As a special education teacher, I know the value of instructing my students in person, where I can interact with them in real-time, use hands-on materials to meet their unique needs, and be physically there to support their executive functioning and social and emotional needs. We all know that digital/virtual/home learning is not only not ideal – it is also hard. But this is the inescapable reality for many of us during this challenging time, when our creativity and flexibility are needed — and valued — perhaps more than ever before.
Accommodations will probably look different this year. We will all need to innovate new strategies, tools, and technologies to meet our students’ needs. Here are some ideas for IEP or 504 Plan accommodations that have helped many of my students during distance learning.
Create One Place for Everything
Schoology, Google Classroom, Seesaw, etc. — schedules and assignments are presented in a variety of different formats, and they may vary from teacher to teacher within the same grade. Though intentions may be good, these disparate schedules may still be confusing for a child with attention and learning challenges, especially if they are juggling schedules provided by a homeroom teacher, a special education teacher, a speech-language pathologist, or any other service provider. The competing schedules may create confusion, especially when every day does not look the same. You may want to work with your child’s teachers to develop a single document containing their unique schedule that includes the links they will need for live sessions at different times.
Devise a Daily or Weekly Checklist
For students with attention and learning challenges, one of the greatest challenges with online learning is knowing what they are expected to do for each class. A daily or weekly (depending on the student’s age) checklist can be a great “catch-all” for keeping track of expectations without toggling between multiple sources. Consider working with your child’s teacher or service providers to create a single document that lists all of their to-dos for the day or the week. This should include links to websites and documents. If you have access to a printer, your child may be motivated by the action of physically crossing items off the list.
If your child benefits from frequent check-ins, they may be really missing having their teacher physically present to notice when they aren’t sure of the directions or how to get started. Keep in mind that self-advocacy is a developmental skill, which is often lagging for individuals with executive functioning challenges. Your child might have a hard time asking for help — knowing when or how to ask, or having the courage to do so.
Collaborate with your child’s teacher to set up a designated time when your child can check in (or vice versa) each day. Ensure that your child understands how to ask for help if they aren’t on a live meeting with the teacher. This skill is especially important right now and increasingly challenging due to the lack of face-time opportunities for students. Also, consider setting up a small reward system to encourage your student to ask for help.
Provide Directions in Multiple Formats
Just as competing schedules and platforms often create confusion, so too do duplicative directions and assignment lists. Most assignments are posted with written directions on the digital platform (i.e. Schoology or Seesaw) and stated during a live meeting as well. If your child is still not sure what they are supposed to do with these modes, explore different options with their teacher. Different school districts have different rules regarding recording video lessons. Still, opportunities for recording often exist, and finding a way for your child to listen back to a teacher’s direction could be very helpful.
Explore Non-Screen Options
Learning on a computer screen can be very hard for a variety of reasons. Even as adults, we know how draining it can feel in front of a screen all day. And having to navigate a computer and work on assignments online can be a difficult (and frustrating) way to learn. Some students have a more challenging time than others managing this discomfort.
Explore with your child’s school options for taking time away from the computer by receiving some assignments as print materials. This could be as simple as having a notebook for writing and paper workbooks or worksheets for math assignments. Dry-erase boards can be a great tool for physically writing down work that doesn’t need to be saved, such as math practice or planning for a longer writing assignment. Dry erase markers can make learning more engaging, and a simple photo of the work can be uploaded or sent to the teacher.
Try Text to Speech
When students are using their computers to learn, typing will play a role. Whether it’s navigating different websites, responding to discussions, or working on writing assignments, students will be typing more than ever in upper elementary. Having access to text-to-speech tools could alleviate frustration and allow your child to better ask for help when completing assignments. It’s likely that your child’s computer already has this feature, but they might need some instruction to use it successfully. If your school uses Google as a platform, the Google Read and Write Chrome extension uses text-to-speech technology to “read” documents to students. Also, if your child does not yet know how to do 10-finger typing (QWERTY), this is an essential skill to learn beginning in second or third grade.
What Does Extended Time Look Like During Remote Learning?
Many children with ADHD benefit from having extra time for assignments and assessments. Consider collaborating with your child’s teacher to account for the extended time your child typically uses. Since longer days might be especially exhausting and stressful for your child, try to avoid extending the required time and instead work with the teacher to reduce or shorten specific assignments. If this becomes a problem for your child, collaborate with the teacher to see if some other expectations can be reduced or adjusted. Every child deserves to feel successful, and we need to make sure we are setting up our students for success. We want them to feel complete at the end of the day.
Distance learning certainly has its challenges for students with learning and attention needs. As teachers, we are always continuing to learn more and build our toolbox. We are sad, frustrated, and annoyed, too, trust me. But we are here for the challenges, and we will get through this together. Patience and an open dialogue will make this time more productive and healthy for all of us.
Distance Learning: Next Steps
Updated on September 10, 2020