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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.

Checking Your Bias at the DoorChecking Your Bias at the Door

Checking Your Bias at the Door

Oct 14, 2021Teachers

Everyone has bias. Yes, even you. As teachers (or administrators) we are often in front of our students more than even their own families, so it’s important that we understand how to check our own bias at the classroom door. Here are some helpful tips for the start of the school year.

First - what exactly is a bias? Simply put, a bias is a prejudice either for or against something or someone. In Education, this bias (usually for against someone due to their race, sexual orientation, religion, gender or ability level) can have extremely negative consequences that can stick with a child for the remainder of their life. Usually, our bias is unconscious, meaning we don’t always recognize when we are being prejudice. However, even if we don’t “mean to” have a bias, we are still responsible for checking it.

STEP 1: ACKNOWLEDGE YOU HAVE BIAS.

Say it with me, everyone has a bias, whether we know it or not. As teachers, what we say and do has a profound impact on the children we serve, so it’s important to recognize our own bias and address it immediately. If you think you are an unbiased person, be reflective about your words and actions and ask yourself why you think the way you do about students or their families. Once you’ve acknowledged that you have a bias, it’s time to actively work on checking it at the door so you are not allowing your bias to influence the way you teach.

STEP 2: LEARN ABOUT YOUR BIAS.

A great resource for determining your unconscious bias is Harvard University’s Implicit Test. There are many tests available, and you should take as many as you can. Even in areas I thought I wouldn’t show a bias, my unconscious bias reared it’s ugly head, and I will address it.

STEP 3: EDUCATE YOURSELF

Once you’ve determine your biases, it’s time to educate yourself. Below are some resources I highly suggest!

STEP 4: BE REFLECTIVE, AND ENCOURAGE REFLECTION IN OTHERS

It can be extremely difficult to recognize your own bias, and even more difficult to be transparent about it. However, just because you’ve done the work, doesn’t mean you are an expert and it definitely doesn’t mean that people will listen to you. It’s important that you tread lightly when discussing bias with others. Should you have an open dialogue about it? Absolutely. Be sure to remain objective and use facts rather than opinions. By being a reflective role model, you can encourage others to be reflective as well, but you can’t force it. If you are bothered by someone’s unconscious bias, address it with them, but be prepared to walk away from the relationship if they are not willing to be reflective.

Stay tuned for more blogs about recognizing and addressing your unconscious bias!

Building Relationships in the Beginning of the YearBuilding Relationships in the Beginning of the Year

Building Relationships in the Beginning of the Year

Aug 31, 2021Building RelationshipsTeachers

Getting to know your students, what makes them tick, understanding their strengths and supporting their areas of growth is the most important thing a teacher can do in the beginning of the year.

Rita Pierson talks about how every kid needs a champion in her viral TED talk, stating “You won't like them all, and the tough ones show up for a reason. It's the connection. It's the relationships. So teachers become great actors and great actresses, and we come to work when we don't feel like it, and we're listening to policy that doesn't make sense, and we teach anyway. We teach anyway, because that's what we do.”

I’ve never heard a more true statement. The relationship between you and your students is what keeps them showing up every day, it’s what keeps them motivated, and it’s what they take away from that school year. Children hardly remember what you’ve taught them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. So, how do you do this? It’s a balance.

Step One: Check Your Bias at the Door

Everyone has biases, it’s what makes us human. We use our experiences, our understandings, and our observations to make assumptions. It’s our brain’s way of attempting to categorize people, places and things in order to organize and understand the world around us. However, our job as teachers is to challenge those biases every day, check ourselves and walk in with an open mind. This is active work!

  1. When you feel yourself making an assumption about a student or their ability, pause. Check yourself and ask “Why am I making this assumption?”. Challenge your brain to give that child a clean slate every single day. Every day is a new day in your classroom. You can hold students accountable for their actions without holding a grudge or forming a permanent bias.

  2. When a negative thought or assumption pops into your head, pause. Find 5 things you like about that student and recite them in your head. Pick one thing to share with that student. Thank them for coming to class, tell them you’re happy to see them. Find the positive and live in it.

Step Two: Share Information About Yourself

Students love to learn about their teacher. Younger students really think you live and sleep at the school, so showing them you’re a real human that has a family and goes grocery shopping and sees movies in the theatre helps them bond with you in an authentic way. Share your interests with your students. You can do this in many ways.

  1. Hang up things in your classroom that represent you. Hang your college pennant, your favorite movie poster, pictures of your children, significant other, friends and family. Post your favorite quotes. Print out pictures of your favorite book covers or movie characters. Your classroom is an expression of you as a person just as much as it is of you as a teacher. If you don’t have a classroom because you travel, decorate your cart, clipboard, laptop of binder.

  2. Keep it balanced. Only share things you feel comfortable having students share with their parents or their peers, because they will! There is definitely power in being vulnerable with your students about your experiences, especially in an effort to help them understand they are not alone in their experiences. Just be prepared to defend your decisions should anyone question them, and be prepared to be asked by another student because kids love to share!

Step Three: Learn About Your Students

  1. Encourage students to share their likes and dislikes. Ask them lots of questions and listen actively to what they say. Take notes on students remarks so you can follow up with questions or thoughts later on in the year. For example, you hear a student mention they love Marvel characters. Great! When the new Marvel movie comes out, ask them if they are going to go see it. If you see a Marvel character t-shirt or stickers, take a picture of it and show it to them the next day in class. Say “I thought of you immediately when I saw this!”.

  2. Find your students strengths, and spend time building upon them. If you see that a student is always on time, praise them for this small action. If students are social butterflies, help them build this strength rather than seeing it as an annoyance or something to fix. Always find something positive to say to students.

  3. If you need to give them critical feedback, use the “complement sandwich”. For example, “Lauren, I’m so excited that you are making friends so quickly and that you have so much to share with your peers. Let’s focus on our task at hand for the next 15 minutes until lunch, when you can share again about your movie date this weekend. Thank you so much for pausing your conversation! I’m looking forward to hearing more before we head to lunch.” or “Henry, I noticed how much you’re improving your writing! You’ve been able to go from writing one paragraph to consistently writing three! Next I’d like to you focus on making sure your sentences always start with a capital letter and end with a period. Awesome job with those descriptive words! I’m excited to read more about your story.”

Step Four: Plan Time for Fun and Games

  1. Learning isn’t just a sit and get experience. Plan in times for fun and games! These can be really quick getting to know you activities or they can be lesson based review games. Social Emotional Learning is just as important (if not more important) as content based learning.

  2. Plan immersive experiences such as videos or games that allow students to step into the shoes of the character or person in history they are learning about.

  3. Plan engaging content! Focus in on what motivates your students and use that information to help them learn new content. For example, if your students are obsessed with Dinosaurs, use dinosaur themed content to teach them new reading or math skills. Plan a thematic unit on geology and the dinosaur era.

You can do this, teachers! Building relationships with students in the beginning of the year and working to maintain those relationships throughout the school year is an investment in a stress-free year. Those relationships will help you motivate your students to do difficult things and will help them continue to feel safe taking risks in your classroom.

The 30 Day IEPThe 30 Day IEP

The 30 Day IEP

Aug 25, 2021IEPsTeachers

Teachers, the time is here! Those 30 day IEPs can get really overwhelming, especially when you are in those crucial changing grades like 3rd, 6th and 9th. Follow this guide to help you get through this trying time.

Steps to a Successful 30-Day IEP Season:

  1. Review that IEP! Check out the goals, present levels and accommodations. Think about what you might already know about the student, then plan to interview them about their experiences.

  2. Interview the student. Ask them what they already know about having an IEP. Ask them questions about their experiences in the grade before. Review their goals and accommodations with them and ask them if there is anything they would like to change. For students under grade 5, it’s suggested you reach out to parents before engaging in this interview to determine their level of comfort with this.

  3. Review the Present Levels in depth. See if there are any assessment results you can review. There may be beginning of the year assessments that have been given by teachers within in the first 30 days. Compare those results to determine if anything needs to be changed, added or deleted.

  4. Gather information from the current teachers. Ask them if there is anything additional they’d like to see the student accomplish or work on. Review the accommodations with them to be sure they understand what is needed on their part to help the student be successful and ask them what types of behaviors or academic trends they’ve seen from the student. Ask them if any additional accommodations need to be added to the student’s IEP.

  5. Reach out to the parents. Introduce yourself as their child’s new Special Education teacher and ask them if they have any feedback about the current IEP. If you have changes you’d like to make, discuss them with the parent first and get their thoughts on the matter. Share the data you collected during your interview with the student.

  6. Draft the changes to the IEP (or accept it as is). Reach out to the parents again and send the draft IEP. Decide when to hold the meeting and be sure to invite the parents and student to the meeting.

Self-Care Reminders:

  1. Breathe! This is a challenging time in the school year. You are just getting to know your students and need to determine if the IEP they came to you with is appropriate for this school year. It’s important to put things into perspective.

  2. Take time for yourself. Do something for yourself each day you find yourself buried in paperwork. Make a home cooked meal, grab a smoothie, get a manicure, buy something small. Reward yourself for this hard work, but remain in budget!

  3. Take time to spend time with your students - away from the paperwork. You became a teacher to spend time with your students, so make sure you do that! it heals the soul and is a powerful way to build relationships with your students.

Reach out to IEP&Me if you have specific questions or would like help with your IEPs! We are always happy to be a resource. Email [email protected] for help!

SXSW EDU Presentation - IEP&Me Needs Your Vote!SXSW EDU Presentation - IEP&Me Needs Your Vote!

SXSW EDU Presentation - IEP&Me Needs Your Vote!

Aug 19, 2021DisabilitiesIEPsTeachersWho We Are

IEP&Me has submitted a proposal to present at SXSW EDU in March 2022. We need your vote to show the panel that student voice is needed in the IEP Process!

We’ve submitted a proposal to help participants Increase Student Voice and Transparency in Special Education. Learn more about our session by clicking here.

Session Objectives

Participants will be able to understand the IEP document and use it as a foundation for conversations with students & families.

Participants will learn strategies to provide, or advocate for, ways for the whole IEP team to have easy access to student accommodations & goals.

Participants will understand the purpose of student-led IEP meetings and know how to differentiate implementation by age & ability levels.

How to Vote

Click this link. Create an account and then vote “up” our session! Share this link on your social media page and ask your friends and family to vote as well! VOTING ENDS AUGUST 26TH!

5 Tips for Preventing the Summer Slide5 Tips for Preventing the Summer Slide

5 Tips for Preventing the Summer Slide

Jul 8, 2021ParentsSummer LearningTeachers

The Summer Slide, best known to teachers of elementary grades, is the research proven backslide that happens to every student over the summer. It’s the reason why year-round schools exist, and it’s the reason teachers send their students home with packets, book lists, and other activities. Just like any muscle, a child’s brain needs to exercise or it will lose what it gained during the school year. In fact, a recent study showed that students lose an average of 20% of their yearly gains in reading and 27% of their yearly gains in math over the summer. Below are 5 tips to help mitigate the effects of the summer slide.

  1. Choose the Right Materials: Ensuring your child has an interest in what they read or complete over the summer is crucial. You’re competing with friends, vacation, pool-time, television, and games! The books they read over the summer should be engaging, yet not too difficult to digest. Take your child to the library and let them pick out lots of books. Encourage them to choose books that are on their grade or reading level, but don’t push them too hard or tell them they can’t try reading something that might be difficult. Any reading is good reading - including graphic novels and audiobooks! If you don’t know where to start, here is a great summer reading list for K-8. For math, you can get creative with how you incorporate it throughout the day! Create a new addition- or multiplication-based game with a deck of cards or Uno, little challenges for adding up the groceries, dinner bill, or sports score, or giving them more traditional logic books. Here are some great resources for math practice as well.

  2. Set Goals and Make it a Contest: Create a summer reading chart and put it on your refrigerator, get some stickers and set some page goals! For example, task your child with reading 10 pages per day and completing 2 math activities. They can receive two stickers on their chart for each goal they reach. Find some fun rewards for your child like pool time, smoothies, an extra 30 minutes before a scheduled bed time, etc. Try not to make the rewards centered on items, but rather activities and experiences. Here are a list of participating retailers that will give out free stuff for books read!

  3. Make it Fun: Set up a book scavenger hunt, take books on vacation, go to the library and participate in their summer reading activities; make up games! You don’t need to be home all day with your child in order to ensure they do their summer reading or math work. Encourage them by making it fun for them to do. For example, grab a pile of books and write out a list of things for them to find while they’re reading, or hide math problems around the house for them to find. If they find them all and get them correct, maybe they even get a prize. Read with your children at night before bed, or have them read to you or their younger siblings!

  4. Read Together as a Family: Find things you can do together as a family. Go to the library’s free activities, do a family scavenger hunt, practice your times tables on the way to get ice cream. Show your child the books you are reading! Reading as a family can be so powerful. Spend 30 minutes during the weekend to read outside on a blanket or read before dinner time each night. You can also brush up on your math skills while they are completing some worksheets. (You might need the brush up for the new school year!)

  5. Read Every Day: 5 pages here, 10 minutes there. The research suggests that reading for 30 minutes every day will not only sustain your child’s learning but even help them grow over the summer! Encourage them to pick up a book every day and read a few pages. Every minute counts! Skimming the pages of their book to get some insight into the story so you can have a conversation with them about their book is a great way to make it feel like less of a chore (and it teaches them to think critically about their reading, too).

Helpful Tips for Surviving (IEP) March Madness!Helpful Tips for Surviving (IEP) March Madness!

Helpful Tips for Surviving (IEP) March Madness!

Mar 2, 2021Teachers

March is always a busy month for writing new IEP goals, gathering data, and scheduling and holding meetings. This is partially due to the timelines for RTI or SST teams, and results in about 80% of your annual IEPs occurring in or around the month of March!

Not only does this mean you have a stack of paperwork, it also means you need to tweak your schedule to accommodate many meetings. Not to mention, you also need to be sure your students are supported in the classroom while you are busy.

Here are 5 quick tips that helped us survive the busy season!

  1. Use a calendar. And I mean use it. Take the month of March and schedule out everything you need to do each day. Schedule in your breaks, too!

    A tool that we find incredibly helpful to coordinate all the meetings is Calendly - or something like Doodle - that allows you to set time options for parents to see and choose one that works for their schedule. So much better than a few emails back and forth for each student!

  2. Communicate with your administration that this month will require more time out of the classroom. Work with them to find some times - either half days or entire school days - that you can request a substitute to cover your classes so you can use that time to either work on IEPs or schedule IEP meetings. We have also loved having a ‘roving’ substitute that pops into classes for general education teachers to allow for all teachers to join in the IEP meeting, if it’s during the school day.

  3. Gather as much information as possible from parents about when they are typically available, and attempt to provide 2-3 possible date and time options. This will help you avoid meetings getting cancelled, or being unable to find a common time to meet.

  4. Find and repeat your best strategies. Just because a calendar and breaks work for me, doesn’t mean they work for you. Some teachers find it easiest to write one IEP at a time, while others are ok with working on several and going piece by piece. Do some exploring and see what helps you be most productive!

  5. Stock up on essentials & Celebrate Yourself. Get all of your favorite snacks and beverages stocked and ready to go to help keep you fueled and motivated. Celebrate all the teacher wins - the big ones and the small ones.

    Everyone on time to the meeting? Win!

    Parents happy with the school and their student’s progress? BIG Win!

Remember to take breaks and be kind to yourself! What are your best strategies for keeping calm when you’ve got a long list of things to do? Comment and let us know!

The Power of 1:1The Power of 1:1

The Power of 1:1

Feb 22, 2021Teachers

Let’s talk about student check-ins. Are you doing them?

Checking in with our students is crucial, especially during remote learning. Students are not able to socialize in the same ways as before, and it’s taking a toll on our nation’s youth. We’ve been home now for almost a year, and still some teachers I know have yet to know what their students’ faces look like. Students don’t want to turn on their cameras, they don’t want to talk out loud, and some even refuse to type in the chat. Hello? Are you even there? Teachers everywhere are struggling to build relationships with their students, and students are feeling disconnected from their peers, their teachers and school in general.

One way to mitigate this issue is to schedule weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with your students. Sound overwhelming? That depends. There are a few different ways you can fit this into your schedule, even if you are hybrid or remote! Here are some tips to help you start this powerful practice.

  1. Always have a goal in mind - and questions to help guide the conversation. What is your goal in talking to this student? Are you hoping to build a relationship? Are you worried about their academic performance? Maybe you’ve noticed a dip in their behavior or grades and you want to know if everything is alright. IEP&Me has created a Student Check-In Form for both Elementary and Secondary students. Take it and make it your own!

  2. Schedule quick check-ins. Schedule 15-20 minute individual check-ins, and send students a calendar invite or let them know when the check-in will happen. Make sure you make the student feel comfortable, not like they are in trouble. If you are in remote learning, here are some tips I found to be successful.

    1. Zoom drop-ins: Does the student attend Science class but avoids your English class? Ask the Science teacher if you can drop into their class and be put in a breakout room with the student for 15 minutes.

    2. Zoom meetings: You can schedule a meeting through zoom, this is successful only when you send reminders!

    3. Class time: If you have independent work time, or group time, you can pull your student into an individual break out room. If you need an adult to watch your class, be sure to schedule that ahead of time.

  3. Consistency is Key! Checking in with students 1:1 takes time, but it will become an easy practice with consistency. Your students will also benefit from the consistency and will even start reminding YOU that they have a check-in coming up. If you need to cancel, reschedule, or are running late, be sure to communicate that to students so they aren’t left waiting.

  4. Thank the student for their time. This might seem like second nature to you, but maybe it’s not! Thanking your students for the time they’ve given you is so important. They are humans too! They could have been doing something else, but they are giving you their time. Say thank you!

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 - 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.

VISUAL SUPPORTS FOR SOCIAL STORIES 

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 

VISUAL SUPPORTS FOR LIFE SKILLS 

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. 

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