Providing remote learning opportunities to students with cognitive, sensory, and physical challenges can be a daunting task. Interactions that rely on physical proximity and the experience of having a fully embodied person present are difficult to recreate in a remote environment. In part one of this series, we looked at overall considerations for providing remote learning to students in Life Skills.
With those considerations in mind, we’ll go in depth on developing your online learning experiencing, including setting up your space, sharing your screen, the different types of online sessions there are, how to involve paraeducators, and more.
Who are Life Skills Students?
Life skills students usually have some combination of disabilities that require extensive communication and physical and mobility supports to help them meaningfully contribute to an academic setting. Frequently they’ll have some degree of neurological or physical disability, but students shouldn’t be placed in life skills just for these types of disabilities.
These types of students often need to be supported with continual and sustained resources throughout their day. They require teachers that can teach them the necessary skills to take care of themselves and get along in the world.
Teacher Setup for Online Learning
If online learning is an option for your classroom, then having a good set-up will be key. Teachers will of course need a computer, speakers, microphone, robust internet access, and a webcam. I recommend finding a location to record or broadcast that is quiet and free of distractions as much as possible.
Make Room to Work
Additionally, it would be better to have a lot of table space surrounding the area where you record. This will allow teachers to have easy access to materials that they may need to display on screen. As we will discuss later, using the same materials that you use during instruction in person allows students to understand that the activities are one-in-the-same, just done online. Having those materials easily on hand will make this easier and learning sessions go smoother.
Learner Setup for Online Learning
There are several considerations when setting up the learner’s environment. A computer with speakers and robust internet access are basic needs. If there is the opportunity for interaction then you also want to make sure they have a microphone and webcam.
We also want to look at considerations specific to students with significant disabilities. First, when using an online video platform, are you able to control the size of the various windows? If the box showing the teacher is very small, it will be difficult for the student to attend. Additionally if the platform shows the learner their own camera view, minimizing or closing that will be optimal as it can be distracting to see their own image.
Another consideration is how well you can manage the screen sharing. Are you able to remotely control the size of the digital item you are sharing? Can you move back and forth between your camera feed and the items on the screen easily? Taking the time to explore and fluently operate the system will help develop a positive overall experience.
Finally, if families have the ability to connect to a larger screen like a television, that would help students access the content. The closer the image of a teacher on screen is to the actual size of the physical teacher the better. Any way that we can recreate the experience of being in person, the better.
Types of Online Session
When scheduling your week, thinking about the various ways students have been grouped while at physical school is important. What sessions can be done as a group? Which need to be broken down into small groups or individuals? Here are some ways to think about this:
- Full Group – Morning Group is perfect for full group instruction. This is an opportunity to interact with other students, talk about the day’s schedule, and check in with how everyone is feeling. Big group instruction might happen 1-3 times a day in an online learning environment.
- Small Group Breakout Session – Students with similar ability levels or IEP goals might come together in small groups throughout the day. This is an opportunity to provide more support to parents and students. And it also gives students the opportunity to interact and learn from peers. Small group instruction might happen 1-6 times a day for each student
- Individual – Students and caregivers who need a lot of support or have very individualized goals would benefit from small group instruction format. Maybe the parents need a lot of help following the “caregiver script” or the student needs continuous prompting to receive benefit. This might happen 1-8 times a day for each student, depending on needs.
Live or Recorded
The question of what content to provide live and what to pre-record will depend on the activity and flexibility of students and caretakers. If the entire classroom is able to be live during morning group for example, that could be good for increasing interactions between students. However it will also lead to scheduling difficulties and possible technical difficulties.
Find Balance and Flexibility
Most likely teachers will find that a mix of both is required. Perhaps big group sessions are prerecorded each day to allow everyone to participate, but small group and individual sessions are done live. Whatever decision you make, ensure that you have communicated with caregivers. What do they prefer? What are they capable of doing by themselves with a prerecorded session? All the more reason to start the dialogue with parents as early as possible.
Start by determining what are the needs of each student. This includes what content areas and goals need to be addressed, what times are students available during the day, how much time do they have available for instruction, and what format you want to provide for that instruction (Group size? Live vs. Recorded?).
Building your Schedule
At that point you can start to build your schedule. Your initial schedule will probably not be your final, as you start to share with others. This is to be expected. Slowly develop it and keep it consistent from week-to-week, but be willing to adapt it when things are not working as smoothly as you’d like. Flexibility here is extremely important. As well, remember to communicate with other service providers that see your students. We want to avoid double booking or having sessions back-to-back and exhausting students.
Paraeducators have a vital role in our classrooms and that is no less the case in a digital classroom. Here are some ways that paraeducators can help:
- Paraeducators can provide instruction in small group or individual sessions (and even large group sessions). As you build your schedule, think about what sessions they can lead and which would be better for the teacher to handle. You can even start by having a teacher lead a session, then slowly transition to a TA led session, as they grow more confident.
- Paraeducators may serve as technical support while large group meetings are being held. If a student is disconnected they can help reconnect and catch the student and caregiver up on what they missed and where they are in the “caregiver script”
- Paraeducators can also help print out and upload lessons to thumb drives, help develop take-home-kits, and interact with students via phone or writing.
This is a challenging time for everyone. Providing predictability and care to our students and their caretakers can go a long way in helping ease anxiety and fear. These considerations for remote learning can help you take the next steps to providing love and guidance to our families in this time of need.