Many schools will continue remote learning in the new year, with no end in sight. Regular classroom teachers and students are moving along with varying degrees of success. It’s a struggle for those who had not previously taught or learned online. For students with disabilities, this type of learning can be quite successful, but it takes a lot of planning and support for both teacher and student. Sadly, some special needs kiddos are taking advantage of opportunities to open new windows for gaming and to chat with classmates instead of working. Others are disinterested or simply unable to participate via screens. Although the shortcomings of remote instruction can feel overwhelming, I will highlight some of its advantages for special needs students.
For those kiddos who experienced high levels of bullying at school, sitting through a lengthy Google Meet or Zoom lesson trumps the bullying which typically occurs at lunch or on the playground.
If teachers are reasonably tech savvy, they can use platforms which organize assignments and calendars for students. This additional layer of organization supports those students with executive function weaknesses.
The option to work asynchronously provides more options for those students with attention difficulties.
Teachers can use a variety of online apps that allow students many response types, such as singing, writing, and voice recording.
Depending on the individual teacher, special needs students may have one-to-one support that might be difficult to provide in the large classroom setting without some stigmatization. After school chats, lunchtime groupings, and even after school tutoring can provide private and individualized support.
Some teachers have amped up their level of support for parents of special needs youngsters during this time, including links to resources and more frequent emails. They are also emailing students more frequently.
This period of remote learning can be a wonderful RESET button for students who felt hopeless about school. Teachers have a unique window to build both a sense of community and an improved sense of worth for all during this hardship. It’s a kind of shared struggle, not just a struggle for those already-disheartened kiddos, which may improve both student and teacher empathy for one another, perseverance, and courage.
Without doubt, early intervention is key to identifying dyslexia and providing the specialized instruction that creates new neural pathways. This spelling test is the work of a second grader who is struggling mightily. She has had ‘guided reading’ out the wazoo but nothing to address her phonological and phonetic weaknesses. She would certainly qualify as twice exceptional, with abundant signs of above average intelligence and desperate signs of being in distress.
Certainly, there is much more evidence of her disability than this test, but an analysis of her errors is quite telling. Sadly, by the time she may receive support, her self-confidence and behavior will likely be in the tank.
I have had limited success convincing parents who are in strongly emotional denial that their child has a disability. In my 49 years of teaching, I’ve noticed that even if they support appropriate interventions, it is hard for them to accept a special education label. And without that label, such students are not usually going to receive the help they need. Public schools receive funds for special ed teachers because those students qualify under state and federal guidelines.
What to do?
Wait. Many parents have accepted this ‘loss’ after a few more years of agonizing over it. Educational struggles truly are a matter of grieving for most families, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes parents admit to having similar struggles at school or refer to relatives with a similar profile.
Work to reduce stigmatization. The more we routinely show students and parents that everyone has learning differences, the less likely they are to freak out.
Provide info about and cool examples of brain-friendly teaching in back-to-school events and teacher conferences. Learning challenges are no fun but they are not the end of the world.
Don’t gloss over significant signs of struggle just because there is push- back from classroom teachers or parents. Collect data and do your best to provide the right kind of support, even if the label is incorrect (or, more ‘politically correct’).
I am still processing the excellent book, “The Good News About Bad Behavior,” by Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Lewis describes four types of parenting styles (and I like to think of them as teaching styles, too): authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and uninvolved.
If you are a parent or teacher, which style best describes you? Do you use punishment and rewards to control your kids? Do you try to be their best friend? Are you distant or spend most of your time at work or away? Are you mostly concerned about “covering the material” without connecting emotionally?
Lewis argues that an authoritative parenting style is most effective. Could you be described as a calm adult who holds kids responsible but allows them to learn from mistakes? Do you refrain from criticizing while allowing kids to experience natural consequences?
One important takeaway from examining parenting styles is that it’s okay to be our imperfect selves. When upset, we are more likely to regress to the type of parenting style we experienced, which may have been authoritarian or indulgent. If we are honest with kids, admitting that we messed up or missed what they needed, we teach them that we can learn from mistakes- and so can they. We are modeling a healthy response to imperfection.
Notice that communicating about problems is key to effective parenting and teaching. More on that next!
I am thrilled with a ground-breaking book called, “The Good News About Bad Behavior,” by Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Published last April, this book presents thorough and up-to-date evidence that we are dealing with a brand new world of trouble- and hope. I’ll summarize this fascinating book across several posts, but one huge takeaway is that screen time has changed the brains and behavior of children and teens.
I was saddened and shocked to learn that by five years old, the typical kid is fastened to a screen for four and a half hours a day, which is about 40% of their waking time. This early exposure to the developing brain is NOT a good thing. This trend follows the same trajectory among teens, with the added component of social media and the anxiety that produces. Just remember, there’s bad news and good news! More to come!
We did it. We finally got through the 504 review and hopefully it will be last meeting of the school year. Each time I have to sit down face to face with this group of 6 people, my heart grows a little more heavy. Do people not know what they say? Or is it some […]
Question: What would happen if schools were run this way? Are they run this way?
After years of putting it off, my dearest teaching widower (DTW) and I decided to refloor the upstairs. That was over 2 months ago. We got 2 estimates from Big Box home improvement stores. We went with the $500 cheaper quote, but it turned out their offer was cheaper because they didn’t order enough laminate. For over a month, people at various levels in the Box world assured us that the delivery would be made “on Monday.” My DTW called and emailed and went in person to sort this out. The laminate finally arrived, but we were still short those 11 boxes. After another month of reassurances and many more “Mondays,” we were told by a multitude of folks that indeed our order was there, waiting for us to pick it up. Seriously? We had paid for them to deliver it. My endlessly patient DTW told the last person who called, “I don’t believe you, but I’ll wait.” As a rule, DTW’s become quite patient waiting for their wives to return home.
There are even more boxes in our kitchen- but still missing 11!
This experience is not unlike having a leak fixed in my classroom. No one was ever responsible, the only person who knew how to fix it had retired, and there were multiple “fixes” that never worked. It became just about as difficult to identify and serve a student with special needs once the Box Response to Intervention model was instituted. I am 100% in support of providing modifications and accommodations to ensure that kiddos don’t get placed unnecessarily. But when you have a kid who can’t read 3 letter words in second grade, you don’t need months of new strategies. You need your 11 boxes of laminate OR specialized instruction, whichever comes first.
“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” — Mario Andretti
Take advantage of all available moments to breathe curiosity into your kiddos. Match activities to their interests. Create new interests. Let them go wild! Go wild with them!
my dancing kiddos
I think one of the most inhibiting and frightening factors for teachers is fear of “losing control.” The truth is that we do not have any control. Each student will make choices and you cannot control those decisions. We have love, acceptance, affirmation, modeling, structure, curiosity, passion, consequences, and joy. We can control how we respond to every choice around us. And in that environment, kids will thrive. They will not be robots nor will they be crazed. They will dance and delight in learning.
As you prepare for the next school year, determine that you will aim much higher than “having control.” Paradoxically, unless you you do have sufficient love and skills and structure to manage a class, your group will appear quite out of control. Embrace their choices and draw them into your dance.
FLIPPED Learning is the topic of a well-written article in the May, 2018, issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School. The authors, Lim and Wilson, share their experience and expertise in embedding questions in videos as a part of the flipped classroom. I have blogged before about the flipped classroom, a model in which students acquire knowledge outside of the classroom, usually through videos. This knowledge is then applied in class through discussions or projects. Research supports the benefits of hands-on activities for learning math, but does a flipped classroom automatically include such active learning? Not necessarily.
My biggest concern is that homework is especially fatiguing for students who struggle at school, extending the hours they must concentrate and process information. There is no shortcut for learning new material, although Lim and Wilson share terrific examples of how to maximize the use of those videos. Still, videos or not, kids must focus on new content, practice math skills, and then apply that information the next day. All after a long day of effort. Ouch!
Many special needs students are simply too worn out for homework. They need the opportunity to recharge their batteries, engage in physical activity, and focus on their strengths (which may not be tapped at school). And what about all those kids with social weaknesses for whom group discussions are a blur of white noise? What about students who have no access to computers? Videos are also changing; it’s become popular to speed up the presentation, add visual clutter, and increase noise levels to make videos “cool” or catchy (although not as often with math content). These features actually decrease some students’ ability to focus and make sense of concepts.
If you are looking for good strategies to improve math videos for students, this Flipped Learning article is for you. But please consider using videos during the school day, Special needs kids may require a different or second explanation of a concept taught in class. The pause and replay features are quite useful, as are headphones to eliminate background noise. The embedded questions can provide opportunities for teachers to determine how much students are learning without the distractions of a group setting. Use them to provide feedback for your students, too.
Videos are potentially powerful tools in a classroom. Let’s not make them a burden.
Birthdays can be bittersweet experiences for kids at school unless there are clear guidelines to keep celebrations equitable. And even with those guidelines, some populations (wealthy, privileged) have a clear advantage. I have seen improvements over the years. It used to be that the “entitled” families provided a sugar feast for the class, along with balloons and performers. Many classes still celebrate monthly, but I’m not sure that school is the place for birthday events. Those poor souls born during summer months never quite make the birthday cut.
There are many other appropriate reasons to recognize students at school, such as effort, perseverance, initiative, and kindness.
Research is finally catching up with what teachers have known for years: Kids (and teachers!) do their best work when they are comfortably seated. You will still find many hard plastic chairs in classrooms, but there are also nooks of beanbags, bouncy balls, and form-fitting chairs like this one in red orange. As with instructional methods, one size does NOT fit all.