Thoughts & News

The Case for the Classroom Library - Part OneThe Case for the Classroom Library - Part One

The Case for the Classroom Library - Part One

Nov 5, 2021InstructionTeachers

Classroom libraries are all the rage, especially in districts where funding for books is available. But do they serve a purpose? The short answer is YES! In this article, you’ll find the research behind the importance of classroom libraries, how they should be organized and some resources for getting free or low-cost books and materials.

Classroom Libraries: The Research Behind Their Importance

There is an abundance of research behind the importance of a classroom library, and how they differ from a school or public library.

  1. Equity of Access: Classroom libraries provide access to books for every student. Contrary to popular belief, many schools have had to scrap their school library due to funding constraints. While a classroom library is not an adequate replacement for a school library, since a school library has many other benefits beyond access to books, it is a start to providing equitable access to a large variety of books.

    1. Classroom libraries allow students to have hands-on access to books they are interested in at any time. In lower grades, where students spend all of their time in 1 or 2 classrooms, students can have access to books during designated class time, recess or before or after school. In upper grades, when class time is limited and may not provide ample time to check out books, students can use lunch, free periods or before or after school to “book shop”.

    2. Classroom libraries can provide access to books for students who don’t have access at home. For some students, school is there only opportunity to have access to books they want to read. Some students might have access to a public library and some may have their own books, but for those that don’t have this access, the classroom library is very important.

    3. Classroom libraries can expand students’ horizons. The classroom library may be their first introduction to books written by authors of color or about characters experiencing the same issues they are experiencing in their daily life. This may be their first introduction to a specific genre, topic or author.

  2. Increase Motivation and Reading Performance: Classroom libraries and their quick access provide opportunities for students to drastically improve their reading performance. Teaching students how to choose books, how to think critically about what they are reading, and how to reflect on their thoughts about their books will improve a students motivation to read, their vocabulary and increase their bank of reading strategies.

The Opportunity Myth and Special EducationThe Opportunity Myth and Special Education

The Opportunity Myth and Special Education

Apr 5, 2021InstructionIntervention

The Opportunity Myth - have you heard of it?

It is founded in research coming from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) that has gained more notoriety as the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened students’ access to graduation, credit recovery, and basic skills. Many students with disabilities have gone with significantly fewer services and accommodations, making the grade level curriculum seem out of reach. Schools across the country are looking towards next year with more questions than answers. How can we support students with basic skill deficits while ensuring they receive grade level instruction? The answer is complex, just as you expected.

First, let’s talk more about the Opportunity Myth. Research states that students with mild to moderate disabilities, intermediate and advanced students learning English, and students of color spend over 500 hours on instruction that is below their grade level, even during grade level class time. Some might read this statement and think “That makes sense, these students need additional support!” However, this means that they are being deprived of precious time to learn material at their grade level. When this happens year after year, the amount of grade level material they miss out on grows exponentially.

A majority of students with mild to moderate disabilities spend 80% - or more - of their day in general education classrooms. This means they are expected to learn and master grade level material, they are expected to graduate high school, and often expected to pursue post-secondary options. However, the report from TNTP found that nationwide, nearly 40% of college freshman take a remedial course. This means that, at least 40% of our students that graduate high school, are not prepared for college. And much of it has to do with the Opportunity Myth.

The New Teacher Project found that, in order to access grade level work and succeed, students need access to four main resources in the classroom: 1- grade appropriate assignments; 2- strong instruction; 3- deep engagement; and 4- high expectations.

These are all largely education buzz words and phrases. So, let’s review some of the TNTP research and break them down and dig into them.

  1. Grade appropriate assignments: In classrooms where access to grade level material was consistent, students gained an average of two months of additional learning. During the general education class, students should be provided scaffolds to access grade level instruction. They should be expected to turn in the same assignments as their peers, but with additional supports such as graphic organizers, sentences starters, word banks, multiplication charts, and more.

    • Teach grade level content. Give 6th graders access to 6th grade level text. Give 3rd graders access to 3rd grade math. The data shows that especially when students enter the school year behind their peers, when provided with grade level instruction, they were able to close the gap by 7 months. This does not mean you give them the assignment and leave them alone, but it does mean we need to stop giving students work that is below their grade level because we believe that they need to “catch up.” This might require a shift in thinking, and that’s ok. Let’s trust the research.

    • Teach organizational skills, note-taking and study skills, and teach students how to access platforms and other resources. These skills are crucial. You can take time in the beginning of the year and when you introduce new content to teach and review these skills. You can teach Cornell Notes, flashcards for studying, binder organization, how to use an agenda, how to craft an email to ask for support, and many others. The AVID program is a great resource for teachers to teach these skills. You don’t need to teach skills that won’t be relevant to your class, but if you expect students to study for tests and remember when an assignment is due, teach them those necessary life skills.

    • Teach accommodations. I use the calculator on my phone all the time. I also use spell check, online dictionaries and I prefer when captions are on when I’m watching YouTube or Instagram videos. I know how to use these accommodations because I was explicitly taught by my teachers or I took the time to teach myself. Teach your students how to use the text to speech feature on Google Chrome, teach them how to make their own graphic organizers, teach them outlines for writing essays. Teach them how to use internet search features, how to use an online or phone based calculator and how to turn on captions when watching videos. These are necessary life skills, not opportunities to cheat.

    • Intervene as necessary. As teachers, we also have the responsibility to ensure students are gaining those crucial basic skills that will improve their reading and math performance. So when can we provide those interventions? There are a few options. Ideally, your administration would be in support of adding an intervention and enrichment hour to your schedule so that students can receive intervention without missing out on electives. However, if this is not an option, teachers can add in time for students to work on these basic skills before or after grade level instruction. This might look like a stations based model with computer based interventions and options for small group instruction. Read more on stations based instruction here.

  2. Strong instruction: In the research, strong instruction refers to experienced teachers who are considered proficient or sometimes “master teachers”. In classes with these strong teachers, even students who started the year behind their peers will close the gap faster than students placed with first year or inexperienced teachers. Strong instruction also refers to using data to drive instruction. Let’s break this down even further.

    • Collect and disaggregate meaningful data. Classroom assessment data, formative data, summative data, exit slips, professional assessment data, attendance data, data from parents and past teachers, the list is endless. However, one rule of thumb - if you don’t spend time disaggregating and interpreting the data, then the time it took to collect it was not the best use of instructional time. Use this data to drive your instructional decisions. Take some time to seek out and learn from outside resources. HERE is a great place to start.

    • Seek out the experts. Not everyone is an expert in everything. Seek out those in your school that can help you master new things. Look to your colleagues for support and offer support when needed. The “Closed Door” mentality should be a thing of the past. You can seek out experts on Instagram, LinkedIn, Clubhouse, and Facebook Groups. Start a book club at your school and read a professional book together with the common goal of improving one specific thing. The future of education is collaboration.

    • Ask for feedback. When your Principal or admin comes in your room for observations, ask them for specific feedback. For example, you can ask them to give their thoughts on a new method you’re trying out, or ask them to take data on how often you ask open ended questions, or call on specific students. Although it can be difficult to hear at first, receiving feedback will help you grow in your career and grow as a person. Check out this article on giving and receiving meaningful feedback, and share it with your colleagues so you can develop a positive feedback culture.

  3. Deep engagement: In the research, classrooms that kept high levels of engagement on average had students gain two and a half months of learning over their peers in less engaging classrooms. But what does engagement really look like? What does it mean?

    • Build meaningful relationships with your students. Get to know your students in a meaningful way by asking them about their interests, their families, their culture, their futures and what their everyday lives are like. In addition to getting to know your students, it’s important for them to build meaningful relationships with their peers as well. Focusing on relationships is research proven to have a positive effect on academic performance. Check out the research from the BARR Center for more. You can foster this relationship building by participating in getting to know you activities and by encouraging positive group work. It’s important to remember that at any age, students need to be shown what positive relationships look like. You can work on these skills during group work by explicitly teaching and practicing turn taking, academic conversation skills, splitting up work equitably and resolving conflicts in a positive way.

    • Encourage student talk. Research shows that students who talk about their learning, ask questions to learn more and who share their thinking process, have higher levels of comprehension and critical thinking, leading to better academic performance. Ask open ended questions of students such as “Why do you think that?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” “What was the process you took to get to that answer?” This will help students get familiar with their own thought process, encouraging them to learn about how they learn, how they think and how they conceptualize information. Read more on student talk vs. teacher talk in this article. Encourage students to ask questions, and develop a culture of risk taking.

  4. High expectations: Every student can achieve. Say it with me, EVERY student can achieve. It’s up to us to find the right key to unlock the learning for them. When we hold students to high expectations, more often than not, they rise to the occasion. Children are resilient and their brains are literal sponges. They can learn multiple languages simply by exposure and they absorb what is happening around them through continuous observation. When we challenge students to achieve at high levels, they do. But how do we walk the fine line between challenging and overwhelming students?

    • Growth mindset is key. Carol Dweck has been the leading researcher in what she calls growth mindset. Simply put, growth mindset is changing the way you talk about, see, and act towards students in the classroom. For example, asking yourself “How does this child learn best” rather than questioning whether or not a student can learn or master a task.

    • Provide opportunities for specific feedback. When having students write an essay, normalize receiving feedback from the teacher and implementing that feedback to improve their writing. When giving students feedback, make sure it is specific and includes ways the student can improve. Additionally, avoid giving answers to students, like telling them they should put a period here and a capital letter here. Instead, ask “Is something missing here?” These are just some examples for an essay, but feedback is important on every assignment.

    • Provide ample support. Step away from the thought process of “unfair advantage”. Remember that providing accommodations is simply leveling the playing field. Though these accommodations are legally mandated to be provided to students with IEPs, there is nothing wrong with providing these scaffolds to any student who might need them. In addition to providing scaffolds and accommodations, provide opportunities for students to meet with you in small groups or 1:1. This can be before or after school, as part of a center, during independent work time or during lunch or recess.

    • Help students set goals. Setting goals is linked to self-confidence, motivation and autonomy and is research proven to be an effective tool for accomplishing tasks. Teach students how to set a goal for themselves and be specific about breaking down the goal into bite size pieces. For example, your high school student is missing 17 out of 24 assignments and is completely overwhelmed and lacking next steps. Sit down with the student 1:1 and look at the grades together. Show them which assignments will take the most time and help them break those down into attainable tasks. Help them schedule out their time so they can accomplish their task and then celebrate with them when they reach their goal.

Giving students access to these resources will lead to improved success, especially in students who enter the classroom below grade level. What are your thoughts on the Opportunity Myth and the research that supports it? In what ways have you seen your students be successful?

Reimagine Learning SpacesReimagine Learning Spaces

Reimagine Learning Spaces

Sep 30, 2020InstructionParentsRemote Learning

Since late March, when most schools closed for the remainder of the school year, parents and children have had some opportunity to engage in virtual learning with little guidance, support, or best practices. Depending on local circumstances, children may be back at school permanently (or until an outbreak sends them back home), at school part-time, or learning at home for the foreseeable future. As we settle into the new school term and distance learning becomes the new normal, many parents struggle to find the balance between home and school. Although switching from a traditional classroom to virtual schooling can be a big adjustment, Melanated Pearl Corporation founder Crystal Perry has been able to support families by providing the instructional tools and personalized support to address these challenges.

“Simply stated, as we move into a new system of schooling at home, maximizing your child’s virtual classroom experience requires you establish a learning zone of space in house.” 

Let’s be clear, the parents and children most impacted did not sign up for this, but there are some ways to make schooling at home work better for your family. The following tips can help families manage the change, deal with the stress, and succeed in the new educational reality as they Reimagine Learning Spaces

Let's start by stating the (not so?) obvious: schooling at home is not the same as homeschool. Schooling is about much more than academics. Very young children learn fine motor skills, how to share and take turns, and older ones work on more socialization, time-management skills, and so on. Many families use less formal ways of educating. Keep in mind that many teachers are learning an entirely new skill set in teaching remotely. They're relying more than ever on parents and children reaching out to ask for help when they're struggling. Every child has unique interests, as well as different attention spans, adeptness at using technology without distraction, and so on. Compared to classroom-based learning, home-based learning allows for greater individualization. Start by getting familiar with the four elements of learning environments. A learning environment can be divided into four elements: 

  1. Time

  2. Structure

  3. Content

  4. Reflection

“These are the building blocks that a designer can define in the learning experience while designing customized learning environments. If you have some closet space you can design an academic space for yourself or your child.

Start with a Family Learning Center

A typical school day rewards children with opportunities to show independence, help friends and overcome challenges. The shift to learning from home still gives children the chance to develop autonomy, practice empathy and use their skills, particularly when parents set up structures, then stand back to let kids shine. Consistency is key. Consistency helps children focus, and helps build organizational skills, goal setting, and time management.

You can start by building a Family Learning Center. Create a family bulletin board, and a schedule for each member of the family. Skilled teachers often begin the school year with a great deal of structure, because kids learn most easily when they know what to expect. A schedule also allows parents and other caregivers to share duties. By building in breaks, choice and a range of activities, parents can tailor plans to meet children’s individual needs.

Include dedicated spaces for different activities. You can create a reading nook or a content corner to encourage independent reading or classwork.

Classroom In A Box 

Get rid of distractions while your children work! You can create a grade level classroom or workstation using a cardboard box. Most educators and homeschoolers are familiar with the idea of a curriculum in a box. If you didn’t know, boxed curriculums include things like teacher guides, books, study sheets, tests, activities, and some include report cards. The classroom in a box offers an opportunity to teach organization, while ensuring your child has easy access to the things they need on a daily basis.

The classroom in a box is a mobile customized workstation for your child. Customized Classroom in a Box gives your child a private workspace. Remember, virtual school takes place at home, on the road, or wherever there's an internet connection if you are willing to ReImagine Learning Spaces.

Bulletin boards serve multiple purposes. They can convey a variety of information from meeting announcements and parent news to curriculum overviews and displays of child work. They can also make learning visible. 

  • Create a family or school bulletin board that familiarize your children with the standards, teachers, volunteers, and librarians, as well as support staff. 

  • Create a space for your child to post reminders, and other resources as the school year progresses.

Learning Wall 

Start by creating a Learning Wall! Check out the 8th grade math Learning Wall. Learning Walls are visual classroom displays that centre around a LEARNING INTENTION and include elements such as text scaffolds, word walls, and bump it up walls. 

  • An 8th grade math course should cover all the math strands, not just arithmetic. The major math strands for 8th grade curriculum are number sense and operations, algebra, geometry and spatial sense, measurement, and data analysis and probability.

Content Corners

A content corner focuses on one subject area. Similar to Learning Walls that support children on their learning journey, a content corner is a reference point for children as they work towards knowledge, understanding and application of skills. Anything that builds on your child’s knowledge as they work towards their learning intention can be included. Check out this 5th grade Learning Space. Is your child about to enter what’s often considered the last year of elementary school; and will soon be exploring middle school curriculum? That’s why 5th grade is an extremely important time for children to cement the skills they have gained throughout the upper grades and lay a solid foundation for the years ahead.

  • The 5th grade year is all about helping children practice, refine, and grow their skills. Children build on what they learned in 4th grade by analyzing material in deeper ways, and write structured, clear, and detailed pieces about a variety of subjects. They are encouraged and expected to be more independent in their learning, and to require less guidance and support from teachers and other adults.For instance, when a child is asked to research a topic, they should know what to do to accomplish that (even if they need a little help from a teacher along the way).

The content corner is not linear like a Bump It Up Wall – it grows in any direction, depending on your child's needs. 

Remote Learning Series - Building Equity in Our SchoolsRemote Learning Series - Building Equity in Our Schools

Remote Learning Series - Building Equity in Our Schools

Aug 28, 2020InstructionRemote Learning

Equity discussions have traditionally been about providing what each student needs to be successful. For example, if a student needs a pencil, provide one. If the student needs to sit in the front of the room, move their seat. Rarely, did equity discussion dive into the systems that seek to uphold racist values. This year is different, and it’s about time things change.

We are not experts in racial equity here at IEP&Me, so we’ve gathered resources for you from prominent race and equity leaders. However, we are experienced in building equity for students with disabilities. We’ve gathered our best ideas and resources for you.

Building Social Equity

Building relationships with your students is incredibly important, in fact, it is a teacher’s top priority. Only when students feel that their classroom is a safe space, will they be able to learn effectively. However, a safe classroom requires fostering relationships between the teacher and student, as well as between the students themselves.

Students with disabilities are often left out of activities and games by their peers, and sometimes, their teachers. This is due to multiple factors, but the biggest one is fear of the unknown. A student with a disability might look differently, talk differently, or act differently from their able-bodied peers, which can cause confusion to children. They might ask questions, disengage from the student, or say something hurtful. Teachers might make an assumption that a student can’t do something based on the way they look, talk or act. These are the teachable moments, where we insert equitable education and open dialogue to explain that every person is unique and different in their own way, and it’s those differences that will bring us closer together if we work to understand them.

The Community Circle - No matter the age of your students, a powerful time to hold discussions, especially difficult conversations, is during circle time. The conversations you hold during circle time vary depending on the age and cognitive levels of your students. This is a time in your day where you are focused on building relationships with students, learning about their likes and dislikes, and encouraging peer to peer interaction through games and team building activities. The Resilient Educator has resources for circles, and there are many other easy to find resources to help you add this to your classroom, even virtually!

Restorative/Social Justice Circles - When students do something in class that hurts the class community, it is important to ensure that the student is able to apologize and make it up to the community. It allows students to express their feelings, and allows the student that left the community to re-enter the space in a safe and supportive way. This is never a time for punishment, or forcing a student to apologize, or taking things away from the student until they do what you’ve asked. This is a time for students to engage in conversation about what happened, how it made them feel, and how they can feel safe again. It is important to incorporate community circles with restorative circles so they do not start to feel punitive. Check it out in action.

Partner Assignment - One way to prevent students from not being picked for a team or partnership, is to have partners assigned ahead of time, or provide an equitable way for students to find their partners. There are many ways to pick student groups. Teachers can use online random group selection apps, or create something like “Compass Partners”, where students (or teachers) choose a North, South, East and West partner in the beginning of each of month. When it is time for partner work, the teacher calls out a direction and the students know to find their compass partner.

Structured and Unstructured Social Time - More important than ever, ensuring students have structured and unstructured social time is essential. In a normal school day, students have hallway transitions, lunch, beginning and end of class, recess, snack, etc. to engage in unstructured social time, but now students are alone and only interacting with their peers on a computer screen. Plan time for games, team building activities, conversation questions, team puzzles, and other structured activities, directly into your daily schedule. Learning breaks are important, especially because there are far more distractions that a student needs to work past, in order to succeed. When planning unstructured social time, allow students to choose how they would like to spend their time. Give them choice boards or provide them with ideas. Encourage students to engage with their peers.

Building Academic Equity

To achieve true academic equity, every student (on a diploma track) would have equitable access to grade level content. There are a few things to unpack in that statement to understand it fully. A diploma track student with special education, or 504, supports is participating in general education classes, with accommodations. Accommodations are things that we provide for students to ensure they can access the content (glasses, calculator, guided notes, etc.). They are not provided for everyone, just those that need them.

When we talk about grade level content, we truly mean grade level content. If the science class is learning about microscopes, then students with IEPs are learning about microscopes, with accommodations. Some accommodations are only used in certain classes, some are used in every class, and some are Universal Designs for Learning, meaning every student benefits from them. To be super, super clear - accommodations work for any student that needs them, regardless of their IEP status. IEPs make those accommodations mandatory, but there are many positives to making accommodations available to all. The important thing to remember is, every student should be learning grade level content, unless they are on a “Certificate of Completion” track.

What if the students are unable to access the grade level material because of their reading level, frustration level, skill level, etc.? Start from the LEAST restrictive accommodation, such as a graphic organizer, a sentence starter, or an example of a similar problem with its solution. Provide more structure to the task to increase the support.

Here is an example. An assignment requires students to write a five paragraph essay on climate change. They can choose the topic, and must provide and introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one closure paragraph.

  • Least restrictive: Five paragraph graphic organizer, list of potential topics (if not already provided), and way to collect and organize research.

  • More restrictive: Five paragraph graphic organizer, list of 3 topics, with research provided, research collection template, and sentence starters. (In the Arctic, climate change is…)

  • Even more restrictive: Five paragraph graphic organizer, list of 3 topics, with research provided in multiple formats (video, infographics, articles), research collection and organization template, and sentence starters that require students to fill in the blanks to complete the sentence. (Polar bears need ____ temperatures in order to _______.)

Did you notice how in all of these examples, students wrote a five paragraph essay on climate change? Even when we get more restrictive, the expectation is the same: a five paragraph essay on climate change. Why? Because students are learning research and paragraph writing skills, that they need to practice and perfect. Giving students multiple opportunities to practice research and paragraph writing skills will help them improve so they no longer need the accommodations. When the student has demonstrated they no longer need the accommodations, slowly fade them away. This is just one example of how you can accommodate a student, but here is an additional list of ways to differentiate and scaffold for students.

Building Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices

What is culturally responsive teaching? Incorporating students’ culture into your classroom on a daily basis. This looks like having a diverse library with authors from every culture, and with characters of every race. This looks like providing materials that describe the human experience by those experiencing it, and searching for inclusive curriculum. This looks like providing students opportunities to express themselves and their culture in a safe and welcoming environment. This looks like incorporating decorations, flags, posters, pictures, artifacts, and teaching learning practices from as many cultures as possible.

More importantly, culturally responsive teaching is not teaching Black history during February, it is not stopping at MLK and Rosa Parks, it is not using white washed history textbooks, it is not appropriating cultures (like dressing up in costumes), it is not teaching students using only the practices that worked for you when you were a student, it is not making decisions about a student’s education based on their background.

There are many definitions for culturally responsive teaching (CRT), but we found this graphic to be the easiest to understand and implement. There are 8 competencies for CRT according to New America. Their article breaks down these competencies further and includes examples for teachers ready to do the work. Becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher costs almost nothing, but will provide you academic and social gains in your classroom at a rate higher than anything else. It’s important to remember, that building culturally responsive teaching practices is not Black history month and Cinco De Mayo. It is honoring a student’s culture by learning about, and engaging with, it’s aspects.

Equity Experts

The Equity Collaborative The Equity Lab Silver Peak Consulting The National Equity Project The National Coalition on School Diversity Teaching for Change USC Rossier Racial Equity Tools

Remote Learning Series - DifferentiationRemote Learning Series - Differentiation

Remote Learning Series - Differentiation

Aug 12, 2020InstructionRemote Learning

Starting the year virtually doesn’t mean that everything has to change. Most pedagogical best practices remain intact, but are slightly altered to accommodate the new educational setting.

We are teachers. We are fluid like water and adapt as necessary. Here are some tips (with lots of links) to help you set up your virtual classroom.

Best Practices

Teach New Platforms - Anytime a new platform, tool, or routine is introduced, students must be explicitly taught how it is to be used. There are many ways to do this including a screencast, a live demo or written directions. The goal is to prevent questions by anticipating what students might ask. For example, if a student is expected to make a new file in google drive, create a quick screencast that records each step of the process with audio matching and explaining the steps. Students with IEPs will need them AND students without IEPs will appreciate the help, as well. Post the screencast in a shared space and give students the option to view it if they are having difficulty. Rather than continuing to do screen-shares to show the steps, refer students back to the screencast when they inevitably ask what they are supposed to do.

Set Clear Expectations - Along with explicitly teaching new tools, teachers’ directions should be clear, so that students are able to work on their assignment with minimal assistance from the teacher. Post the expectations and directions in several locations. For example, when using a Google Doc, Zoom, and a shared website, link all necessary documents, share them in the Zoom chat box AND post them to the shared website. Make it easy for students to find the information they need quickly, so time can be spent on the cognitive work of the assignment. More is less here — as in, the more places for students to stumble on the right links and documents, the less they will ask for them.

Give Choices - A great way to meet the needs of various learning styles is to give choices in the concept, product, and process of the assignment. For example, providing students flexibility around how they work on the project (individually, small groups, pairs) and how they present their learning (video, essay, hands-on project, PowerPoint, podcast, etc.). Allow students to control what they research, and when they complete their assignment. This can include providing a choice board each week, or simply a list of everything that is due by the end of the week which allows students to create their own schedules.

Healthy Balance - It is imperative that there is a healthy balance of synchronous (live) and asynchronous (offline) instruction*. Students all have different processing time and many students benefit from multiple exposures to the same content. Teachers can teach a live class each day, recording them so that students can watch them again later (if there is a question of file size, maybe just record the actual lesson, not the whole synchronous class). Another option: record their lesson ahead of time and post open office hours for students to ask questions or talk through a project. Teachers can also create projects that span several weeks, and allow students to work on them independently on their own time. Being on Zoom for more than 4 hours a day is difficult!

*Some schools are creating strict policies around the synchronous lesson times. For students with IEPs, it would be a good idea to connect with the special education director and/or school leader to consider adapting these hours for them. (Check out the list of virtual accommodations!)

Pre-teaching - Such an amazing instructional strategy! There are many ways to pre-teach or provide materials prior to the actual lesson. Provide the readings, links to videos about the topic, the vocabulary list, Khan Academy videos, guided notes, and whatever else a student might need to be successful for the next day’s lesson. It’s not cheating! Building background knowledge is essential for helping students achieve success. It can feel like extra work at first, but just think of all the time it saves in the re-teaching process!

Small Group Instruction - Just like in-person teaching, small group instruction is paramount to helping students make meaningful improvement. There are many ways to do small group instruction. Groups can be created by ability level, meaning students will be in a small group with students who need the same learning. This could be done in a guided reading group, or small group math lesson. Groups could also be based on data collected during the whole group lesson. For example, give students an exit ticket using google forms, then analyze the data to determine which of your students need to be retaught the material. Form a small group for the following day and re-teach the material. Collect data on students’ performance regularly so that you can intervene before a small misunderstanding leads to a big problem.

Reduce the Number of Clicks - Keep things simple. Avoid asking students to make several clicks in order to get to the material. For example, post your links and documents in one, easy to find place. Make clicks very clear and descriptive. For example, avoid just pasting links and rather provide the title of the document and make it a hyperlink. Avoid using buttons that say “click here” but rather use descriptions such as “submit your essay”.

Virtual Accommodations

For 40+ years, accommodations have been written for in-person schooling. How do we provide accommodations for virtual learning?!

We have included a list of virtual learning accommodations that can be included in a student’s IEP. Whether the district mandate is a new amendment, updates at the next IEP, changes in a 30 day meeting, or another way of documenting this change to remote learning, including these options will be beneficial for students, parents, and general education teachers to implement to best meet the needs of students with IEPs.

Programs for Remote Learning

Math Khan Academy - Khan Academy is a free remote learning resource for teachers and students to learn and practice valuable math tools. There are free practice assessments for the SAT and Khan Academy is offering a FREE teacher preparation program that teachers are raving about.

Carnegie Learning - Carnegie has published several free resources for teachers to use during remote learning. There is a free math program that teachers can use to assign lessons and activities, and a curated list of online math lessons.

Big Ideas Math - Big Ideas is a paid subscription program, but is currently offering open access materials for teachers including printable lessons, lesson plans and videos that teachers can either print or link to their shared classroom space.

Center for Math and Teaching - Free math resources for grades 6, 7 and 8, including lesson videos, skill boosters and problem sets that can be printed or shared online.

CPM Educational Program - CPM released a free guide to remote learning for districts, teachers and families to use. Within their guide are links to several resources available for free within CPM.

Great Minds - Great Minds is the producer of Eureka Math, an online learning program designed to help students master math concepts in grades PK-12.

Singapore Math - A scripted math program, Singapore Math is providing some free resources as well as Professional Development for teachers. Act quickly, resources will not be free indefinitely.

Symphony Learning - Symphony has released a free trial version of their online math program as well as some free printable resources for early number sense teaching in grades K-5.

Zearn - Zearn has an online system full of videos, lessons and interactive practice for students.

Prodigy - Prodigy is a ‘freemium’ math game that is good for students working elementary and middle school math levels. It is free for teachers and students, however there are add ons that can be bought.

Reading/Literacy Readworks - Readworks is a database of reading passages organized by Lexile level. (Lexiles are a numerical reading level assigned to texts. You can sort passages by skills, reading level, interest and grade. Many passages also have free multiple choice and short answer response questions.

Achieve3000 - Achieve3000 is another database of articles organized by Lexile level, which allows for differentiation for students at various reading ability levels. They are traditionally a paid program, but are still offering a portion of their programs for free.

Scholastic - Scholastic offers a diverse set of online learning resources for all grades for free, but that free pass is expiring very soon. If you have funding available, Scholastic offers amazing school wide programs for both remote and in person learning.

Reading Plus - A paid online reading platform, Reading Plus trains students’ eyes to help them read word by word, line by line. It contains reading passages and multiple choice questions as well as a comprehensive tracking system for student data.

Reading A-Z - “RAZ” offers lots of passages and books for students that are made to be read online (or at home). There are several paid opportunities to provide online reading resources for students. These texts can be used in small group instruction as well.

Achieve the Core - Achieve the core has a plethora of free online resources such as articles, activities, lesson plans and other resources. Check out the “expert packs”, a great way to differentiate expectations by helping students access background knowledge.

Capit Learning - An online or in-person blended program to help K-2 students learn phonics. This program is for young students, for phonics programs with more mature content, try Lexia Learning, or Read Naturally.

Additional Resources - This site has links for Science and Social Studies, as well as music, PE, Social Emotional Learning, reading and math.

Remote Learning Series - Working with a ParaprofessionalRemote Learning Series - Working with a Paraprofessional

Remote Learning Series - Working with a Paraprofessional

Aug 2, 2020InstructionRemote Learning

It is a crazy world we are in right now, y’all.

Many teachers will be entering the 2020 - 2021 school year with little-to-no guidance on how to adapt teaching practices to meet the online demands of students. Paraprofessionals (teaching aides, classroom aides, whatever term you use) are a great resource to those who are lucky enough to have them. Teachers have been utilizing paraprofessionals (paras) in the classroom setting, but how do we transition to utilizing them in remote learning?

We have researched, brainstormed, and implemented various ways of incorporating paras during the spring and extended school year in virtual settings. Below is a working list of what has worked well for us — let us know what has worked for you and add any ideas you have!

** Paraprofessionals MUST be trained in these aspects. Check with Admin regarding rules around what paraprofessional can do in your school. **

Whole Group Video Instruction

During whole group, video-based instruction, have your para to be a “co-host” so they can:

  • Manage the Chat Box - Alert the teacher if there is a question, answer the question if they know the answer

  • Share Links, Screenshots and Documents in the Chat Box - Sometimes you want students to go to a Google Doc while on video or to have a screenshot of the PowerPoint to do their project later.

  • Manage participants - Students like to come off of mute. You can control that! Have your para be watching the participant list and mute any students whose background noise might be distracting. Feel free to remove students who are not following directions (just know, they cannot re-enter after being kicked out!), and follow up with them after live instruction.

  • Manage Breakout Groups - If your school allows for breakout groups, your para can set up those groups for you. They can also pop in and out of the breakout rooms to ensure students are on topic, answer any questions, or take discussions further.

  • Annotation - Have your co-teacher annotate the screen while students are sharing responses - whether it is through Zoom, slides, PearDeck, or one of the myriad options for virtual working that have come up!


  • Parallel Teaching - Split up your class into two groups using the breakout groups feature - or two meetings, depending on which video platform your school is using. Your para can manage one group while you manage the other. You could also coordinate switching groups, depending on comfortability and skill level of teachers and students.

  • Data Tracking & Assessment - Individual reading and math assessments take up valuable time. Train your para in how to assess students and track their performance - according to whichever tracking system you are utilizing in your teaching - and have them individually assessing students.

  • Small Group Instruction - If you have a lesson plan already written out, train your para to run the lesson with a small group of students. This can be done using the breakout feature OR they can schedule a session with just those students. Depending on your para’s comfortability and experience, have them plan a lesson based on student IEP goals and lead the lesson; during your weekly meetings review how it went and the data they garnered from their lesson.


  • Grading - Teach your para to use your rubrics or answer keys to grade student work. Then, pass over that grading! This can help reduce your workload and give your para valuable information on student present levels. It also gives your para insight into teacher mindsets when analyzing student work to re-teach and identify strengths and weaknesses. (Some states have guidelines stating paraprofessionals shouldn’t “assign” grades - which means they should not have access to your grade book.)

  • Observations (also, Data Tracking) - Paras can help with student observations for data on IEP goals. They can also observe your teaching with the same teaching rubric you will be evaluated with so that you can prepare for your own evaluation - boom!

  • Lesson Planning and Research - Have your para help you find videos, lesson plans, photos, worksheets, new (free) learning platforms (depending on district policies). As long as you give specific instructions on what to look for - your para can do the searching and prep for you. For example, ask them to find short, informational videos to provide background information and context for new units — curating those videos is time consuming!

  • Notes Home - A great way to keep in communication with students and parents during remote learning is to send little notes home - via email, text, or snail mail. This will help you build relationships with your students and families. Your para can help write and send those notes!

  • Differentiation - Have paras help create graphic organizers, differentiated worksheets, audio versions of text, and more. Similar to lesson planning and research, this can be whole mini lessons to create prior knowledge. Having your para involved in the grading will help them get to intimately know the students’ abilities and will make this process easier.

  • Google Classroom - Organizing documents, presentations, sites and more on Google Drive can be tedious. Have your para help you create, keep up-to-date, and organize your folders, Google Classroom announcements, assignments, and more.

  • Scheduling and Invites - your para can help you by scheduling zoom calls, 1:1 conferences, small group instruction and parent teacher updates. Give them access to your calendar and keep it up to date so they can just schedule meetings based on your availability.

Helpful Tips for Success

  • Weekly Meetings - Take 30 minutes to an hour each week to discuss the upcoming lessons, their responsibilities, any grading demands, parent contacts, and student concerns. Walk through the weekly schedule one day at a time listing the responsibilities of you and your para. We like to start with ‘grows and glows’ to get our meeting started with some ease.

  • Create and Use Rubrics - Take time to create an answer key or a high quality rubric to ensure consistency among grading practices! Use the days before school, or your weekly meetings, to review the rubrics together.

  • Create Robust Lesson Plants - Scripting lessons sounds tedious - but we promise, it is helpful! Especially when paras might be the ones implementing the lesson plans. If you are having your paras lead small groups independently, have them practice a few times with you first before releasing them on their own. Even better - have them observe a few small group lessons. When they feel comfortable, they can run small groups on their own while you observe and give feedback.

  • Create a Manual - Create Google Drive folders or binders with documents, links, folders, and classroom or behavioral expectations that your para will need to be successful. Include school wide discipline practices, instructions for how to access the specified video platform, and Google Classroom, a list of passwords to online programs, and anything else they will need. Keep this in one spot and be sure to update it regularly.

  • Create a Substitute Folder - Always have back up lessons available in case you need to take a day off. Share those plans with your para so they may assist the substitute with the lesson plans and class expectations. In our classroom, my para generally becomes the ‘lead’ teacher in these situations, as they are familiar with the students, systems, and structures of the classroom.

  • Keep Up Communication - Include your para on important emails, parent communication, and school wide scheduling or announcements. Treat your para as a co-teacher and keep them in the loop regarding important communication.

Further Reading: 15 Ways Paraprofessionals Can Support Ways to Utilize Paraprofessionals During Remote Learning Defining the Role of the Paraprofessional in Distance Learning Autism Classroom Podcast - Paraprofessionals

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