In response to the pandemic that brought everything to a swift halt, schools around the globe have had to develop continuous learning plans to help their students complete their academic year.
Some of these plans require that teachers interact with their students via online learning platforms. For students requiring special education, this has not been a walk in the park given that they require extra attention and support.
In case you have been handling such students, here are four strategies that you can use to engage them during these pandemic times:
1. Familiarize them with the features and layout of online platform.
When your class has never had an online session before, they will not know how to use the features that are provided by the platform that you use. They will be more inclined to engage and participate in online learning if they feel supported and expertly guided. Among other things, teach them how to navigate the platform, share screens, send documents, raise their hand, and locate the mute button. You need to get your students to practice how to use these features many times so that for successful classroom engagement. Exercise optimal patience when doing it.
2. Connect with them emotionally.
The pandemic has caused extreme changes in the society which we are all dealing with. In such times, you need to recognize that the emotional needs of your students take precedence over academic achievements.
Prioritize their mental health over everything else. Make genuine efforts to know each student better through the help of their guardians. Have guardian/parent questionnaires where their caregivers answer questions that help you understand how their kids are responding to the lockdown.
You could also write letters to your students just to give them the incentive to write back and express themselves. Follow up on the cases that you feel needs your intervention, and then call in professional help for extreme cases.
A good idea is to engage an NCLEX-RN certified school nurse to provide psychological support to anxious learners.
3. Give students some structure.
Most students needing special education work best when following a specific structure or routine. They thrive when you are constantly giving clarifications, instructions, and focus. The fact that they are at home for the most time with the same level of school work, it is difficult to ensure that they all stay focused. You, therefore, need to create a list of daily activities that you want them to handle and ensure that you break down each task into small, easy to do chunks. Give plenty of breaks between these activities to allow the students to recharge. Also, ensure that they follow the same order of schedule as the one at the school.
Remember that many of these students respond well to visual aids and schedule boards with images and fun activities. Find a way of getting these visuals delivered to each student. You can also encourage the use of a kitchen timer to remind the students of the traditional bell at school. This way, they will remember when to switch activities that you have assigned them.
4. Work closely with parents and caregivers.
Special education students require special assistance from their educators- assistance that you cannot offer them via Zoom. And because these students are now spending more time with their primary caregivers than with you, the educator, the best way to get this help to them is through training those caregivers.
Constantly guide the parents or guardians through video conference, phone, or email to foster home-based learning. This means more work for you, but it will be all worth your effort in the end because when educators and caregivers collaborate, teaching special students becomes easier and more effective.
Note: Most parents are likely to be working during this time. Ensure that you keep your schedule flexible so that they reach you whenever they need your input.
Special education students require extra attention and a lot of patience now more than ever. As an educator, you have your job cut out for you. Put your head down and focus on helping your students come out on the other end of the pandemic stronger and ready to address their special challenges with renewed spirits.
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