The closure of schools due to coronavirus pandemic has forced teachers and students to adopt new ways of teaching and learning to continue education. While most educators are struggling with the new normal – remote learning, special educators in particular are facing unparalleled challenges transitioning their teaching to home-based instruction tailored to each student’s needs.
Delivering differentiated content to children with special needs is always a challenge even in a well-equipped classroom. But now that schools are closed and kids are learning from home, special educators are facing even bigger challenges to provide sufficient support for each of their students who each have very different requirements to learn. However, experts opined that in special education, schedules, sensory supports, and close collaboration with families can help smooth the transition to remote learning.
In this article, we bring you some important strategies that can help support special educators in delivering education to differently-abled students at their homes.
Setting up home-based learning
Special educators need to establish an appropriate learning environment and objectives for students and their families before launching into a detailed list of to-dos and daily activities. As the ‘direct teaching’ model transforms to ‘remote teaching’, they need to first know what’s it like at home by calling families to get a sense of each students’ home set-up. For this, they can ask questions like: Will parents be home all day? Will they be working while at home? Is internet available? What electronic devices can students use? Is there space in the home to set aside for gross motor or sensory activities? This way, special educators can map individualized plans to the available resources.
Recalibrate goals and objectives
After setting up an appropriate learning environment and understanding each student’s circumstances, special educators need to evaluate which Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals are achievable in the new environment, and then work with families to break learning targets into manageable benchmarks.
Proactively engage with families
Parents of children with special needs are likely to need continuous support and guidance, so special educators need to proactively engage with them. For this, they should check in regularly with families via phone, video conference, or email to make sure they feel supported. However, educators should try to be flexible in engaging with special needs’ families. They should be more flexible about their own hours and make themselves available via different modes of communication to adjust to varied family circumstances.
Creating daily list of activities
It is said that most students thrive under structure and routine. For this reason, experts suggest creating a daily list of activities—broken into small chunks with plenty of breaks, and if possible, following a similar order to the schedule students had at their school. Experts also recommend using a kitchen timer, which reminds students of a bell schedule at school. It is recommended that special educators and families must work together to create home learning activities that resemble the school day.
Creating instructional contents for parents
For remote learning, teachers have to compulsorily create instructional videos or written directions to guide their students’ learning. However, special educators are advised to create the same for parents as well to teach them how to set up and support their children in various activities. Besides this, special educators can also think of ways parents can use generic objects in the home to teach various skills.
Meeting sensory and movement needs
Students with special needs require additional sensory modifications and supports to help them learn and grow. For this, educators said parents can use simple objects like colored play dough and bubble wrap or brain-based games like Jenga, if students need to release energy. It is also said that rice and beans placed inside pockets can substitute as a weighted vest or blanket to provide a sense of security, while writing and drawing in shaving cream can reduce tension while boosting language development. Experts said that even hugs, deep breathing, fun activities or allowing a child to run around outside can also help.
Additionally, parents can refer the following free or freemium applications, which are specially designed for students with special needs:
This is a free app that gives kids a digital doll family of up to 15 people in various skin tones with which they can explore, play, and share stories with other people. Sharing stories can help them increase student verbalization, provide a place for social and emotional learning, and teach necessary early language skills.
SoundingBoard is a free mobile augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app designed for children who are unable to speak to help them communicate. The application comprises of preloaded boards using symbols with recorded messages where students can select and press images on the board to prompt a verbal message.
LetterSchool helps promote early literacy and numeracy skills by guiding differently-abled children to tap, touch, and trace colorful animations. Using the app, children learn letter formation, letter sounds and names, spelling, counting, and other preschool and primary skills. However, this is a paid app with a free trial for a limited time period.
This is an audio book service that helps students who struggle to read while boosting their listening skills. It has an extensive collection of stories and books for all ages, with scores of splendid narrators who bring stories from every genre to life. It is available with a free one-month trial.
Epic is an e-library that is great for supporting reluctant or struggling readers. It gives access to more than 20,000 high-quality children’s books and educational videos, with an assortment of both fiction and non-fiction from prominent publishers. This is a paid app, but it is offering free access to schools during these difficult times.