In the past month or so school administrators and teachers have been contending with how to continue education programs for students with special needs. There are many questions associated with this topic and they entail multiple components, not just the educational aspects.
Special education has always been an interest of mine. I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination and find the more I research and learn the more questions come to mind. Technology offers so many possibilities but there are many issues yet to be resolved. A good example of this is the problem of on line accessibility for all ranges of learning disabilities (LD). Technology alone cannot meet all of the needs, and many small, rural schools lack the community infrastructure for connectivity in outlying areas. In some cases, there may be budget constraints.
As the coronavirus spread and states began to shut down schools, many educators found themselves scrambling to find ways to complete the school year. As for the LD students, in an article on the Atlantic Website, Faith Hill reports: “For students with special needs-roughly 7 million in the U.S. ages 3 to 21-the coronavirus pandemic, and its attendant school closures, can be especially scary. At school, they get individualized attention from professionals who are trained in and deeply familiar with their unique ways of thinking, perceiving and processing.” Hill feels: “No amount of love and care at home can turn the average parent into a special-education teacher overnight. Nor can it enable them to practice occupational speech, or physical therapy-services that are provided in many schools.”
Parents who have had successful careers in areas other than education suddenly find themselves with the demanding task of maintaining their special needs child’s education. Homemakers, businesspersons, construction workers and factory workers with no psychology, speech therapy, physical therapy, or educational training suddenly find themselves as teachers at home. Working from home, in isolation, parents are asked to become special education teachers and wrestle with the dilemma trying to fill the gap of continuing their children’s education.
For many LD students using such online tools such as Zoom and Microsoft teams may not be accessible for a variety of reasons. Regarding this topic, Hill finds: “Students with disabilities often use assistive technology; for instance, a student with visual impairments might use screen-reader software to have text read aloud or a braille reader to read text themselves. But a lot of online platforms aren’t compatible with assistive technology-and even when they are, other problems frequently arise.”
During the extended shutdown many parents and special education teachers are worried about backslide or regression in academic progress. This occurrence already happens yearly, which Hill calls “melt of skills” or “summer side”.
Parents who have taken on the role of teacher for their children need helpful advice. Access to special education information at home seems to be sparse at best and if the family is not tech savvy or has no internet access, they may find themselves in a depressing, impossible position.
While looking for suggestions for this article, I asked for some advice from Chad Shippee, a principal of a small rural school in upstate New York. Mr. Shippee responded with a few pointers he shares with parents:
1. “Keep open lines of communication with any school personnel that your child worked with when school was in session. Resource, therapy, and counseling should ideally be available, even if done remotely. These professionals can also help with some suggestions on how to make things go smoothly at home.”
2. “Keep a structured schedule. Many students with disabilities work best with structure and know what to expect when one is followed.”
3. “Don’t be afraid to take a break, or pick and choose what you can and can’t do with your child. No schoolwork is worth the anxiety and stress that can impede on your home life with your child. Do what you can, and just do your best.”
Mr. Shippee also commented: “I see these as the big points. Especially number 1.”
There are a number of web-based articles providing some suggestions. For example, Theresa Harrington has written an interesting article on the Times-Standard website in which she provides five basic tips:
- “Do not try to replicate school at home. Home-schoolers are not even really home-schooling right now because normally, our world is our classroom. Think about it as quarantine schooling.” Remember you are a parent, not a teacher. As Harrington goes on to explain: “It’s going to be messy. Don’t worry about it.” The majority are in the same boat, we are all trying to survive, and keeping money coming in during this pandemic is the priority, and Harrington realistically reminds us that during this time: “Academics may need to come second.”
- “Be gentle with yourself, your kids, your partner, and your coworkers. This is unprecedented. Both parents should share in the duties, whether for homeschooling, childcare, or housework.” Harrington mentions concern about “women” in this situation “taking it all on.”
- “Ask your children what they would like to learn. This is a wonderful opportunity to not just do worksheets. Do real life. Make a meal, make a bed, fold laundry, serve meals, clean up, do chores, and do repairs around the house. This helps parents and gives kids skills in gardening, sewing, and fixing things, along with reading, playing, inventing, building things, and singing, dancing, and experimenting.”
- “Recognize that learning doesn’t just happen with a teacher or a book at a desk. It can happen anywhere. Children are learning even when they’re playing with Legos.” This brings up an interesting point (having children myself) why do Legos now come in pre-defined sets such as “Star Wars” themes or pre-designed boats or planes. Why not just throw away the directions and pictures, give them a box of Legos and let their imaginations, creativity and problem-solving skills go wild and develop. One may be surprised by what children using their own minds can come with. Another idea is to give a child some matchbox cars and a box of sidewalk chalk and watch what they do with it. I have watched my grandson spend all day drawing out city streets and parking lots on a section concrete. We need to look at things through their eyes, as Harrington points out: “You don’t have to teach your children everything.”
- Be flexible. Learning doesn’t have to take place during regular school hours. If you’re staying home and working, maybe you can shift school work to weekends, evenings or afternoons.” Harrington also suggests: “Use the internet or games as a tool, but don’t feel guilty if you need to rely on them at times to get things done.”
To me, one of the best take-away from the majority of the information found for parents who in this crisis suddenly find themselves being a teacher, remember this is a crisis, you have to do what is necessary during this pandemic so just do the best you can.
In another blog article entitled, How to Homeschool Your Kids During the Pandemic, Claire Sasko provides 10 Tips:
- “Use your teachers as your tutors”
- “Lower your expectations”
- “Start early in the day”
- “Establish a structure”
- “Give your kids snacks”
- “Keep the little ones out of the room”
- “Schedule free time after schoolwork, especially if your kids are ahead”
- “Find online resources you trust”
- “But don’t forget about books”
“And remember: You don’t always need to force online learning”
There are links to full versions of these articles and others listed at the end of this document.
Finally, although many schools and educators have been working on and preparing for an event like our present situation, there is still much to consider. Their efforts are a work in progress. Remember COVID-19 was sudden and we are all attempting to battle through it.
Technologies have made great progress and continue to make advances in special education. Not all of these tools are yet completely accessible, and broadband is still missing in many rural communities. Demographics are such that not all families have access to individual computers and if a parent now works from home, sharing a computer becomes a challenge in home teaching. Additionally, not all parents have the necessary skills or patience for the task; this opens the possibility for abuse at home. These areas continue to improve, but in the meantime, if you know someone without internet access, struggling with this topic, please share any portion of this information with them.
A Special Thanks to:
Chad Shippee, PreK-12 Principal, Bolton Central School for taking the time to provide suggestions and encouragement, which were a guide for the writing of this.
Hill, Faith. (April 18, 2020) The Pandemic Is a Crisis for Students With Special Need Some Students Rely on Schools Foe the Personal, Hands-On Attention of Specialists. What do they do now? Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2020/04/special-education-goes-remote-covid-19-pandemic/610231/
Harrington, Theresa. (April 16, 2020). Homeschooling due to coronavirus? Expert tips on doing ‘what’s best’ for your family. Retrieved From:
Sasko, Claire. (April 23, 2020). How to Homeschool Your Kids During the Pandemic: 10 Tips From Homeschooling Parents. Retrieved from: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/04/23/homeschooling-tips-pandemic/
Family Education. (March 18, 2020). At-Home Learning Resources for the COVID-19 Outbreak. Retrieved from : https://www.familyeducation.com/at-home-learning-resources-for-the-covid-19-outbreak
Unknown. (March 16, 2020). Homeschooling during a pandemic lockdown. Retrieved from: https://zephyrnet.com/homeschooling-during-a-pandemic-lockdown/
Parenting Advice. (April 19, 2020). Top Tips from Parents on Home Schooling During a Pandemic. Retrieved from: https://senresourcesblog.com/2020/04/19/top-tips-from-parents-on-home-schooling-during-a-pandemic/
Fox, Goldberg, Eleanor. (March 19, 2020). 14 parents share their work from home plans, and tricks they’re using to do 2 full-time jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from: https://www.insider.com/parents-share-tips-for-working-from-home-during-coronavirus-pandemic-2020-3
Others Works Sourced:
PBS. (March 24, 2020). The switch to remote learning could leave students with disabilities behind. Retrieved from: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/the-switch-to-remote-learning-could-leave-students-with-disabilities-behind
Snelling, Jennifer and Fingal, Diana. (March 16, 2020). 10 strategies for online learning during a coronavirus outbreak. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/explore/learning-during-covid-19/10-strategies-online-learning-during-coronavirus-outbreak