Across the district, teachers, staff, students and many of their parents are engaged in remote learning. For students with disabilities, remote learning can present unique challenges. BSD educators are working with students and families to ensure that students are still engaged in learning and that they are prepared for the future in the classroom and beyond.
At Interlake High School, teachers work with students on life skills, interacting with people outside of the classroom and meeting personal goals. Part of the life skills experience is visiting different professional settings and seeing what it is like to work there. Teacher Adina Rosenberg has been utilizing online videos that allow for students to experience a day in the life of various jobs. The students still get to see what it’s like to work in an office, a hospital, as a dog walker or as a veterinarian when they can’t visit in person. She has a lot of students who love animals and are interested in those jobs.
Rebecca O’Connor, a special education teacher at Wilburton, went to her local hardware store and created activities for matching and sorting using paint swatches. “I also revisited an activity the art teacher at Wilburton created with the color wheel,” she says. Trisha Wiley, also from Wilburton, uses music and songs and encourages parents with engaging activities that can be done at home with items around the house. “Keeping things fresh and new so that there is interest and engagement is helpful,” says O’Connor. However, she also makes an effort to stay aware of how a new resource or activity can fit into a family’s existing routine.
Teaching special education has not been without challenges. Some students have physical limitations that make using a laptop difficult or they already use devices to communicate and those do not integrate very well into remote learning with a laptop. Some students are non-verbal. These situations mean enlisting new technology, innovative solutions and different tools. Rosenberg was able to secure an adaptive switch device for one of her students. Switches for students with disabilities provide an interface between technology and a person with a disability. The switch can allow students (and adults) with movement-limiting disabilities to use technology and operate an electronic device when they would not otherwise be able to.
Some of the special education teachers in the district have found some aspects of their remote learning curriculum especially helpful for some students and are planning to use some elements and tools in their future teaching in the classroom. Jessica Wells from Interlake is planning to use some of the online platforms that have been positive for her students. The work done by Interlake teacher Heather McLean worked with her team to create PowerPoints on a large variety of life skills will be useful in the future. “It was therapeutic in a stressful time,” she said. They also hold a wealth of information, resources and tools that students and teachers can utilize later, even after in-person classes resume. For Rosenberg, the videos posted online by people telling the story of their job and their workplace can be accessed by students who may not be ready to go into the community. Visiting profession settings via YouTube allows students to explore locations that they might not otherwise have access to, even when physical distancing isn’t a concern. “This is a way to explore a variety of jobs, locations and settings that can make job shadows and visits difficult,” explains Rosenberg.
Wiley and O’Connor agree that there are tools and resources they will continue to use in their classrooms at Wilburton after remote learning ends. O’Connor spoke specifically about having the opportunity to engage in pre-teaching. She sees what general education lessons are planned and can brainstorm how to modify it. She has several students who can move ahead because they quickly become experts. There are also students who may not be ready, which creates an opportunity to revisit the level or two before. “It doesn’t need to be a separate classroom as much as it needs to be intentional work on pre-teaching, re-teaching or an adaption of what the typically developing students are experiencing,” says O’Connor.