By Sarah Vakharia, Ed.S., LEP NCSP
Covid-19 has pushed schools to expand their virtual practices. Effective tools and resources are needed to ensure special education students are receiving comprehensive virtual supports that are equivalent to in person instruction. We have compiled some resources and tips for how to set up students and teachers for success when providing virtual special education services.
1) Frequent and Consistent Communication:
- Communicate and collaborate consistently with the student’s special education team. Ensure they understand and are implementing a student’s IEP goals, accommodations and modifications. Explore what eLearning resources and materials they need to enhance a student’s learning.
- Set a consistent schedule to communicate with students and families about their services and any barriers they are facing while engaging in virtual learning. For example, are they able to access their Assistive Technology resources, do they understand how their services will be provided remotely and are their services being consistently implemented across service providers.
- Provide changes to IEP goals or supports to parents ahead of a meeting (at least 24-48 hours). This will allow them time to process information and fully participate in team meetings.
- Keep administrators in the loop. Let school administrators know about the resources you may need to best support students and any disruptions to supports or services for special education students. You will need to work together to determine a plan of action including what resources need to be distributed to adhere to a student’s IEPs and if any compensatory services need to be provided to prevent disruptions to a student’s learning.
- Create a One Stop Shop webpage (e.g. Google Classroom) that the educational team and family can access. This would provide all information about schedules, supports and resources for the students on your caseload.
- Develop a consistent daily and/or weekly schedule of activities that are provided to students and families ahead of time and that students can access independently.
2) Implement Best Practices in Assessment and Instruction:
- Make use of online formative assessment tools to track students’ progress with instructional supports and services.
- Utilize High Leverage Practices in Special Education developed by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and the Collaboration for the Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform (CEEDAR). These practices are organized into 4 aspects of practice, including Collaboration, Assessment, Social/Emotional/Behavioral and Instruction, which have all been found to improve student outcomes.
- Maintain consistency (to the extent possible) with materials, tools and activities used when the student was receiving in person instruction while serving the student in the virtual setting.
- Build in time for small-group or 1:1 supports for students in the virtual setting.
- Provide students with tools to build independence in their learning activities. For example, provide students with a color-coded schedule with all of the logistical information they need to access each class independently (i.e. dates, times, links, etc..).
- Utilize high interest materials and allow a choice of activities to promote student engagement in difficult or low interest tasks.
- Access online resources such as Educating All Learners. This is a coalition of more than 30 disability and education groups that have compiled a one-stop shop for educational resources. This website provides a vetted list of online learning tools and links to resources including evidence-based tips for general and special education teachers serving students virtually, guidance on how to conduct online IEP meetings and first-hand teacher accounts on how they have problem-solved through the barriers of this new educational landscape.
3) Continue Social and Emotional Learning:
- Maslow before Bloom. Ensure that the basic needs (Physiological, Safety, and Belonging) of our families and students are being met prior to trying to engage in them virtual instruction.
- Transition social and emotional practices to the virtual classroom through daily virtual morning meetings. This provides a safe space for students to voice concerns and check in with you and their classmates.
- Balance academic work with social and emotional learning opportunities throughout the school day.
- Create social stories to help explain and respond to unexpected technological issues or changes in schedules. This will provide the students with strategies for navigating these barriers independently.
- Check in frequently with families to ensure they have the resources they need and connect our them to school or community-based mental health supports when concerns arise.
4) Accessible Online Resources:
- The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) website provides resources to educators about how to make materials more accessible for all students using the POUR principles (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust). The website provides key questions to ask about the materials being used and provides best practices and resources for educators to use when designing instruction for diverse learners. These resources include how to develop accessible presentations, documents, videos, social media posts and Open Educational Resources (OERs).
- The Special Education Innovation Network (SEIN) is a newly formed coalition of special education researchers, non-profit organizations, assistive technology and software developers. This document provides a list of innovative research-based games and technologies that can be integrated into instruction to enhance learning for our students with diverse learning needs.
- The Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities provides publications and resources on research-based strategies for making online learning more accessible for diverse learners. Tools such as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Scan Tool and the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) list help to examine and evaluate the quality and accessibility of materials for struggling learners.
“The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see.”
~Alexandra K. Trenfor