2020 is a year like no other. We are all doing our best to adapt to this new normalcy – wearing a mask, working remotely, doing school remotely… For our students with special needs, remote learning poses more challenges than the regular education population. Being a special education teacher, we cannot help but want to help make this time easier for parents and students with special needs. When we know what we want to accomplish for each day, it makes our jobs this much easier! Below you will find tips and tricks to set up a remote learning experience that serves your students, their families, and yourself!
Set up your work station at home
Here is what my work station look like! You will be spending a lot of time at your work station – make sure you fill it with items that serves you during this time!
- To keep meetings and IEP due dates organized, I like to use a wall-mount calendar. I look at it before teaching every day so I know what I have for the day.
- Keep your monitor at eye-level. To do that, I use two boxes. You can use anything you can find at your home! It is very important to keep a healthy posture as we settle into remote learning this school year!
- Maintain good lighting. This is very important since you will be spending a large portion of your workday staring into a computer screen. I position my work station next to my window to take advantage of the natural light. I also have a big lamp for additional brightness. Brightening up your face also allows your students to see you better!
Set up your online platform
When teaching remotely, an online platform can really help you lay out your course and house all your materials. Some examples of online platforms include Google Classroom, Seesaw, Schoology, etc. Make sure your students are able to access the course materials as independently as possible. To keep remote learning student-friendly, try to keep your Zoom or Google Hangout link easily accessible at a constant spot. I put mine on the home page, at the top of my online platform. You can also make the accessing process as streamlined as possible. I do so by keeping everything for each day in a separate folder and linking all my URLs. This way, students can simply click and go!
My platform this year
I use Schoology. Upon entering my course on Schoology, students see our Daily Zoom link as well as Daily Attendance Form on the home page. Below the attendance form, I created a folder for each week. The current week is pink, so students will know which one to open. Within the week folder is a folder for each school day of the week. Again, the current day is a different color so students will know which one to open. I house all the materials for the day in their respective folders.
A structured remote classroom starts off on the right foot with a solid, consistent morning routine. Think of your morning routine as a time to connect personally and build rapport with your students.
- I like to start with a simple check-in question. I sometimes have students unmute themselves and share; other times, I have my students utilize the “chat” to tell me how they are feeling.
- I then continue with a morning message. Morning messages are a nice way to add a personal touch to your class and also foreshadow for students what to expect throughout the day. I like to have my students read the morning messages to keep them engaged.
- End with a review of your students’ schedules. Again, I like to have my students read their own schedules to build a sense of accountability.
Once you have found a routine that works for you and your class, keep it consistent! It is very important to maintain consistency so that students feel a sense of accomplishment during this time!
A lot of students with special needs are multi-modal learners. Especially in a time of remote learning, we need to acknowledge and provide students with multi-modal directions. The simplest way to get started with is visuals. Accompanying visuals with your verbal instruction will significantly increase students’ learning.
Another way I like to use visuals is as reminders during my lesson for students to mute themselves (or to unmute themselves when they answer questions). Students are getting a lot of sensory overload during remote learning (auditory and flickering lights from the screen), any way to make things simpler for them will go a long way!
I like to use visuals via screen share during remote learning. I embed the visual cues onto my slide deck to help guide my lesson and for easy access. I find that when I share my screen, it becomes challenging for my students to find my box. It is simpler for them if everything is readily on my slide deck and I can refer to them as needed.
As special education teachers, we are familiar with accommodations as part of our students’ IEPs. During this time of remote learning, it is exceptionally important to remember and provide accommodations to help students succeed. Below are accommodations that have proven effective for students with IEPs during remote learning:
- Frequent checks for understanding
- Frequent movement/brain breaks
- Provide directions in multiple modalities
- Repeat/simplify directions as much as possible
- Pacing guide for students who push into general education classes to help access big projects
In this time of immense stress and uncertainty, it is important to give grace to your students as well as YOURSELF! We as teachers are always putting others before us. Remember that students need a well-rested, happy you (even when your lesson plan is not flawless!).
To me, setting boundaries have been immensely helpful to maintain a work-life balance while teaching virtually from home. I set an alarm at 5pm on Mondays through Fridays to remind myself to “get off work.” Additionally, working out and meditation are essential for self-care during this time. These activities release endorphins in your body to promote social well-being. My go-to’s are 5-minute meditation before class, rapid-fire 3 affirmations after work, and 30- to 60- minute workout before dinner.
At the end of the day, no one can take better care of you than yourself. Your students need you more than ever right now. They need you to be present, engaged, and passionate as ever!