Webinar - May 2020

Digital Teaching for Exceptional Learners

 

The sudden transition to remote teaching has left many teachers and families scrambling for resources. Students who fall outside the normal range of development have specific challenges that must be addressed for continued success. In this webinar, we will discuss ways teachers can create equitable remote learning experiences for students with additional needs.

Read the transcript below:

Liz Pritchard:

I think we're going to start getting this started. Can everybody hear me okay? Am I coming over correctly? Okay. At any time, please stop me if I start breaking up or if anything doesn't make sense. I will be happy to slow down talking or re-go over something if my mic broke up or anything like that, so thank you very much. Still getting some people in. I love seeing some familiar faces, some familiar names, so, again, thank you.

Now, our topic today is going to be digital and remote teacher for exceptional learners. That is our topic, so we're going to get into how to help our exceptional learners in the classroom. Okay. All right, so thank you guys so much for joining us. I am going to jump in and out and try to make sure that I accept anybody who has come in a little bit later, so if I pause for a minute, I do apologize. I'm also trying not to trip over my words for you all too. Got to make sure that I'm on point for you teachers.

So, we are going to jump into digital and remote teaching for exceptional learners. The sudden transition to remote teaching has left many teachers and families scrambling for resources. Students who fall outside of the normal range of development have specific challenges that must be addressed for continued success. In this webinar, we will discuss ways teachers can create equitable remote learning experiences for students with additional needs.

Leading the discussion, my name is Liz Pritchard. I'm EdTech Solutions Master Integrator, and I'm also our operations manager. Erika Hand, she is joining us. Erika, can you raise your hand? Hi. Erika is joining us, and she's joining us from the Balsz School District, and I probably said that wrong, Erika, so you can correct it.

Erika Hand:

The Balsz School District.

Liz:

The Balsz School District. She even coached me on that one before we started this. Erika is an instructional coach for special education, and we are so excited to hear from her today. I'm going to do one more check. All right, thank you all for joining. Okay, so let's jump in. First, I want to say thank you. Thank you all for taking some time with us, thank you for joining us. This is a really awesome topic of conversation to discuss. I know it hits a personal point in my home and in my heart, and I have children who are exceptional learners at home. So, thank you for joining us today.

Many of you are wrapping up the end of the school year and looking ahead to what is next, which is still full of so many unknowns. We hope you will find value in the next 30 minutes spent with us. Some of the topics we will start on are how to address specific challenges for exceptional learners, discovering customizable resources for students with additional needs, and how to make this transition using available resources. All right, one more check. Right, I think we're good.

We want to make sure you get the most out of this discussion, so please add any questions you have to the chat feature. If anybody needs help in finding the chat feature, please let me know. Oh, it looks like we already have a chat going. So, if you have any chats whatsoever, go ahead and put that in the chat feature. If Erika is answering anything, I'll definitely make it a point to jump on those questions for you and pull those out. We do have some predetermined questions that some of you were nice enough to send in when you registered, so we're going to start with those. But again, go ahead and throw them in there. Let's get a discussion going around exceptional learners.

Okay. To start with, what students are considered exceptional learners? The Council for Exceptional Children lists the following terms and definitions taken from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbances, intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairments, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, traumatic brain injury, visual impairments including blindness, developmental delay, at-risk, gifted and talented.

That is a long list and can include many other considerations. The US Department of Education has been clear only in that the federal law requires distance instructions to be accessible to students with disabilities. It does not mandate the specific methodologies. So, it just indicates that we have to provide distance learning; it doesn't give you any guidelines as teachers. How do you go about providing that distant learnings to those exceptional students? Very little guidance is given, and schools are left to figure out how to deliver accessible remote instructions. Don't know if any of you are dealing with that hardship at the moment, but it is definitely there.

Okay, so, with that, does anybody have any questions to start with? I know it's fresh in, but anybody want to throw anything out there? No? Okay. I'm going to go into asking Erika questions, so, thank you guys. All right, Erika.

Erika:

Okay.

Liz:

Hello.

Erika:

Hello.

Liz:

With the sudden closure of schools and switch to remote learning, what are the main challenges you have encountered or helped teachers work through?

Erika:

For that question, first of all, our district was blessed in a sense that we have one-to-one technology for each of our students, so when the school closure occurred, we were able to get most of our students the laptop distribution, which was huge, and we were able to get hotspots for those students, so we were very lucky to have a lot of our families that had computers, at least, during this time.

However, we're also in a high-poverty-level district, so it was very difficult for our teachers. I think the anxiety was very high, so even before we could get into the remote learning part, there was a lot of social emotional of teachers and providers just being very upset that they couldn't see their students every day, because we consider our school their safe zone for so many of our kids.

So I guess that was a big challenge for us, that teachers were really worried about the kids getting their basic needs met, even before getting into learning. Our district was also very lucky to be able to provide breakfast and lunch for our families, kids ages 2 to 18. They didn't even have to be going to our district, they just had to be in our neighborhood. So, once those types of things started, teachers had anxiety lessened, and we were able to get rolling on the actual remote learning piece of it.

My teachers were, they were on top of it starting on day one on making videos and uploading them into Google Drives so that they had videos for the students to watch, along with assignments on Google Classroom. The communication was a challenge, though, getting families connected. Even though the kiddos had laptops, a lot of students were not connecting with us for school reasons, more using it for recreational use, so that was difficult. But the kiddos that we could get in and did get connected, it started to really increase, so teachers started to say, "This is really exciting, I have 12 kids that showed up today," versus "I had one kid show up today."

So, it was difficult, but teachers were also able to connect with parents in other ways to get the students online and going. They used a lot of different phone apps to connect with parents where they didn't have to use their personal number, where they could text parents and say, "Hey, they need to log on," because students can be funny like that and say, "Oh, I don't know how to log on." So we had a couple of our kiddos doing that, but for the most part, we got most of our kids logged on eventually.

I found also that the attention levels of our higher-needs students, it was really difficult for them to have increased screen time. Especially students with autism, we were finding that that was a really big struggle for them to be in a big room with 12 or 13 or 14 students at a time, it was overwhelming. So my idea that I pitched to a team of teachers and providers was to do an activity menu. This lessened the stress for a lot of parents. The team had self-contained teachers, resource teachers, we had speech pathologists, we had our occupational therapist, we had people that worked in K-5 schools, and we also had people that work in our junior high, our sixth, seventh, and eighth.

The activity menu was standards-based learning, still, but it was things that they could do around the house. There were activities such as cooking, and how you can get ingredients, and things that you can find in your pantry. We made it very usable for our junior high kids if they had a special-needs sibling at home, since a lot of our parents were still working during this time. Thank goodness, we had a lot of working parents during this time, I should say. So those junior high students were able to use the activity menu versus trying to finish Google Classroom assignments, and that replaced a lot of the online learning for some of our kids, and they were able to do a Google Form and just put in which activity did they do in the morning, which one did they do in the evening, and a basic question, "Did you like it, or did you not like it?"

I started making sure that these were distributed at all the IEP meetings to our families, and the feedback was incredible, that I had parents that were even showing tears in an IEP meeting, saying, "This is so much easier, and I understand this." Due to a lot of our parents not having a lot of education themselves, they were struggling helping their kiddos.

As far as with students that are ADHD and ADD, which most of our students have some sort of form of that, what we did in order to increase their ability to stay organized during this time and complete assignments, again, the activity menu was more interactive for those students, so we were able to get them engaged. In the very beginning, most of our teachers did a project with the kids, and what they did is they made folders, organizational folders. They showed kids how to make them at home, just with a simple piece of paper, and that kept a lot of their stuff organized during the time, and also showed them on their computer how they can organize folders as well.

So, our teachers are meeting with kids every day. Our teachers had office hours where kids checked in, but for our special-needs learners that needed that more one-on-one attention, teachers were making private chats for those students so that they were able to interact with maybe one or two students at a time, versus 15, or versus our kiddos that are in general education classroom, that there's 30 kids. They were able to have that private one-on-one time, either with their general ed teacher or their special education teacher. So that's a way we help with that.

Liz:

That's amazing. That's amazing that not only did you guys come together as a school like that, but really as a community, for your families, for your students, so that's awesome to hear. And I love a lot of those tools that you were talking about, giving the students the activities to do, and engaging the household needs and the things that are the resources right around them, that's really awesome.

Erika:

Thank you.

Liz:

I don't know if any of you all have, during this remote learning session, gotten into that innovation and are using different types of tools, but if you are, definitely let us know, because that's something that we want to share across the community with all schools. So, thank you, Erika, for that.

Erika:

No problem.

Liz:

All right. Okay, Erika, what are some of the ways you have been able to navigate this uncharted territory in our social distancing world and acknowledge the emotions involved? You mentioned that in your last answer, that there's a level of unsettled emotion, so how are you handling that?

Erika:

I can say that there were many phone calls to teachers. I opened up my line of communication, call, text me, email me, and I was always able to respond to people within the next five minutes or so if they needed something, if I wasn't in on a meeting at that time. It was a lot of talking people down a little bit, I guess you could say, and just recognizing that we are human too, and we're going through this stressful time, and we have a lot of uncertainty at our homes.

I feel that a lot of our teachers that are parents too, that are trying to teach their student during this time, admitted that, "Oh my goodness, I'm a teacher, and I can't teach my own children, but I can teach all of these guys." So, even our area director admitted that, and she's a special education area director. She said, "You know, my husband teaches high school, and I've taught school for many years, and we can't get our second-grader to get work done."

So, the challenge was across the board. I think it's more of just recognizing that we are human and allowing people to be human in those moments, and say... You know, I said to a lot of teachers, "If you're overwhelmed and you just need to disconnect for a little bit, take an hour to yourself. Go out and take a walk, and come back to it. It's okay to do that. We can do that. If you have to cancel an office hour today to have a chat with me, we can do that too and problem-solve."

So it was a lot of communication with my teachers and communicating with my area director, and making sure things were approved if they did need that break, or I would take a Google Meet for them for the student and say, "Hey, I got your Google Meet today. You, go take a breather, go hang out with your kids for a little bit." So I think it's just being a human.

Liz:

Just being human.

Erika:

Understanding that we're all human, yup.

Liz:

Exactly, bring that human element into it. You know, not only are we dealing with a pandemic, we're dealing with a situation of fear, and when people are loaded with fear, they're going to react differently than in their normal day-to-day life. And if they don't have that assurance at the end of the road, then it's, "Why? Why are we doing this? What are we doing this for?"

Erika:

Absolutely.

Liz:

There was a question that actually came in from Shana: "In accommodations for assessments, high school level for the questions above." So, Shana, did you want to put your mic on?

Shana:

Hiya.

Liz:

Yeah, all right, hi.

Shana:

Hi. How are you?

Liz:

Good. How are you?

Shana:

Hanging in there, like everybody else, I guess. I work at a very high-performing high school, which I've worked in all levels, I'm the learning specialist there, and I find it to be more difficult for teachers to bend when there's this level that students need to get to, in their minds. So, I guess what I'm trying to find is, how are people accommodating tests and assessments? Because aside from time, which is already becoming an issue, what other ways do you suggest, I guess?

Liz:

Erika, do you have any tricks or tools that you all are using currently?

Erika:

Well, we're K-8, so we don't have a high school, so I don't know if somebody else maybe has an answer for that.

Liz:

For the assessments? Yeah, Juanita.

Juanita:

I'd like to offer up, I also work... I work in a private Catholic high school, and we have an inclusion program. We're serving basically mild to moderate learning differences, okay? So, this started coming up relatively quickly. We use something called Canvas for our learning platform.

Liz:

Yes.

Juanita:

So, what our teachers are doing, like you said, additional time, and it became clear that they can't just, like in a normal Algebra 1 class, you can't give some kids this X amount of time, and then give others even more time, okay? So, what our teachers, particularly our math teachers, which kind of surprised me, because they can be very black and white about things, our math teachers have come up with, "Okay, we're just going to give all of our students the amount of time that we would normally give our students who have the exceptional needs." Okay? And in our school, typically it's up to time and a half is our standard, okay? So, now every student's going to be provided that, because we figured, it's not just our kids with IEPs that are stressing right now; our honors kids are stressing right now. They're all stressing.

The other thing that they're doing is they're putting less problems. Again, coming from our math department, typically their exams are 50 problems easily, maybe 60 problems on our final coming up next week, and they're all cutting it down to like 30 problems. They're still going to cover the same content; they're just going to put less problems. And that seems to really be helping; our families are so appreciative of this.

The students are starting to feel, "Okay, I don't have to get all anxious about my finals coming up." Because I'll be honest with you, I know you're in a high school too, the thing that I've seen really increase over the last year or two. ADD has been pretty steady; it's the kids with the anxiety, the kids with depression. I can't believe how many freshmen are coming in already medicated. And they're really struggling right now with all of this.

So that's really two things we're doing: extra time for all, and even though... That's our AP kids, that's our honors kids. And also, shortening, making it just a little bit shorter. Cover the content, but just don't throw as many problems at them.

Liz:

Well, thank you, Juanita. Thank you. Clifford, go ahead.

Clifford:

Have you seen a problem by shortening a test, for example, because now the problems that they have are worth more because there's fewer problems? So if they miss one, I mean, technically, they'd actually be getting a lower score, versus having more that might be simpler problems, rather than a fewer amount. What are your thoughts?

Juanita:

I think they're also changing the grading for it, okay? If I have a problem, let's say I have 30 problems, I'm not going to make it all... Yeah, I see what you're saying, but I think what they're going to do is, they told me that they've found a way to work around that, and they might actually put... The most number of problems are going to be the more, shall we say, accessible, easier problems, and they just won't put as many of the super-hard, critical problems. To be honest, I know our math teachers have said, in this time of distance learning, it's been very difficult to teach anything really new concepts. I know, I live out in Simi Valley, and I know our district... I don't know if there's any Simi people on this thing, so maybe I'm wrong, but what I have been hearing from my daughter, who lives out here, at least in the elementary schools, they've been basically told, "Don't try teaching new content. Use the time to review, okay? Don't expect them..." Because not everybody has the access that they would normally have in the classroom.

Now, in my school, I know some of us have tried to teach new content, but they've done it more slowly, they're not going as quickly. And I know for a fact, I don't think we've... We were told by our administration and by the archdiocese, "It's okay not to cover everything you would normally cover in this academic year. These are unusual times, so give yourselves a break. Don't stress." Because our teachers are stressing too.

Liz:

That's awesome, Juanita. Thank you, thank you. In fact, Deborah Ballard, you had a really good comment. I'm going to let you read that out if you want.

Deborah:

I think that's a... I also work at an all-girls Catholic school, and I think that's a wonderful way of... We have similar struggles with not wanting to... The need to keep the expectations high and still accommodate some of our students that just have pretty very mild learning differences, but they have the extra time limitation. So we've struggled on how to do that from the teacher's vantage point, and similar, it's math and science that have kind of really stepped up in a lot of ways to get creative with doing that. Most of ours are more project-based now, rather than formulative assessments. I like the thought of just opening up and saying, "Let's just kind of not put a time element on things," and alleviate some of the anxiety from that. Are you from Simi Valley, California?

Juanita:

I am. Are you?

Deborah:

I'm actually from Westlake Village, California, but I work in Maryland now, yeah.

Juanita:

Oh, okay. Yeah, I live in Simi, but I teach in San Fernando Valley.

Deborah:

Ah, I know Santa Susana, the arts school there, really well in Simi Valley.

Juanita:

I'm just up the road from there, literally. I pass it all the time.

Deborah:

Are you? Ah, my niece goes to school there. I love Simi.

Liz:

Oh, I love it. I love it. Well, thank you. Thank you very much, thank you both, Juanita and Deborah, for bringing up the things that you're doing differently at your school, or have implemented in your school. I'm sure that... I hope that there's other teachers who are on there who definitely can take some of these tools back to their own classroom, as remote as it might be.

I do. Believe it or not, the reason that the story of exceptional learners is special to me is my middle son has dyslexia. So does my mom. And when I first started working in EdTech Software, and we were... I was doing a product demo and learning our things. Inside of our reader, we have a really amazing features inside of it. And I was showing my middle son, and he stopped and he looked at me, and he goes, "Mom, this would've been so much better in school, when I was in school, if we would've had a tool like this." Mind you, he's older, he's up and out of the house, married now with children. Don't ask me my age. But it was so simple. It was a simple comment where he just looked at me and goes, "School would've meant so much more if I would've had just a simple tool like this reader that you guys have."

It was something that really hit with me, and it's definitely something that we want to make sure that we share with our clients, and we share not even with our clients, just people out there. So, if you all have best practices, if you have something amazing that you're doing on your campuses, let's share it, let's get together, because that's the one thing that I've heard through this webinar, is there is definitely a sense of community within your own worlds, but now with all these teachers kind of getting up and deciding, what's the new normal? What's the new normal?

And I think we all agree from this meeting, fear is definitely part of the new normal, still, for these kids, and anxiety is. So, thank you, thank you. That was an interesting turn. Here I thought we were just going to talk about exceptional learners, but I appreciate it.

Is there any more questions from anybody? Does anybody have concerns? Anything that they want to bring to the table as something their campus is doing currently? Okay, all right.

Tammy:

Liz, I just had one question.

Liz:

Oh, yup, okay.

Tammy:

Sorry. That has to do with, what is the dyslexic reader that you are using?

Liz:

It's not a dyslexic reader. Inside of our EdTech Shelfit reader, we have these really cool things called overlays, and I actually, I can show you all. I don't want to turn this into a product demo or anything like that, but I can show you what I mean in that tool inside of our EdTech Shelfit reader, if you guys want to take a moment and see that. No? Okay. I'm just going to do it really quick, and I do apologize, but I just wanted to show you.

So, it's not necessarily a dyslexic tool in general; it's just one of the tools that we have inside of our reader. So, we have these wonderful things called overlays inside of our e-text, and so, the functionality that I was talking about that my son and I both fell in love inside of our reader, inside of an eBook, is the fact that a student can go in, and they can click into a book.

What's really amazing about our particular reader is that a teacher can create a specific edition for their student's learning needs, and nobody in class will know that that kid has a special book, meaning if you have students who need a little bit of extra help in the classroom, or maybe somebody who's... they're a little faster in the classroom, they're a little bit more, they need more challenge, you as a teacher can customize the actual textbook itself for the student, share it with the student, and nobody's the wiser that they have something different than what is in the normal class. As much as teachers want to claim that they want to be different, they don't actually want to be different in class. They don't.

So, what our reader can do, and what I fell in love with, is that our reader has the read to text capability. If I click on it, you guys won't be able to hear it through my headset, but our reader has the ability to read the whole book to the student. My son's dyslexia, it causes him social anxiety if he has to get up in front of people and actually read out loud. So, for him, this is the feature that he fell in love with.

The other feature that we have inside of... Or, another one of the overlays that we have inside of our reader is the fact that a teacher can actually record themselves, either explaining the chapter to the students in more depth or explaining in a more challenging way for the student, to really customize that. So you as the teacher could give one-on-one tutoring to a student without actually having to take the time out of your schedule to sit down and have one-on-one with that student.

So, those are some of the tools that I've seen come about that make me excited about education and make me excited about what's out there. I don't know if you all have some other tools that you potentially might use for your exceptional learners, and I would love to hear about them. But that's just a little bit of what our reader can do, and if you guys... I'm a geek, and I can talk about my e-reader all day long, so if you guys want to talk about that later, we can. But there's definitely features inside of Shelfit that can help in the classroom with giving that extra attention that you all were mentioning that is lacking a little bit in the remote learning world. So, thank you guys.

Deborah:

Can I ask real quickly?

Liz:

Yes.

Deborah:

Can I ask real quickly?

Liz:

Thank you.

Deborah:

Does that overlay, does that change the variability of any of the vocabulary in the text?

Liz:

Mm-mm (negative).

Deborah:

Or does it have anything where it highlights vocabulary or anything, like to explain as you read?

Liz:

Yes, so we... It doesn't have anything where it highlights the vocabulary as you read, but there are annotation features that a teacher and a student can do inside of the text, so...

Deborah:

So it would be them working it, working the material...

Liz:

Yes, mm-hmm (affirmative). So, like I said, I would be happy to send anybody information if you all would like to see the reader. Again, there's a bunch of different overlays that you can actually embed and use inside of the classroom. And again, we're not asking for the teachers to do anything extra; our reader is meant for the teachers. Maybe you've tried the online classroom environments, maybe your students have tried the online classroom environments, and it's not really a fit to your teaching style, and you really want something that you can customize. That's where the Shelfit reader would come into play for y'all.

All right, I promised you it would only be a half an hour, so I'm not going to take up too much more of your time, unless anybody has questions, concerns, comments that they would like to share.

Okay, so at the end of this conversation, by today or tomorrow, we are going to be sending all participants a recording of this training and this webinar for your guys's reference. And please check out our website for previous webinars that we had, all right? So, thank you so much.

Lacey Woolfrey, she's our teacher trainer, she will be reaching out to you. Unfortunately, she couldn't make it today, but she'll be happy to touch one-on-one if you guys would like teacher training or any more information. Thank you very much.

Speakers:

Thanks, Liz. Thank you. Bye-Bye