For two weeks now since we’ve been on Spring Break, Renay has helped to orchestrate small segments of online education. To be fair, she also categorizes this version of online education like many have but calling it “crisis education”. Some clarifying points that make this form of education less like the University education she is pursuing.
First, and foremost: the students did not opt to choose this form of education. Their families were expecting their child be accepted into a classroom, sometimes even multiple classrooms, every day. Their child would see other children with and without disabilities discussing topics lead by the classroom teacher. Equally frustrating, the students and teachers are being requested to make do with what they have. Some districts have rolled out every available device they have, but by no means, are the students even given equal footing or are some of their educators. Some students have below-average connectivity of their internet, even with extra devices, some students have no place where to sit comfortably for multiple hours of contact with the material, and some students do not have time at all to sit and watch videos or interact. Families all are clustered at home, what makes a student’s time online to learn at school any more valuable or less valuable than the bandwidth their parent(s)/guardian(s) need to earn a living, if they can earn a living at a distance. How about the student whose study space is the kitchen table while a family member makes dinner? While that is perfectly all right in the ‘regular school’ sense, being online at that moment can cause many distractions. Let alone the family pets and any sibling that wanders on by.
And we touched on this in the last paragraph, but teachers and paraeducators are experiencing the same struggles as well. They may have children who need support getting online to see their teachers. They may have less time to put into lessons because they cannot dedicate the time that existed at school when their own children were being taught by another teacher who needs them to be equally supportive. Some children are finding relief that classes are online, others are finding more stress at seeing their peers and teachers online. There is a lot to unpack and provide the full spectrum of students and their abilities in the “right now”. Interestingly, the third group of children is thriving in this distance model when they never showed any interest in attempting schoolwork otherwise. We don’t have percentages, but this is what we are seeing as we go into supporting staff at this time.
This Is What We Have…
The disparity is huge between paraeducators who are making this leap and helping their coworkers and the coworker who was never ready for this change in the world to possibly happen in their career. To be fair: no one at ParaEducate would have ever thought this would be a possibility that we would be making suggestions to anyone about online education.
Some real thoughts though.
- We have to start here. No paraeducator should ever be ‘alone’ in an online meeting with a student. ‘Well, but we were alone in a classroom all the time…’ There are pieces to this.
- Firstly, unlike online meeting rooms, anyone could drop in the classroom. In some systems of online, this is different, but most of the top two companies being used right now, the ability for an administrator or another teacher to look in and see what is being discussed or taught to the student is complex.
- One might inadvertently say the ‘wrong thing’. “Well use this [software] method.” Or, “I’m sure [case manager] has discussed what will happen next year with you…” This is actually a huge problem. Especially with the advent of things like Google Home and Alexa playing around in the background straining to hear every word being said. While very innocent normally, there are also not a lot of other distractions. Plus parents who are very likely in the room may also be chiming in the middle of the conversation.
- If a student has 1:1 written in the IEP, well…. Mildly above our status as paraeducators to figure this one out, but we have a few tips for what is working for some students.
- One teacher “on” as well as the student and the paraeducator if you need to do 1:1
- Record the meeting if needed just for the safety of everyone involved
- Help the student find out what they can do versus what they need help with
- Review the student’s assignments with them: but in the chunks, they can attend to. For a student who is included in more than 6 academic classes, they might be able to handle a review of their due dates
- Speaking of classes…we are finding secondary students right now on average are able to attend 20-40 minutes of an online class. But some things to take into account
- most students are not used to being online with a computer for more than 40 minutes at a time
- Ergonomic standards for working at a computer clearly still state that every 20 minutes of work a person should get up and move around for five minutes looking at something more than twenty feet away
- Younger students should have much shorter sessions for their health and for their attention span
- Students need less work, even the top tier student right now. You can adjust what they’re doing and find other systems for those wanting enrichment while they are at home trying to make sense of everything in the world. This is sometimes hard to square up because you want to still see the student rise, but they are rising. They are coming to class, they are trying to make contributions, and they are doing the work to be at school, however that looks like. Keep that the bar for as many students as possible. Give the student the space to deal with the fact that the world changed literally overnight and they know exactly what is occurring, unlike other tragedies that may have happened in the past.
- For the student who continues to interrupt and ignore the norms that have been established to be polite while everyone is learning online, there is not a whole lot to do other than continually clicking ‘mute’ for the student.
- Don’t lose the students who are the most likely to fall off the face of the world. The students who are at the highest risk for dropping out have been looking for an excuse and this world is setting them up to either rise or fall at this very point. Providing a point of contact to check in with that student helps. Will the student need daily email? Will the student need a weekly phone call? What can the student do if they cannot get to the technology that has become the basis for every student? Find out how best to support the student. Maybe they just need all their assignments printed. And that someone can make possible.
- For the paraeducator who nearly chucked their computer out the front door:
- Don’t you’ll regret that choice later
- Keep trying it will be okay
- Yes, sometimes whatever system the school has chosen makes things quite difficult to manage
- Yeah, sometimes when we move our mouse we magically mute ourselves too. Someone at ParaEducate did it three times last week. It was not fun.
- Yes, it is difficult trying to connect all the different ways of communicating with a student and a general education teacher.
But What About Social Connections?
Certainly many students have some way of connecting with their peers. And then many of the same students, while having access to the world of photos and comments, depend on seeing the ‘real’ friend because this is what really still is a part of our society. Some things we’ve seen: administrators and teachers opening up a ‘free’ time-space for students to come hang out and just talk. The moments last for about forty minutes usually, adults go off and do things they need to, perhaps even share a moment with their family and their students. But right now, this is what can happen.
We would like to end telling everyone to follow the instructions of their local government. Whether the orders are ‘shelter in place’ or less restrictive, please keep everyone safe. You don’t necessarily know who they could bring any vector home to.
ParaEducate is a small business, but we have elected to stay out of the small business loan offered by the Federal Government because we actually are able to handle the situation currently. We would implore our followers to do their best to take the money they would have spent with ParaEducate and use it locally for a small business in your area. When the economic and health issues have passed, consider supporting ParaEducate.
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.