Thoughts & News

Helping My Child Get Ahead During Breaks or School ClosuresHelping My Child Get Ahead During Breaks or School Closures

Helping My Child Get Ahead During Breaks or School Closures

Jan 12, 2022ParentsRemote Learning

School breaks and closures can be a welcomed mental health break for many students, but too long of a break can lead to students falling behind. With many schools going back to remote learning for the month of January, snow days and upcoming breaks, we’ve put together a list of ways to help your child get ahead during school closures.

  • Create a Schedule: Help your child maintain structure by providing them with a daily schedule. For some students, this might look like a list of things to do with choice on when they do them. For other students, this might look like a detailed schedule with a timer, or anywhere in between. It’s important to remember to include time for breaks, snack, lunch, outside play time and other types of free time. Some activities you can include are reading time, computer based academic games, homework or school work, puzzles, study time, structured play time and family time.

  • Outside Time: If you are able to, allowing kids time to play outside is helpful for their energy levels and helps them improve their creativity and imagination by engaging in creative play. If you are able to join them, great! If not, allow them some free time outside. If they seem to be stuck on what to do, give them some goals like build a snowman, find 10 pinecones, find a four leaf clover or play fetch with the dog. Give them a minimum and maximum amount of time they can be outside and provide them with a timer if it is helpful.

  • Snacks and Lunch: Don’t forget to provide some brain food! Make it into another activity by asking for their help in preparing lunch. You can teach them how to make a sandwich or cut up fruit and vegetables. Providing them with a task list of steps they can take is helpful for many students. Try not to let them snack all day and help them make healthy choices if you are able.

  • Reading Time: Spending time in books is the number one way to increase reading ability. In fact, just 15 minutes a day can increase a child’s vocabulary ten fold and increase reading performance on standardized tests. If you don’t have access to books at home, you can find free e-books on your local library’s website, or better yet, make a field trip to the library and pick out some books to take home. There are also lots of great free reading websites such as Epic and FunBrain. Here is a great list of places you can find some free e-books!

  • Creativity and Art Time: If your child enjoys art, give them some simple projects to do! There are some really great activity sets you can purchase ahead of time for your child such as KiwiCo, Little Passports, and MEL’s Science Kits. Here is a list of even more kits available!

  • Find a Tutor: When school is out and you have to work, it can sometimes be helpful to find a tutor. Braintrust Tutors are an excellent source of Special Education Professionals that can help your student stay on track and even get ahead. They offer FREE consultations, so it’s easy to get started. Their platform will help you match with the perfect tutor for your child’s unique needs. Starting from their amazingly talented pool of vetted educators, you can use their extensive filters to narrow your options according to areas of difficulty, learning differences, location, and more! They will recommend their top three teachers who meet your needs, but you can search through other potential matches as well. Then schedule video interviews to find the right fit for your child. All before booking any sessions or making any commitments!

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. 

Teachers! You are not alone.Teachers! You are not alone.

Teachers! You are not alone.

Sep 15, 2020Remote LearningTeachers

TEACHERS, you are not alone. We've seen your social media posts, we've read your texts and emails and we've listened to you on the phone. You're frustrated and exhausted, and you're working all hours of the day and night. And, we’re right there with you! Whether you’re in the classroom all day, at your computer all day, or in that hybrid, in-between model, this school year is the most difficult school year we have seen.

When you start to feel stressed, take a step away and take a deep breath. Below are some great ways to relieve stress and improve productivity.

  • Focus on what you can control. There will be millions of things that are outside of your control, but if you focus on those things, you will lose sight of what you need to accomplish and cause stress.

  • Create some quiet time. Okay, what I’m saying is meditate. The big ‘m’ word seems unrealistic to some people, but it helps! Even for 5 minutes at a time: in between classes, right at the end of your day on Zoom, before you get out of your car, in the bath or shower, walking around the neighborhood — whenever, wherever (as Shakira would say). Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer have either free options, or free-for-teachers programs.

  • Get enough sleep. If you are lesson planning until 2am and then starting class at 7am, you are not getting enough sleep. Reevaluate your to do list and accomplish what you can until a certain time, then turn off your computer and focus on you.

  • Drink water. Keep it at your computer and keep it filled. Have your coffee, then switch to water.

  • Eat healthy foods and remember to eat 3 meals a day, or keep snacks like nuts, fruit, and granola bars at your computer.

  • Create a calendar and start to schedule to do items over the week and create a routine. I like Asana.

  • Find someone to talk to that will validate your experiences, and help you destress. It's therapeutic to vent sometimes, but you also need someone who will help take your mind off of your job. If you feel like you don’t have someone in your circle that can, or will, be that person consistently, I cannot stress enough the benefits of some type of therapy. (For real, this year is like no other, do what you need to get through!) Talkspace and BetterHelp have text- and video-based versions, and I believe some insurances have partnerships with them.

Check In

Check in with yourself on a daily basis. If you don’t feel you have the time, make the time. Schedule it on your calendar if you must. Find a quiet space, or put on headphones, and ask yourself these questions.

  1. What went well today? (Did something make you smile? Any celebrations? Feelings of pride?)

  2. What did I learn today? (You learn something every day. Sometimes it’s just something small, but small celebrations are just as important as large celebrations.

  3. What do I want to improve for tomorrow? (Choose one thing. Yes, one. If you need to make a list of everything you want to improve, then do so. Then rate them and pick the most important thing. Yes, one thing.)

  4. What do I need to be successful? (Do you need to research? Ask someone? Do you need time alone, or time with friends?)

  5. What am I excited about for the future? (What is happening tomorrow, the next day or the next week, that is exciting?)

Focusing on yourself is, and should be, your top priority. You may experience some bumps along the way of putting yourself first, but once you do, the cloud of uncertainty will lift and you can feel ready to tackle each day.

Take care of your body, and check in with your mind - every day.

Check It Out

During your check in, did you find something you want to research? Check it out! Ask questions, join groups, and use Google. Attempt to find at least three sources or opinions, then blend them together and make your own. Why? Because four minds are better than one. Joining several ideas and resources together can make the perfect resource for your students.

In the age of remote learning, which will be here for a while, new products are becoming available every day. As students and teachers return to school, new ideas, resources, products, and apps will continue to develop. Set aside some time each week to research, and be firm with your time limits. Whether it’s 30 minutes or two hours, set a timer and then move on to something different.

Check It Off

There are some great studies that show you are more productive when you are awarded for your effort. I use Asana to build my to-do lists. When I mark something complete, a rainbow unicorn dances across my screen. You think I’m kidding? It’s extremely rewarding. It’s ok to reward yourself for completing your daily tasks. You’re not a robot! You can take time to enjoy yourself. Have that glass of wine, go for that walk, or read that book you’ve been meaning for finish. Check it off your list, and move on to you!

What do you do to unwind? How do you manage your hectic life? Drop a comment below!

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 - Teaching Moderate to Severe Special EducationRemote Learning Series - Teaching Moderate to Severe Special Education

Remote Learning Series - Teaching Moderate to Severe Special Education

Aug 21, 2020Remote LearningTeachers

This fall many of us are diving into virtual learning. While some schools are planning for in person instruction, I imagine that at some point virtual learning will be a need for all schools. Below I have included what I found to be the most important aspects of teaching virtually to our students that generally require the most hands-on instruction, including tools for teaching daily living skills. 

While I find these to be successful for my students, I fully understand that all of our students are different and I know that most of my students are more independent than many others in moderate to severe settings or on a modified curriculum in general. 

Family Communication 

Parental involvement is the key to successful remote learning. For students with moderate to severe needs, parents tend to be more involved because, well, they have to be. Now every parent needs to be involved. Right now, parents are at home with their children and can be easier to reach, but that also means they are busier than ever. One of the best things we can do as teachers is to provide helpful and meaningful communication to families, including tips on the best ways to support their children during remote learning.

Just like our students, parents will need to be familiar with the technology platforms, forms of communication and the academic expectations of their children. Create screencasts so that parents and students can watch you explain the directions multiple times. Provide parents with the necessary information so they can log in and check weekly assignments, usernames and passwords, and any class messages.

Having parent video conferences to touch base and coordinate for certain life-skills activities is extremely beneficial. Check in with families for: scheduling the number and timing of Zoom calls and connections, the resources that students have at home, pros and cons of their virtual learning experiences in the spring, opportunities for parent or family support for life skills activities (ie: cooking in the kitchen, cleaning, going for walks or exercising). I did this using Zoom calls and one-on-one parent emails and phone calls. 

Strong communication and opportunities for involvement will be the key foundation for continuing to teach and support our students with the highest needs. The lift of teaching families how to get access to the materials makes the long-term access for students so much more effective. 

Continue Using Visual Supports 

As moderate to severe special education teachers, we know the immense value and importance of visual supports. Visual supports are used in our everyday lives, from the new 6-feet distance markings in the parks and grocery stores to the picture directions for furniture building. Google Classroom, in my opinion, is not super user friendly for higher need students. Instead of using Classroom as a resource dump for students, creating a Google Site that is very intentionally outlined is a great way to create a strong visual that they can easily navigate through. My school uses G-Suite, so Google Sites is the easiest option for me, but there are others. Here is a reviewed list of the options, if needed.


Right on the homepage of the site - a visual social story that kids can see that reminds them of how and where school will take place, and why. Here are some other scenarios that I have included social story visuals for on the website: 

  • wearing a mask at the store

  • expectations for Zoom calls

  • eating meals with family

  • taking turns during a virtual game 


During our school day we spend a lot of time teaching life skills. With virtual learning, the weekly cafe, community based instruction field trips, volunteering, and so on are not possible.  Instead of dropping this teaching completely, take those wonderful Boardmaker visuals - or whichever style you use - and update the site daily (or every few days) with a new life skills visual for them to follow at home. Examples I have included on our Google Site are: 

  • Doing laundry

  • Cleaning dishes

  • Folding & putting away clothes

  • Brushing teeth

  • Making cereal

  • Making a bed

Video Modeling 

One of the greatest ways to teach students (again, and again) is to use a video model. Many emails and posts are being shared about all the great virtual tours, rides, and museums to use with kids, but that does not mean students can access it independently. Using Zoom to record a meeting to share directions and have students follow along with your screen is super easy. There are several other ways to do this as well, including Google Meets, Quicktime, and likely several others that I am not yet aware of.  Using a site to share video modeling for life skills tasks is another way to create access for students to learning and practicing at home what teachers would normally support with at school. 

Keeping as many Schedules & Routines as Possible

Schedules and routines are an important part of a student’s day, especially when students have Autism or other learning disabilities that make their world more confusing and chaotic. Without the regular routine of going TO school, we try to make their school day at home as similar to their schedule at school. Here are a few things that I have kept consistent throughout virtual learning: 

  • ‘Clocking in and out’ (on a Google Form): With high school students, I created this routine to start to build the idea of clocking in and out of a job. It addresses life and vocational needs that they will need in the next few years. 

  • Morning Meeting: While the meeting is over Zoom now, the structure of the meeting remains the same. We have a ‘virtual’ Do Now (on a Google Doc), we rotate around the ‘room’ asking each other questions, and we review our service providers, homework, and announcements for the day. 

  • Individual TEACCH Schedules: this Autism-focused method has different leveled systems for creating student schedules, based on need. I have three levels of students, on three styles of schedules - some with icons and pictures, others with words. They now have a virtual version of their schedules that they update each day.

  • Computer-Based Programs: CNN10 and Raz-Kids (Reading A-Z) use were structures that my students had in their day. Since most of my students were independent with this, it is an easy structure for them to complete while they’re home - including the Google Form for comprehension checks. 

  • Hands-On Activities: In the spring we scrambled to get packets, binders, and sensory kits together for our students before we left on the last day and we used Amazon to get kids extra supplies, as needed. This fall, we are creating a more structured system of getting materials to our students each week that they can do without a computer. This will look different for each student across subjects.

  • Life Skills Activities: Each Monday at school we hopped in our school van and picked up supplies for our Tuesday cafe and Friday cooking lessons. Instead of going together to the store, I use Zoom on my phone to ‘take’ the students with me to the story, asking guiding and follow up questions so they can ‘instruct me’ on how to navigate the shopping experience. We continued our Friday routine but are now ‘at home, cooking together’ via Zoom, and use our parent communication to ensure we all have the right materials and supports in place. 

  • Daily Agenda and Parent Signature: The physical agenda check is not possible in virtual learning environments, so I created a ‘Daily Checklist’ on Google Forms that is a homework assignment each day for the students. They check off boxes for activities they have completed and their parents ‘sign’ at the bottom before submitting it, including and comments or questions they arise.

Use Something New or Often Forgotten

An evidence-based practice that usually falls off my radar at school is exercise. Students can have Adaptive PE and walking breaks, but daily exercise is not generally a part of our schedule at school. Take this time to dive into the plethora of online platforms and videos geared towards kids. I update my site with a daily one, but you know your kids best!

This year, given that we have a bit more planning and structure, I have also reached out to our administrators and staff to coordinate some reverse mainstreaming or peer-mediated instruction and intervention. Many schools have ‘buddy’ programs for their high needs special day classes. With virtual learning those programs, and many general education push in classes, have fallen to the wayside. Peer intervention is an evidence-based practice, and giving our students these neurotypical peers as models and supports is something that can be continued in virtual classrooms -- it just takes logistical coordination. Plus, exposure and interaction with our kids with differences is great for the general education population, too! 

In my classroom, reverse mainstreaming will include general education students (no more than 3 at a time) joining our afternoon group activities that focus on social and life skills building: Zoom calls for cooking, games, show & tell, science experiments, virtual field trips, and more. 

Shifting ‘Coffee Carts’ and More to Virtual Opportunities

Brainstorming how my students can shift their life skills activity in their weekly cafe has been a creative task for me. Here are a few things I have come up with that might be good for your classroom setting: 

  • Volunteering: There are many food banks that have shifted their work from one central location to others. Working with my paras and leadership team, I am coordinating logistics for students to be sent materials to make brown bag lunches and hygiene packages that we will pick up and deliver to organizations around our school. 

  • Cafe for Families: Most of my students have several family members living with them. Instead of making coffees and cookies for teachers, I will be asking family members to make ‘orders’ with their students that we can make at home, together. 

  • Food for Staff: Even though teachers and families are at home, I am asking teachers and staff to request food delivery through a Google Form. This will allow students to practice reading an order and use certain delivery sites (Yelp, Doordash, Instacart, etc) to order food on their own. 

As distance/online/virtual learning continues during this weird, chaotic, at-home time, I am sure that we special education teachers will continue to rise to the occasion and use our creative minds to reach our students. We always do, no matter the obstacles; we are superheros in that way! 

If you have any other ideas, suggestions, or questions, please do not hesitate to comment below or reach out to us! It would be great to hear about all the amazing things happening. 

10 FAQs About Remote Special Education Instruction10 FAQs About Remote Special Education Instruction

10 FAQs About Remote Special Education Instruction

Aug 18, 2020Remote Learning

We asked Special Education teachers what they were still wondering about at the beginning of the school year, and we’ve narrowed down the questions to the top 10 Frequently Asked!

  • How do I teach my students, with low cognitive ability, how to log on and participate in instruction?

    • Provide a clear parent portal, including usernames and passwords, screencasts, and instruction videos.

    • Record yourself logging on to each platform so that parents and students can watch the video as many times as needed.

    • Create a detailed daily or weekly schedule, with direct links to each activity, video, document, etc.

    • Create a repetitive schedule that happens every day to provide structure. For example, every day we have a morning meeting, watch an exercise video, complete a math lesson, have a snack, complete a reading lesson, have lunch, etc.

  • How do I provide push in support virtually?

    • Meet with each teacher you are supporting each week (or biweekly, depending on student and teacher needs). Any time you are discussing a student’s performance, accommodations, and modifications, it counts towards a student’s push in hours. For example, if you talk about Tommy for 15 minutes, that is 15 minutes of push in time. (We know, this is a controversial point, but our research into special education law has guided use to this conclusion, and we use it on our practice).

    • Provide accommodations that students can use during their class time. The amount of time they are using the accommodations also count towards their push in hours. For example, you’ve created a graphic organizer that will help your student write an essay. If they worked on their essay using the graphic organizer for an hour, that is an hour of specialized academic instructional support.

    • During synchronous instruction, co-teach by messaging individual students, creating differentiated documents and doing in-class small group instruction using a break out room.

    • For asynchronous instruction, provide additional documents or artifacts for support such as articles on that student’s reading level, videos, vocabulary definitions, picture support, extra directions, or video recordings of yourself reading an article aloud or walking them through a project.

  • How do I work with my in-person students at the same time I’m working with my virtual students?

    • If this is your situation, ask for a paraprofessional. This is not a feasible situation without a para.

    • Have your para manage the online students. Give them detailed instructions on how to handle it while you are teaching. You can switch and meet with the at home kids while your para covers an activity.

    • Have a camera set up close to your instruction so that it can be live-streamed.

    • Consider having your para click through a slideshow of book pictures while you’re reading a book aloud to your students.

    • Provide down time for students. Offer videos for movement exercises, neighborhood walk scavenger hunts, and family recipes for snack time.

    • Provide computer time, independent time, play time, reading time, etc. for all students.

    • Give at-home parents detailed schedules so they can choose to participate with their child.

  • How can I ensure my students are doing the work, and not their parents?

    • Consistently remind parents of the importance of students learning by doing.

    • Plan to meet individually with students you are concerned about. Ask the student questions specific to the project to assess that student’s learning.

    • Report up to your principal that this is happening and that you have done the above mentioned; this is an ongoing issue for students with and without special education needs.

  • How do I manage a paraprofessional during remote instruction?

    • This article on working with a paraprofessional remotely gives tons of great information and resources.

  • How do I know my priorities?

    • First priority is building relationships with your students. They will have experienced some sort of trauma, even from simply having their schedules disrupted. Make them feel safe during this unknown and scary time.

    • Second priority is teaching students HOW to do remote learning by explicitly teaching them the platforms they will need to use every day. Do this via live instruction, a recorded video or screencast, or both.

    • After the first two priorities are met, you can begin teaching your content. You can always start with content at the beginning, but without explicit platform instruction, it will be a struggle.

  • How do I plan instruction that is flexible? How do I plan for all of the possibilities?

    • Planning is key here. Be sure to plan activities that can be done online and in person with minimal changes.

    • Start planning the year as if you will be remote. Putting together a website, even if students are face to face. Use in-person classes to teach expectations and build relationships. Teach the online platforms you will need to use during remote learning.

    • Have long projects in your back pocket. Create research projects that can be easily sent home with students to research. Students can put together a project that shows learning and research of the subject (give them choice).

    • Be prepared to send students home with paper based work, as some school districts are not 1:1.

  • What the heck are Boom Cards and how do I use them?

    • Boom cards are super cool! You can create interactive assessments that are graded immediately and provide instant feedback for students. You can use them during morning meeting, independent time, whole group instruction, and in small group instruction. They are a great way to provide an interactive way to show what you know. Learn more about Boom Cards, it’s free!

  • How do I do small group instruction virtually?

    • Small group instruction is so important! First, start with setting up a common meeting time for you and your group.

    • Find materials that can be used online OR digitize the materials you’d like them to use. You can find books that students can interact with online at Reading A-Z, ReadWorks, BookTrust, Wanderful, MagicBlox, Vooks, Newsela, and more.

    • Use a document camera or the virtual whiteboard feature in zoom to show your students math problems so you can work through them together.

    • If a student is having trouble and the rest of the group is moving on, set aside a time to check in with that student independently.

  • How do I keep myself and my family safe?

    • Follow the CDC guidelines as closely as possible. Be sure to wear protective equipment. Advocate to your union if you are not provided with adequate PPE.

    • Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer as often as possible, don’t touch your face and leave your mask on all day.

    • When you come home, immediately put your clothes in the washer and take a shower before touching anything or anyone.

What are you still wondering about as we start the school year? Comment below with your questions!

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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