It’s not really surprising at this point that teachers in the U.S. (and probably the whole world) are working to adapt to teaching 100% remote. Even online schools are having to adapt. Even those public schools have staffed offices and meetings that occur in person. This has become especially tricky for special education teachers. How do we track goals? How can we legally provide services directly to students? Can we differentiate when the curriculum is thrown off? Do we make new goals that we can’t track now, but can track later? I am going to attempt to answer these questions and provide some ways to serve the our students in special education.
Some Assumptions You Need To Have…
- None of these ideas are good if they are contrary to your state, district, or principal’s direct orders on how to interact with your students. There is not way I could possibly know how each district is dealing with this transition, so I will keep this general and give a few ideas.
- You will need the help of parents. Helping parents stay motivated is critical. Be supportive. If parents are totally flopping, don’t criticize them. Give “soft” feedback and sometimes lie about your true feelings. Because right now, no one needs to told how bad they are sucking.
- Expectations about how much, how often, and actual gains have to change. Throw them out the window and just start accepting any amount of effort better than nothing.
- Students with severe disabilities are going to be very tricky. Try to think outside the box. Can you meet online with parents and help? Provide support? This is unprecedented for all of us. And there aren’t easy answers in place. We are all doing the best we can.
- Some forgiveness is going to have to be granted during this time. There is just no way we can provide the full range of services to all students and never be in contact with them.
Options For Providing Services
1. Send goals and materials to work on goals home with parents.
To help this be successful, I would recommend digitally coming or actually teaching with parents and students about once a week. This doesn’t have to be a long time. Maybe 20 minutes. Communicate with parents about ideas to help their individual student stay motivated. (have a behavior chart, motivate with a desired activity, take breaks, only work for a set period of time, etc.) This could potentially count as service time as well.
2. Digitally teach students through online platforms.
Speaking of attending with students at home… This is not going to be quite as effective as teaching in person. Because you won’t be able to get students to focus as easily. Plan with parents a head of time. Create a behavior plan even for your best students. I would have the teacher keep the points (to keep the student’s attention) but have the parent give the reward. I would also recommend looking up videos from really good VIPkid teachers. I know their material will be different from yours, but the methods they use to engage students while online is phenomenal.
3. Have parents work on material for goals, but complete progress monitoring through a digital platform.
This is similar to the first option but it allows teachers time to continue gathering data on goals. I would send home the materials that students need to use for the data. Then have parents send any finished materials back.
4. Direct students to online videos and materials that parents can access from home.
This can be tricky for student with disabilities because students often need help attending to the materials. However, if you have these materials ready, this is an easy way to keep students doing something.
5. Record yourself teaching an explicit lesson online and then send a link to your students.
This could be done through youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Google Classroom, a classroom website, and a ton of other platforms. Provide actual breaks in the lesson where you would have students respond in real time. Providing opportunities for students to respond will still be critical. This will help it keep students in engaged. The tricky part for this option will be that parents have to monitor to see if a student is learning the concept. Consider pre-recording reteach lessons as well.
6. Work with general education teachers to differentiate materials sent home.
This will probably be for older students. Younger students have an easier time with differentiated instruction because online materials can just be set to an easier reading level, or be given a lower grades math assignment. However providing this differentiation can be considered service time. Consider creating an outline for textbooks, fill in the blank outlines/paragraphs/notes, creating simplified assignments, different sets of questions, adding skill level assignments within the work, and giving parents ideas of tools they can use to help students (calculators, charts, visual aids, etc.).
Ways To Provide Materials
- Scan physical pages and email to parents. Parents can print it out or help their student complete it directly on the computer.
- Send a word document that can be edited, saved, and sent back to the teacher. Read how to do this here.
- Create a shared google document. As the student completes the work you will be able to see the answers, provide feedback, and track changes. Read how to do this here.
- Create an editable pdf document from a word document. Read how to do that here.
- Have parents take pictures of work and text or email it to you directly.
- And last you could have parents come line up outside of the school and send work home to students individually.
Ideas For Providing Behavior Support
The hardest part of this is the behaviors. For a portion of students, being at home is going to help their behaviors. They won’t need to stay in their chair for long periods of time, the work load will be reduced, they can sleep in, and they are away from a lot of other students. However, there will be others who are going to struggle staying at home and completing any work.
- Provide parents with simple sticker charts and rewards for students.
- Give parents realistic goals for how much work could be completed a day.
- Provide a few sample schedules and encourage parents to stick to it loosely. For example, we do work right after breakfast. Or at 11:00 AM we turn off the TV and read. Nothing too crazy for families to manage.
- Encourage parents to do things to help students transition from one activity to another. For example: play music and dance in between, let student choose where they will do their next activity (provides movement and choice), do a movement in between activities, provide a healthy snack, prepare kids before there is a change, etc.
- Consider using the exact behavior tools that the student is used to from school, at home while schoolwork is being completed. For instance, if a student is used to a color scale based on listening to instructions, have the parent use that too. But only during learning or more behavior problems could ensure between parents and students.
Thoughts On IEP Writing
I personally would create goals and service plans with the idea that school will resume as normal in the fall. If you are in a state that has mandated school online until the end of the school year, I would hold a virtual IEP meeting with every parent and write an addendum that states what service times will look like during the pandemic. Here is an article further providing information on legal protections. This will cover you legally, give you the opportunity to meet and discuss ideas with parents, and allow you to write the entire IEP for next year without creating 100 extra hours of work for you.
Remember to include things in your addendum such as:
- What the parent responsibilities will be.
- Services will be in the home until the governor lifts the stay at home policies (or something like that).
- How often will the special education teacher be teaching and communicating? (once a week, every day for 15 minutes, via online lessons, online curriculum with support, etc.)
- How will parents communicate needs to the school? (via email, school website, phone call, etc.)
- What materials will be sent home. (emailed goal worksheets, reading materials, electronic copy of iep, shared google documents, etc.)
Wrapping It Up
This is just the tip of the ice berg. If I didn’t answer a question that you have, please let me know. I would love to help you! Stay positive, be forgiving, and remember everyone is just doing their best right now.