Learning virtually presents new challenges for students at all learning levels, but for students with learning disabilities or other challenges to learning, the struggle is even greater. Virtual school during COVID-19 means that many students are struggling to stay motivated and focused while learning at home, with technology glitches and endless distractions.
REACH (Resources for Educational Achievement Collaboration and Health) educators are working remotely on a regular basis with students with learning challenges. The REACH instructors use a variety of specialized methods to ensure that students of varying ability levels are able to learn the material. They work hand-in-hand with classroom teachers to modify assignments, add a visual component to the learning, break down the content and reinforce skills. Together, these educators work with students on achieving individualized goals and tailor the instruction for them.
REACH teachers are optimizing remote learning for each student they support
- Modifying assignments from each student’s classroom teachers
- Adding visual components to the lesson, this is especially helpful in those classes that are taking place exclusively on audio
- Breaking down the content into smaller sections to allow for mastery
- Reviewing and reinforcing new skills that are taught in remote lessons
- Individualizing goals, specifically tailored to each student
REACH teacher Aviva Lopin works with primarily fourth and fifth-grade students at Yeshiva Tiferes Tzvi (YTT). Aviva listens to her students’ recorded audio classes, and then she reviews and co-teaches the material to her students in a real-time virtual conversation.
Parents are key partners in remote learning. “I’m blessed with the best, most supportive parents who help the students stay focused by helping them get prepared for the lesson with any materials they need, and with their flexibility,” said Aviva.
Estie Siegal is a REACH teacher who supports students in grades K-8 at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School (ACHDS). She has daily Zoom sessions with each of her students. During her experience with remote learning, Estie has noticed that her students are actually benefiting from one-on-one attention without the normal classroom interruptions. She has seen tremendous growth in her students and feels that, despite these unforeseen challenges, they are thriving.
Throughout this time of remote learning, Estie acknowledges her students are working extremely hard. “I focus on their strengths to build them up. They are most receptive when starting with their strong points and individual interests whenever it is possible.”
Shoshana Perlmuter is a REACH teacher who works with students grades 1-8 at both Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov (JDBY) and ACHDS either through Zoom or over the phone. She focuses on maintaining routines with the students that she teaches in her reading groups Shoshana reports that students are sometimes less distracted when learning by phone.
She has been customizing the packets distributed by JDBY teachers and modifying the material for the students based on their individual needs. Shoshana tries to enhance the lessons to make them interactive and more engaging with computer activities. “Making the lessons more dynamic and interactive on the screen makes it more appealing, and I try to make it as engaging as possible.”
A parent of one of Shoshana’s students says, “My daughter looks forward to her Zoom with Miss Perlmutter. That means the teacher is doing a good job engaging her and she’s really gaining from it.”
Like students, REACH educators needed to adapt quickly in the methodology they employ to assist students effectively through remote learning.
Special education is good education. REACH teachers recommend setting all children up for successful remote learning by applying the following principles:
Be understanding. Aviva says the key to successful remote learning starts with being understanding. “The kids are going through this challenge just as much as the adults are. Give a lot of praise for anything positive they are doing.” Estie has found that validating students and empathizing about how hard the situation is has helped students connect to the learning.
Provide technical support. It’s crucial to support the technology challenges. “When they make a call or Zoom, parents should help them set up the technology so that the students will be less likely to get frustrated and discouraged when it takes extra time,” says Aviva.
Designate a place that is conducive for learning. Try to have a special chair or spot to do work with all their necessary supplies. Some of our parents have even decorated the area to make it extra special.
Keep lessons short. Shorter lessons, especially for those that are prerecorded, help students stay focused and engaged, especially if some fun is sprinkled into the lessons. Estie uses timers to start and stop a lesson, because when they know an end is coming it’s easier for them to work up to that point.
Make lessons fun. Estie has noticed that challenging students to see if they can do an activity is often more effective than forcing them to do it. She uses Zoom’s whiteboard for teaching and the app Quizlet to reinforce lessons in an interactive way.
Be flexible. Shoshana’s best advice to teachers and parents? “Try your best to be as flexible as possible. Let the students know that even if they don’t understand every little thing, they shouldn’t be so hard on themselves especially during this difficult time.”
Even though they are still socially distanced, these educators are making sure that learning is still within their students’ REACH.