This blog post is by our guest contributor Ryan Divita who is a special education teacher at Williamsville North High School in Western New York.
This school year has brought many new challenges, such as virtual learning, hybrid models, and a renewed focus on social-emotional well-being. Synchronous and asynchronous learning have become centerpieces of household conversations. Since March 2020, like many of my colleagues, I have experienced many challenges, often discovering through trial and error how to create the best learning environment for my students who are learning virtually or in a hybrid classroom.
I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I have worked with the general education population and the special education population, so I have a unique perspective. Regardless of which population I’m teaching, I always come back to the question, “How can I best support my students?”
Virtual learning has proven to be extremely difficult for many students, here are some helpful ways to support those students who are having a difficult time engaging in remote learning.
#1 – Clarify Assignment Expectations In Multiple Ways
If I have learned anything from virtual learning, it is that there is no such thing as too much communication. Early on I assumed that posting material with directions would be enough instruction to go on — I was wrong. Posting an assignment this way led to a massive influx in my mailbox asking for all sorts of clarification. One way I have found to combat this is by recording myself discussing the assignment and the expectations — because I found that when my students see that we have posted something they tend to skip right over those instructions and straight to trying to complete that assignment as fast as possible. Recording an audio of yourself allows the students to hear directly from you and takes away the guesswork.
Tip: Use a screen recorder app like Screencastify which is a Chrome extension that allows you to record, edit, and share videos. I use this to share my screen and lead students through assignments.
#2 – Offer Standing Virtual Office Hours
Another way I offer more support to students who may be having a tough time with virtual learning is to hold “virtual office hours” either through Zoom or Google Meet. I take time to meet with students one-on-one to assist with any questions my students might have.
I’ve found that many students need to be encouraged to join these sessions. You may have to assign students a time to meet with you. Consistently scheduled virtual office hours are also a good opportunity to do a check in with your student’s emotional well-being. You might notice that at first they might not open up much, and I have found that quick icebreaker questions can really change the dynamic. Most times these ice breakers are something simple like, “What is your favorite show on Netflix right now?” or “Are you a [local sport’s team] fan?” The benefits of making connections with students will add up quickly over time. Students of all ages may have been a little reluctant to speak up during virtual learning, and fostering connections is one way to make it a bit less foreign to them.
#3 – Connect More with Parents & Guardians
I’ve found that connecting with caregivers is an important component to helping students who may need some more encouragement or support. Students are learning how to be more independent, but that doesn’t mean that they still don’t require support from home. Parents and guardians may be overwhelmed as well. Sending frequent emails is one way to convey information, though you might find yourself inundated with emails from parents. For my classes, I have created a landing page that I use as a message board where I post information, updates, schedules, etc. This has been exceptionally helpful and it is easy to do. You can, for example, create a Google Slide and use that as your landing page. Any slides after that can be the daily agenda and what might be due that week. One of our biggest complaints from parents last year was that they didn’t know what their child had to do for the class. This way your classroom information can be streamlined where all stakeholders have easy access.
Circle Back and Ask: “How can I best support my students?”
This period of time has tensions and stress levels running at an all time high. It is important to take a step back sometimes and look at the big picture. At the end of the day, I want to support my students so they can succeed. You may need to look at each student at the individual level and you may come up with different tactics for each student. Remember to stay positive and be available.
About Our Guest Educator:
Ryan Divita is a special education teacher for grades K-12 and currently works at Williamsville North High School in Western New York. He attended undergrad at Medaille College with a dual major in Special Education and Social Studies and graduated and achieved his Master’s degree from the University at Buffalo Adolescent Social Studies Education in 2013. In addition to special ed, Ryan is also a certified social studies teacher for grades 5-12. He has over 10 years of experience coaching Girls JV Volleyball and Girls Varsity Basketball at Williamsville East High School.