. It may not be possible to turn every anti-reader into a little bookworm, but there are plenty of strategies that parents and educators can use to help make the process less cringe-worthy. Additionally, some strategies, when put to regular use, can help students become stronger, more critical readers.

 

Movement breaks

Reading can seem like a rather dull activity, especially for little ones. This is understandable—as reading is a quiet, still, and often solitary task. But it doesn’t have to be. One regular strategy that elementary teachers utilize as a best practice is to incorporate movement breaks when students are expected to read for a length of time. Depending on the reader, a movement break might involve a trip to the water fountain or kitchen to get a drink of water after reading a chapter or section. For others it may involve jumping jacks, a quick dancing brain break, or squeezing a stress ball while reading. Some students also find it helpful to read at a standing desk, on a yoga or balance ball, or on a wobble stool to help engage the body and allow for some rhythmic movement while reading. The key is to allow and encourage reluctant readers to expel energy to keep their minds engaged and focused.

 

Preview for background info

For many students, the dislike of reading comes from the fact that it can be tedious and strenuous, especially for struggling readers. Therefore, offering various reading strategies to students can help ease the difficulty and, in effect, increase engagement. One of these strategies, especially for nonfiction or textbook reading assignments, is to preview the reading and search for background on the topic. 

 

Depending on the reading and the student, this practice will look different each time, but here are the basics:

  • Pay attention to the titles, subtitles, headings, captions, photos, bolded vocabulary terms, etc. Students can garner a great deal of what the text will involve by looking at the text features beforehand.
  • Skim sections of the text to ground their reading; this will help orient readers and allow them to plan ahead in terms of seeing how long the reading will be.
  • For terms or concepts that are totally unfamiliar, students should be encouraged to do a quick Google search to help ground their understanding of the term, concept, or event.
  • Jot down questions while previewing; this helps students begin to engage with the text and practice close reading and critical thinking. The goal is to then revisit and answer or follow up on those questions after reading. 

 

Highlight as you go

Along with previewing as a reading practice to boost engagement and comprehension, highlighting is a common tool for successful readers as well. This practice builds strong, active reading skills and helps visual learners at the same time. Students should be encouraged to mark areas of the text for any of the following purposes:

  • Highlight words or phrases that connect to vocabulary terms or important concepts from class; this visual helps to engrain definitions and understanding into working memory.
  • Highlight main points of a section, chapter, or column of text. This way, when students revisit the text, they are able to identify the key points immediately. 
  • Highlight areas of the text that they find confusing or have questions about. This will act as a visual cue to remind students to follow up with the teacher, do a little more research about the specific topic, ask follow-up questions, etc. 

Highlight answers to any of the questions that they asked themselves at the start of the reading; again, this is essentially the foundational skill for active, engaged reading.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part III

In addition to building strong relationships and maintaining consistency, students with autism who are struggling more than usual due to distance learning will also greatly benefit from specificity. Below are additional strategies that educators can use to help best support their students on the spectrum while we continue with virtual learning. 

 

Make everything as specific as possible 

When it comes to Zoom class sessions and online learning in general, teachers sometimes forget that students are not hanging on our every word like they would be more inclined to do in the physical classroom. Since Zoom meetings are often a passive form of learning—even when we try our hardest to keep it engaging—students, especially those with autism, are probably not absorbing every major point, example, instruction, etc. Because of this, students require significantly more repetition, clarification, and specificity to succeed with virtual learning. Teachers should consider taking the following steps to ensure that instruction, assignments, directions and tasks are as specific as possible:

  • When assigning reading homework, teachers should be careful to phrase the chapters and pages very specifically. For instance, when saying, “Please read chapters 1-3,” some students may interpret that to mean read up to chapter 3, not including it. Be sure to clarify specifically what page number students should stop reading for a particular assignment to avoid this miscommunication. 
  • As discussed in part two, naming or labeling assignments and resources consistently is key to streamlining materials for students. The same is true regarding specificity. Titling an assignment “Writing Homework #1” is too vague. This name does not help students to identify the details of the task when looking at Canvas. Remember, students have anywhere from 5-7 classes; therefore, specifically titling tasks in Canvas or other virtual portals will help trigger their memories and clarify the exact task that you are asking them to complete.
  • Provide specific times for assignment submission as well. Canvas allows you to just set a due date; however, some students may appreciate having a specific cut off time for submitting an assignment just to be sure. For example, I always set the time to 11:59pm whatever day the task is due. This way, students know that they always have that final full day to complete and submit without penalty. 
  • Consider providing students with a reference sheet that specifies what you mean when you say certain high-frequency, tier 2 and 3 vocabulary terms in class. Abstract words, such as analyze, evaluate, critique, and assess can cause stress and uncertainty for students with autism. Accompany these terms with specific examples and explanations so that students know exactly what is expected of them. This is a great practice for all students, especially when teachers are introducing key unit questions, objectives, and writing prompts. 

When providing written feedback, especially since virtual learning leaves less time for 1:1 conferences and writing workshops, it is especially helpful for teachers to use a higher level of specificity. If students are not able to directly connect a teacher’s feedback to an area of weakness and how they can strengthen that weakness in the next assignment, then the feedback is essentially worthless. One worthwhile activity to gauge whether or not your feedback is specific enough is to ask students to reflect on the feedback that they received on an essay or project. This ensures that 1) they have actually read the feedback, and 2) that they fully comprehended their errors and areas for improvement.

Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level, Part I

Social and emotional (SEL) skills involve more than just the concepts surrounding educational buzzwords like growth mindset, grit, and self-advocacy. SEL skills are being emphasized at an even greater extent now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person. Distance learning and virtual schooling have certainly created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. For this reason, SEL has become an even greater focus right now for school districts, parents, and educators. Besides providing resources for building SEL skills at home, it is equally important for families to be able to determine if children are reaching specific grade-level SEL standards.

 

Early Elementary Grades (K-3)

As expected, the SEL skills required for student success change or evolve as students progress through the grade levels. In elementary school, much of the SEL emphasis is on positive interactions with the world. Children are obviously highly dependent on adults during these years, yet they are beginning to enter their own social spheres with their peers as well.

  • Students should be able to recognize and articulate their feelings/emotions; they should be beginning to understand how feelings and reactions are connected to behaviors.
  • Students should be beginning to exhibit impulse control and regulating their emotions.
  • Early learners should be able to describe their preferences: What do they like/dislike? What are their strengths/weaknesses? 
  • They will begin to articulate personal opinions and needs.
  • Elementary schoolers should be able to identify when they need help and who is in a position to help them in certain situations, i.e., peers, family members, educators, etc.
  • Children should be able to roughly explain how learning is connected to personal growth and success.
  • Elementaryaged students should also be able to set personal goals regarding behavior and academics.
  • Students will be beginning to understand that other people have different perspectives or ways of looking at a situation; they’ll recognize that others may share the same experience, but have varying opinions and viewpoints at the same time.
  • Students will also be able to describe peoples’ similarities and differences.
  • Early learners should be able to actively listen to others’ viewpoints and recognize their feelings while listening.
  • Elementaryaged students should be able to recognize and describe positive traits in others; they’ll be able to give genuine compliments.
  • Students will begin to develop collaborative skills such as how to work/play with peers in constructive ways, how to solve and resolve problems and/or conflicts, and how to receive constructive criticism from others.
  • Young children should be able exhibit the ability to adapt to new or changing situations or environments. 
  • By the time children reach elementary school, they should be able to understand why hurting others is wrong, whether that be physical or emotional hurt.
  • Students should be starting to read social cues and adjust behavior accordingly.
  • Students should be exhibiting sound decision making and weighing right vs. wrong.
  • Elementary schoolers should be able to positively contribute to their classroom environment, including cleaning up after themselves and others, sharing, demonstrating kindness/understanding, and taking responsibility for themselves.

Transparency and Parent Communication

Schools being closed is certainly not ideal. However, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to look at the positive. It’s time to look for the silver linings in the Covid cloud we’ve been enduring for nearly a year now. One of those silver linings might actually involve the virtual learning model into which educators, students, and families have been unwillingly thrust. You see, online learning essentially lends itself to consistency, open communication, and transparency between parents and teachers. If utilized correctly, parents can use virtual learning platforms as a front row seat to everything that their child is reading, learning, and creating.

Invite Parents into the Virtual World
Whether teachers are using Canvas, Google Classroom, or any of the other instructional platforms available right now, parents should be encouraged to join as participants or viewers. Many schools made this information available at the start of the school year; however, not all parents were aware of the advantages that this form of “virtual classroom participation” would give them and their children. Educators should consider some of the following measures:

  • Send out a mass email to parents and guardians about joining the virtual classroom if anyone has yet to do so.
  • Be sure to make class codes, course numbers, and Zoom login information visible on your course home page; you can also include this information in the mass email to parents.
  • Post “parent-friendly” announcements to your course homepage to ensure that parents see these important notifications directly at the top when they login to check grades, review assignments, etc.
  • For students with chronic absenteeism, reach out to parents via email and/or phone about their child’s absences in case they are unaware of the missed classes.
  • Use the Canvas “grades” page to send mass emails to specific students and their “observers,” i.e. parents, when they have missed an important assignment deadline. This function allows teachers to email anyone who hasn’t submitted the assignment all at once without showing other recipients.
  • When interims or the end of the marking period is approaching, post a message to all students and “observers” about final steps and tasks for successfully rounding out the marking period.
  • Set up a parent page in Canvas for each course where parents can find important course information, class or weekly calendars, teacher contact info, Zoom logins, office hours, and FAQs.
  • Use Screencastify to create how-to tutorials for parents. These videos could include information on how to check grades, how to see if assignments have been submitted, how to view teacher feedback on written tasks, how to use Kami, etc.
  • Push out a parent survey using Google forms to obtain vital information about how e-learning is going at home. Ask questions like, How much hands-on homework support do you provide to your child on the average night? Does your child have access to his/her own computer for learning? Is there an older sibling or parent in the home during the average instructional day to provide tech support? Are there technology issues at home? Where does your child do most of his/her classwork? How many children are in the home participating in virtual learning at the same time? On average, how much sleep is your child getting on the typical school night? How much time is spent on homework over the weekend? What frustrations are you seeing with regard to virtual learning/instruction? Do you have easy access to your child’s grades, course materials, school resources, etc.? What steps could I take to provide more transparency/clarity to parents about our class? If your child needs more instructional support, do you know where/how to obtain those resources?
  • Finally, teachers should create engaging assignments that encourage discourse within the family. These family-centered prompts require students to bring their parents into the assignment for support and guidance, which allows parents to see firsthand what you’re teaching. For instance, ask students to interview a member of their household for a formative assessment on sentence structure. Have students write a personal essay about how they got their name, including direct quotes from their parents or guardians. Have students create a “family album” on Google slides including photos and fun facts about siblings, pets, parents, grandparents, etc.

Helping Students Combat Zoom Fatigue

Zoom fatigue is an unfortunate yet all too familiar side effect of our current educational circumstances. Depending on grade level, students are logged into a video conferencing platform for classes up to six hours a day. Yet those six hours of class are just the beginning. That time doesn’t account for the additional screen time necessary to complete homework assignments, read and respond to emails, and review online course content. 

 

It is no wonder that students are experiencing high levels of burnout and exhaustion these days. Even more concerning is the domino effect that Zoom fatigue may be havingschool districts across the nation are reporting troublesome spikes in spotty attendance, prolonged absences, disengagement, lack of communication, and, of course, a noticeable drop in grades. Virtual learning is our present reality, and we have yet to know what the foreseeable future of this school year will look like. However, there are ways in which parents and teachers can assist now with Zoom fatigue.

 

  • Teachers should deliberately frame the lesson, as they typically would in the brick-and-mortar setting, but consider adding time estimates for each task. Having an idea of how long each topic, assignment, or activity will take helps students establish expectations and prioritize their mental stamina.
  • Beginning with an engaging, yet relevant, icebreaker goes a long way with student buy-in from the get go. If possible, incorporate movement into the opener. For example, ask students to take 30 seconds to find an object around them that represents an important memory. This allows students to get up and move. It also builds classroom community and allows students to share out about a personal anecdote. 
  • Establish “No Screen” blocks of time throughout the day and stick to them. Meal times and times in between classes and office hours should be strictly considered “screen free” times. This is the same idea behind brain breaks and movement breaks, which allow for a necessary mental reset for young learners. Teachers have limited time with face-to-face online instruction; however, it is crucial that students are getting small breaks during those instructional hours as well. Something as brief as a 5minute gap of time for students to walk away from the computer, grab a snack, or stretch can revitalize heavy eyes and foggy minds.
  • Encourage students to utilize office hours efficiently to reduce screen time during those non-instructional days. Office hours are certainly necessary. However, teachers can help reduce screen use by streamlining the process for office hours. For instance, tell students to login with specific questions in mind relating to the assignment or project. Keep the office hour fluid, meaning that, once students have asked their questions or gotten clarification, remind them that it’s okay to exit the Zoom early. If they have a quick question, consider an email instead of waiting to login for office hours.
  • Incorporate prerecorded asynchronous videos, demonstrations, presentations, etc. Of course, students need live instruction, but breaking up the session with these components can greatly help with Zoom fatigue. Incorporating small asynchronous components can also help make the lesson move quicker since students are working at their own pace.
  • If teachers have finished the lesson with a few minutes in the session to spare, don’t fill that time with extra instruction or busy work. It is okay to end the session and give students a bit more of a break between classes. Of course, offer to stay on Zoom until time has expired in case anyone has a question, but often, students prefer to logout early as a nice little treat.

Close all other unnecessary tabs while in a Zoom class. This may seem obvious, but many students use Zoom classes for multitaskingmeaning that they have countless tabs open, documents and assignments for other classes underway, and a cell phone within reach. All of these things only work against their ability to focus, thus creating more fatigue. As difficult as it may be, remind children to stay engaged with the class and task at hand, i.e., no multitasking unless it is related to that class in particular. Put the cell phone away, as well, since this is just one more screen that’ll distract them during class.

Essential Building Blocks for Reading Comprehension, Part II

As mentioned in part one, much of the reason that young learners might struggle with reading comprehension is the fact that the process involves a compilation of other complex skills. Such foundational skills necessary for children to begin to master reading comprehension include: fluency, phonemic awareness, accessing prior knowledge/making connections, vocabulary, syntactical rules/conventions, working memory, and attentiveness. 

 

Vocabulary Strategies

  • Instruct children about specific vocabulary terms, but make sure that the new words are connected to something they are currently reading, seeing, hearing, or learning about. It is important to avoid teaching vocabulary “in a vacuum.” Vocabulary words taught at random or with little context or connectivity to prior knowledge is not likely to make it into a child’s lexicon.
  • Preteach new vocabulary terms by relating them to concepts and terms that your child already knows. Then, when she encounters the word in a text, she will have prior exposure to the word and some sense of understanding.
  • Utilize root word instruction and practices. This might include creating root word charts with examples, opposite T-charts, visual word tree trunks with various prefixes and suffixes. Practice making new or nonexistent words using roots as a silly way to grasp root word meanings.
  • Use synonyms casually when speaking to your child.
  • Create a word web wall and add to the web as you make connections between new words.
  • Emphasize context clues while reading aloud; model how to actively engage with new words by making comments like, “I wonder what this might mean in the sentence given the surrounding information…”

 

Syntax Rules and Conventions

  • Ask your child to rearrange the words in the sentence, but maintain the same meaning. For example, given the sentence “You can watch a show after you have finished your homework.” Your child should rephrase by saying something like, “You must finish your homework before you can watch a show.”
  • Demonstrate different ways in which sentences can be combined, separated, or punctuated. The key is to show them that, even with variations in sentence structure, the phrases mean the same thing.
  • Model the process of summarizing a short excerpt or sentence. Then explain how paraphrasing is slightly different. Practice this process aloud together.
  • Exaggerate the purpose of punctuation while reading aloud to emphasize each punctuation mark’s function. 
  • Provide examples of how punctuation can drastically change the underlying meaning of a sentence. One favorite example is, “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!”
  • Find fill-in-the-blank reading options, where children are provided with word banks or suggestions on each page, but must use the context of the story to correctly complete each missing word.

 

Working Memory and Attention Strategies

  • Purposefully chunk down larger sections of text while reading aloud. Then ask clarifying questions or practice summarizing the section before moving to the next passage or chunk.
  • Ask your child to make predictions while reading to practice recalling and utilizing details that have already been mentioned in the text.
  • Plan for engaging questions while reading. Parents should preview the text and think about ways in which to connect the details to other aspects of a child’s life. Ask critical thinking questions as well, such as, “Why do you think the character did that?” “What do you think she meant when she said…?” “How would you have reacted differently if you were in the story?”
  • Sketch a visual timeline of events while reading. This doesn’t have to be a detailed, moment-by-moment recollection; you can use bullet points on sticky notes, a small white board, or index cards with events 1-3 on them. Be sure to deliberately emphasize the use of transition words, especially when focusing on chronological summaries.
  • Listen to an audio version of the text while following along with the physical book.
  • When reading together, once you reach the bottom of a page, ask your child which detail stands out to her the most. If she’s unable to recall a significant detail, encourage rereading.
  • Remove all distractions while reading, including background noise, cell phones/screens, etc. You can also find texts with larger print, reduced text per page, and print with extra space between paragraphs to help children visually focus on one aspect of the text at a time.

Signs of Dyslexia by Grade Level

According to the International Dyslexia Association, anywhere from 15-20% of the world’s population has a reading disability marked by symptoms of or relating to dyslexia. Since it is a language-based learning disability, dyslexia can impact a child’s reading, writing, and speech in various ways. While the symptoms and signs are vastly different from one learner to another, there are age or grade-specific indicators that parents can make note of for future discussions with doctors, special educators and specialists, if necessary. These are by no means tell-tale signs that your child has a learning disability; however, they could be reason enough to seek an evaluation by a professional.

 

Pre-K

Before kindergarten, many children are just beginning to explore language in all forms. With that exploration comes inevitable blundersyoung learners will mispronounce and misspell words quite frequentlybut this is no cause for concern. Instead, early signs of dyslexia in toddlers and preschoolers are often of the auditory form, meaning that parents will hear these subtle issues before they’ll see it. Listen for the following:

  • Children may tell a story out of order or even retell a story or scenario that does not fit a chronological sequence.
  • They may also lack transition words or phrases, such as first, then, after, later, last, etc.,  when telling a story.
  • Children with early signs of dyslexia may begin speaking noticeably later than their peers. They may speak only in certain situations when prompted and/or only when they feel comfortable.
  • They may forget common words for everyday items or concepts.
  • They may be unable to grasp simple rhyming concepts, even with single syllables, such as dime, time, lime, crime, etc.
  • They may orally mix up syllables for common or everyday words. For instance, they may say “listpick” instead of “lipstick” or “caxi tab” instead of “taxi cab.”
  • They may add unnecessary or nonexistent vowels to consonant blends when pronouncing certain words. Here is what that might sound like:
    • “Fullufy” for fluffy
    • “Beraid” for braid
    • “Gulasses” for glasses
    • “Falower” for flower
    • “Sinack” for snack
    • “Sakunk” for skunk
    • “Teruck” for truck
  • Conversely, early learners may also have difficulty separating sounds, as well as blending them. If a child struggles to distinguish the two sounds in the word “no,” nnnnn—oooo, then there could be a potential problem.

 

Elementary Age

Since children are under somewhat of a language microscope in their early elementary years, dyslexia is more often diagnosed during this time. These are the formative years in terms of reading and writing, which is why it is that much more obvious when a child is struggling with a language disability. Signs include:

  • Difficulties pertaining to phonics, meaning the relationship between letters and sounds; they may pronounce p as b or d.
  • Elementary-aged children may struggle to read sight words, which are high-frequency words that appear in everyday reading and writing. These words are typically abstract and essentially have to be memorized, meaning that they do not have physical images to accompany them or their spelling. The expectation is that students will memorize and recognize these words automatically as they learn to read and write. Examples of some sight words include and, or, the, of, is, with, but, that, by, if, can, were, them, was, has, so, etc.
  • While reading, students may substitute certain words while reading or spelling. These are often synonymous terms or words that are in the wheelhouse of the intended term, such as “mom” instead of mother, or “home” as opposed to house, “kid” instead of child, etc.
  • Some learners may invert numbers or confuse mathematical signs; they may confuse a multiplication sign for an addition sign or a subtraction sign for a division sign, etc. 
  • They may invert letters when writing or reading. This often occurs with letters such as m and w, n and u, p and d, q and b, and s and z.

Making Connections and Building Engagement

Whether students are going to school 100% virtually or participating in a hybrid model, one thing is for certain—the need for building community, making personal connections, and boosting engagement is more important than ever before. Education certainly looks different right now, and many teachers would argue that distance learning is just not cutting it academically or socially for our students. Regardless of how and when schools will resume in-person learning, teachers have to get creative in the meantime to ensure that students’ needs are met on a holistic level. We cannot solely focus on providing virtual instruction during these trying times.

Journaling
It is difficult to connect to students through a camera lens. It’s even more difficult to build relationships with learners you’ve perhaps never met in person or if you haven’t even heard their voices. It can be just as uncomfortable, if not moreso, for students to engage with a new, unfamiliar adult over the computer during live instruction. To ease the unfamiliarity, some teachers are turning to a tried and true writer’s workshop activity—journal time. Journaling as a warm-up activity lends itself especially well to an English course, but other content areas can capitalize on journal writing as well.

Teachers should consider starting with open-ended prompts that allow students to express themselves on a personal level. To encourage students to write freely, explain to them that their journal responses will not be evaluated or read by peers. They should understand that journaling is purely intended to share experiences and spur conversation. This also prompts students to speak candidly so that you can begin to get to know them on a more personal level—this is essential since we are no longer teaching in person. Keep the prompts light and provide options to start the routine. I always like to ask my high schoolers to tell me what their favorite and/or least favorite thing about being a teenager is. These responses give really good insight into students’ lives and what they may be dealing with outside of school. I also like to keep these samples and refer back to them later in the school year to show students how much growth they’ve shown in their personal writing.

Identity Collage
Creating an identity collage is another useful and engaging way to get students to share a little more about themselves in a visual art form. Ask students to create a Google slide as a self-portrait. They can use an actual photo of themselves or get artistic and sketch or draw themselves. Once they’ve added the photo, which shows the world how they appear on the outside, ask students to cover half of their face on the slide with images, words/phrases, or other symbols that represent their underlying or deeper identity. Encourage them to think about what their peers might not know about them just by looking at them. Once students have submitted their slides, teachers can combine all of the dual external/internal self-portraits into a class “yearbook” of sorts. This way, even though we aren’t physically learning in the same space, students can get to know a little bit more about their peers on a more personal level.

“All emotions” Playlist
Music tends to be a topic or area of discussion that spurs great participation, no matter your student’s age or grade level. Music is also something that can unify groups of people on an emotional level, since people often view music as therapeutic. If studying language, history, psychology, or perhaps music, kids will greatly appreciate this engaging project. Ask students to compile a list of go-to songs that they would play as clear representations of a mood or emotion. For instance, what is your go-to song to listen to when you’re frustrated, or melancholy, or excited, or feeling silly? Students will then make a playlist of their 3-5 songs and briefly explain how the song helps to alleviate their frustration or sadness. They’ll need to answer questions like, What about this one song excites you or makes you laugh? What about this song helps you to release anger/frustration? What line or lyric from this song resonates with you when you’re feeling sad?

Get Spontaneous on Zoom
Zooming all day can become draining, to say the least. Shake things up for kids by utilizing short breaks that serve a specific purpose and keep kids engaged and wanting to come back to the discussion. For example, if giving students a quick 5-minute break during your Zoom class, challenge them to come back to the session holding something orange. Ask them to come back with a hat on. Prompt them to grab their pet or favorite stuffed animal when rejoining the session. Tell them to grab their favorite snack or something that they absolutely can’t live without. Take it a step further and ask students to bring a family heirloom or or family photo to the next Zoom class so students can pair-share in breakout rooms as a family-based show and tell.

High Leverage Practices for Special Education: Collaborative Methods at Home

In part one, we discussed the four different categories of high leverage practices (HLP) and how educators utilize these practices to drive instruction and learning. Whether in a physical classroom or not, the goal of HLPs is to ensure that young learners are engaged, supported, and challenged. Now that we’re all in the throes of virtual learning, where much of our schooling is happening at home, it’s helpful for families to be able to adopt and modify various high leverage practices for their own use.

 

Collaboration is key, especially since much of the learning is currently happening outside of the classroom. Students are no longer experiencing a fully monitored, structured school day, which makes collaboration and open communication all that much more important.

 

  • Goal statement: Since the aim of collaborative HLPs is to ensure that all members of the child’s support system are on the same page, working towards the same goals, parents should use a goal statement as a starting point when reaching out to teachers. Whether in person, on the phone, or via email, parents should make a point to advocate for their child’s learning goals and reiterate them as needed to provide teachers with reminders about where they’d like their child’s learning to be headed.
  • Check-in: Yes, students receiving special education services already have formal documentation concerning learning goals, but it never hurts to remind the team of those goals along the way. Teachers can easily become overwhelmed throughout the quarter with IEPs, 504s, and numerous other learning plans for individual students. And while teachers are legally obligated to offer modifications and accommodations, the learning goals may receive less attention. This is why parents should make a point to check in regularly with their child’s teachers to ensure that everyone is aware of and working towards the child’s learning goals.
  • Reevaluation: These check-ins also allow for data updates, recent observations, and discussions about reevaluating or resetting goals if necessary. Be sure to ask for quantifiable updates, such as Lexile level, Map scores, attendance and participation, writing samples, etc.
  • Point person: To simplify the task of reaching out, especially with middle or high school students who have multiple teachers, parents can plan to send a weekly or biweekly email to their child’s counselor or special education case manager. This person will act as the point of contact and will be sure to disseminate all vital information to the teachers, while keeping you in the loop about all of the replies.
  • Student accountability: Bring your child into the collaborative effort by asking him to help track his own progress towards the goals set at the beginning of the year or quarter. It’s much more probable for a student to strive for success when he’s been part of the goal setting process. Involving your child in these discussions ensures that he’s taking ownership and feels invested in the effort he’s putting forth.
  • Positive reinforcementConsider small benchmarks or checkpoints along the way and make a point to acknowledge when goals are achieved. No matter your child’s age, kids benefit from positive reinforcement and thrive on recognition for a job well done.
  • Open communication: Another high leverage form of helpful collaboration is to connect your child’s teachers with any other “key player” on your child’s educational team. Teachers must have parental permission to correspond with pediatricians, therapists, psychologists, tutors, and even older siblings regarding a student. Therefore, if you want certain professionals to cooperate, you must first provide permission and then facilitate that correspondence. Remember, it takes a village, but you have to put all of the villagers in contact with one another, first.
  • Support groups: Another collaborative HLP that parents can modify for use at home is to facilitate a small virtual study group or neighborhood support group for certain ages, subjects, or classes. Reach out to neighbors about how their child is fairing with virtual learning. Ask if they are using any specific programs, tools, or methods that they find particularly helpful. During these times, many parents are finding that distance or virtual learning is all about trial and error. So why not collaborate with other parents in your neighborhood to help carry the load?

Zoom Differentiation and Accommodations

Virtual learning certainly has its challenges, especially when it comes to differentiating in the virtual classroom. For students with special education accommodations, teachers will need to get creative in order to account for every student’s unique needs and optimize learning opportunities. Thankfully, there are strategies and methods for providing special education accommodations in Zoom—we just need to think outside the box and modify what each accommodation looks like in the virtual realm.

Zoom Chat: Since we are no longer physically in the classroom, proximity, prompting, and cueing accommodations pose a bit of a challenge for instructors. Yet, nothing has changed in terms of the student’s needs. In fact, students who struggle to focus and/or stay on task may need the prompting and proximity accommodations even more now that they are sitting in front of a screen. Online learning does not allow for physical proximity; however, teachers can utilize the chat function to maximize student engagement and provide an alternative form of proximity, prompting, and cueing.

  • Reaching out: The Zoom chat can be used to individually reach out to specific students with prompting accommodations to spur participation and to rephrase a question when necessary.
  • Clarifying: The chat also allows teachers to check for understanding by providing a platform for asking clarifying questions, follow-up questions, etc.
  • Advocating: Teachers should remind students of their chatting capabilities so that students with accommodations can advocate for themselves and speak up when they need assistance.
  • Tracking: The chat also acts as a data tracker; teachers can modify their settings in Zoom so that chats are saved. This allows for teachers to review correspondence with students and share questions and check-ins with parents. Teachers can also use saved chats to track the number of times a student initiates a task, asks clarifying questions, responds to polls or exit responses, etc.
  • Reminding: Teachers can use the Zoom chat as a method for reminding students of their extended time or reduced workload accommodations as well. This allows teachers to discreetly remind a certain student that his due date is extended without drawing attention to the student’s accommodations in front of the whole class. **Just be certain that, when chatting with specific students about these accommodations, you have selected the student’s name from the dropdown so that the chat remains a private, 1:1 conversation.

Breakout Rooms: The grouping function in Zoom can also be beneficial when ensuring certain special education accommodations are offered. Teachers have the option to manually assign groups, which means that students with special education services can be grouped with a para educator or with other students who have the same accommodations.

  • Variance: Teachers should try to avoid always grouping special education students together, however, as to avoid drawing attention to certain small groups or stigmatizing students who need additional support.
  • Oversight: Teachers can randomly assign groups using the “automatic” option when creating breakout rooms. Then, while students work, the “host” can pop in and out of groups to act as a “check-in” for students with that accommodation.
  • Mobility: Teachers can also move the para educator from group to group during breakout room sessions so that every student receives supports throughout the collaborative activity.
  • Discretion: Breakout rooms also offer opportunities for differentiation. Teachers can modify assignments and link adapted materials in the chat to send to specific breakout rooms. From the chat link, students can click on the shared Google doc to access the modified material. This function can provide students with resources such as word banks, sentence starters, outlines, graphic organizers, glossaries, etc. The key is that each student who receives these accommodations will have access in a discreet manner and can choose to use the materials as needed.