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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.

Breakout Room Benefits for Teachers, Part II

In part one, we shared the many ways in which breakout rooms during a Zoom class session can be helpful. Logistically speaking, small groups allow for more intimate collaboration among students and provide a more manageable platform for discussion. Now we want to explore additional ideas that show how to use breakout rooms for various instructional benefits. Below are creative ways for educators to utilize breakout rooms in Zoom.

 

Accountability techniques: Feedback that I have already been receiving from several students involves the lack of full participation, even during small group activities in breakout rooms. As is typical in the brick and mortar classroom as well, some students feel as though they are carrying the entire team and shouldering the workload themselves. Here’s how to account for this issue in breakout rooms:

 

  • Create a Google document with directions, prompts, discussion questions, and anything else you would like students to collaborate on in groups.
  • Specify different text boxes or spaces on the document where different groups should respond. (Breakout rooms are numbered, so you can keep it simple by designating response spaces for group 1, group 2, group 3, etc.)
  • Share the link to the Google document in the Zoom chat prior to arranging breakout groups. **Make sure that participants with the link have editing access; this is manageable in your shared settings**
  • Ask students to open the document to ensure that everyone has access before opening breakout rooms.
  • Once in breakout rooms, students will need to discuss cooperatively, but respond individually on the Google doc. This allows teachers to track participants and identify if anyone has not contributed to their group’s notes on the Google document.

 

Listening practices: It is easy for us to zoom out (pun intended, sorry!) while participating in hours of Zoom classes every day. To spur engagement and meaningful conversations, teachers can use breakout rooms to set up 1:1 student interviews or chat sessions:

 

  • Review expectations and procedures for breakout room groups.
  • Introduce “accountable talk” stems of sentence starters for younger learners so that their conversations stay on track.
  • Assign interview questions on a shared Google document (as explained above) and ask students to “report back” with new information about his or her peer.
  • Remind students that they may paraphrase their partner’s information, so long as they are still accurately relaying what their partner said. This allows time for students to truly listen to one another.
  • This activity can be used for ice breakers or getting to know you activities, perspective taking, peer reviews, etc.

 

Reviewing class material: Another way to utilize breakout rooms is for important class review sessions or to debrief a whole group discussion or lesson:

 

  • Share a class Google document, as mentioned above, that includes key topics or important takeaways from the day or week’s lesson.
  • In breakout rooms, students should use the time to ask questions of the group about anything that they are confused about. This could include vocabulary/terms, questions about an assigned text, clarification on a certain topic, etc. The point is to use this time as an open forum to seek clarity and ask questions.
  • While discussing, prompt students to capture the questions and any possible answers/responses on the shared Google document.
  • The document will act as a free-flowing study guide, which students can access after class.
  • This document also allows teachers to address unclear concepts, lingering questions, and any material that they’d like to reteach before moving forward.

Following Directions

Since distance learning and online instruction has rapidly become the new normal for students all over the map, navigating this new forum has presented both teachers and students with learning curves. Through just the first few weeks of digital/virtual instruction, I personally have recognized an increased need for concise, explicit, and thorough directions on assignments. What I initially thought were clear instructions have often been met with various questions.

 

It sounds obvious—of course students need to be provided with specific directions on any given task. However, we teachers have been relying on face-to-face explanations, visual models and examples, and chunked verbal guidance without ever realizing what it would be like to take all of those supports away. Well, now we know. Even with video platforms like Zoom, Screencastify, etc., the ability to fully instruct, explain, and clarify is somewhat muddled. As beneficial as these tools can be for distance learning, these platforms simply do not provide the same level of guidance that face-to-face classroom instruction provides.

 

Now that teachers have begun to anticipate the various (numerous!) questions that students pose while distance learning ramps up, we can certainly recognize the importance of modifying our way of providing written directions.

 

  • For tasks that are going to require multiple steps, teachers need to present students with each individual step separately. This also means that each step will likely require its own set of directions. For example, an English teacher chunking a five-paragraph essay for students should provide specific instructions and requirements for each paragraph, separately.
  • This could mean creating a unit checklist; drafting a week-by-week calendar with steps labeled for certain days; or creating a sample of each separate paragraph with each sentence highlighted to demonstrate key components.
  • Introducing an assignment in steps also allows students to ask more specific questions when necessary. Instead of receiving a bunch of emails saying, “I’m confused about the essay,” students can specify exactly which step they need clarification on.
  • This level of micromanaging an assignment might seem excessive, especially for older students. However, providing step-by-step instructions while chunking a multi-step task will be crucial for student success during distance learning. This is especially true for students with different learning needs or executive functioning deficits.
  • It would also be helpful for teachers to include suggested time management tips for assignments as well. A top complaint that parents are voicing is the amount of time their children are spending trying to decipher their assignments.
  • Teachers should consider including the amount of time that each task should take in the instructions. That way, students who may plan on taking an hour to complete a 20-minute assignment can adjust their workload appropriately.
  • Use specific language in the directions that you would like students to use in their assignment. For instance, directions for analyzing a videotaped science lab should include content-specific language that students need to know as part of the unit. For example, teachers should bold or italicize the terms hypothesis or variable so that students key in on important aspects of the task.
  • Add specificity to your standard rubrics. What teachers thought was a clear rubric is likely lacking since we are unable to verbally explain grading as we typically would in class. If the history essay rubric requires “mastery in voice and structure,” teachers should clarify what that should look like.
  • For instance, the rubric might need to include guiding questions for each category. Do you maintain present tense throughout? Do you introduce your body paragraphs with sound claim statements? Do you utilize unit vocabulary throughout?
  • This level of specified directions may seem tedious at first, compared to our normal way of orally explaining tasks in the classroom. However, front loading assignments with ultra-clear directives will allow your students to not only comprehend the task, but also regain a sense of confidence in this new method of teaching and learning.