By Alejandra Guerrero
K-5 Learning Resource Classroom Teacher, Salem Keizer School District
Member of the OEA Special Education Committee
Accessing technology for my 51 students has been a significant barrier since the closure started. I’ve noticed that my students who receive services are really tech savvy when it comes to social media, but when it comes to the technology we are using for distance learning, like email or Google Classroom, it’s a whole new world for them.
Finding an assignment, clicking the “submit” button, learning how to interact online – these are all skills that have been a challenge for different reasons for different students, depending on their physical limitations, their adeptness with technology, or their family’s ability to provide support, among many other factors. It’s like going back to September and teaching expectations, but expectations for a new platform.
To meet this challenge, I’ve tried a few things. First, during live Google Meets, I share my screen with students as a model. Because many of the accommodations my students have as part of their IEP is the ability to provide responses in a number of ways, screen sharing allows them to do just that. I’ll pose a question and call on students to respond. As they verbally respond, I will type their response in the screen share for them and their classmates to see. This takes the stress of using the technology “right” away for students. I can also use my iPad pen like I would use a pen with my document camera, a teaching format my students are used to me using. That brings a familiarity into the online space for them.
I also want to teach them how to navigate these new platforms so I’ve made some slide decks that outline specific steps to take to access specific tools. As this closure goes on, my students are becoming more comfortable with the technology. My students who were able to start with distance learning right away are stepping up and helping their classmates who are newer to the online space. They get to be the “experts.”
The other big challenge I’ve faced is families who feel guilty when their kids can’t show up for the live classes I host for the different grade levels. They are really concerned their students will get a negative mark or a lower grade if they can’t show up at 10 a.m. for a 3rd grade class check in, for example. I don’t want families to carry that stress so I’m reassuring them that it is OK to let go of those concerns. Maybe 10 a.m. isn’t ever going to work for their family for a number of reasons.
Families are definitely breathing a sigh of relief when they hear they can do what works for them. I try to alter my office hours throughout the week so I can be available for different family schedules. If it’s 6 p.m. and you’re sitting at the dining room table, then take some time to go through the Google Classroom and shoot me an email. If it works better for your family to send the kids to the backyard for the day and wait until later for classwork, that’s OK, too.
I share my own work boundaries with families, so they feel comfortable to set their own as well. My new workspace is my bedroom. I sleep next to my work! If I don’t set boundaries, I will burn out.
I hope I’m setting my students and families up to feel safe and comfortable by reducing their stress. I want the students and families to work on communication, family skills, getting along, and being kind humans. This Fall, if they come back kind and respectful instead of stressed out, that will make it much easier to work on their gaps in reading or math.
To everyone working out there – students, families, educators – we need to give each other grace and understand that we are all doing our best. Everyone’s best will look different, too, and that is OK! If we can all do one thing, we should focus on keeping relationships strong and communication flowing. When all of this is over, I want us to remember that we weren’t alone and that we all struggled but got through it in the end.
Tools to Share
I’m sharing an example of one of the “how to” slide shows I’ve prepared for my students. This one is a on using speech to text and it’s in both English and Spanish for my students. To do this, I made a Google Slide Show of screen shots from my computer, added text boxes and arrows, and then converted it all to a PDF to make it easy for students to open on any device.