Differentiation Strategies for Remote Teaching

Post in News by AdamHerman on 30th March 2020

Differentiation Strategies-Blog-Large

Special ed and targeted supports

As litigious and technical as it can be, at its heart, special education is an art form. A good special education teacher can cut a path to understanding with the students they are working with through a combination of creativity, resourcefulness, and a strong understanding of the unique learning needs of the student. The move to remote teaching presents unique challenges for effective special education; it is far more difficult for teachers to provide “in the moment” support. Therefore, it is important to build a strong infrastructure for learning for students with IEPs, and likely important for students in general. Below are some simple strategies for providing targeted supports for special education students.

Pushing out resources to specific students in Google Classroom

Most educators are familiar with Google Classroom’s ability to push out a variety of resources to students. What many people may be unaware of is that teachers can also limit which students get specific resources. This is very useful if there are students who perform better when provided with graphic organizers or expanded notes. To do this, go over to the classwork tab and select “Create” and “Material.” Once you have the pop-up screen, go to where it says “All Students” and select the drop-down menu. From here you can select which student(s) you want to receive this targeted resource.

Differentiation-sharing content

Have a topic in Google Classroom for universal graphic organizers and useful resources

We are going to stay in Google Classroom and discuss how to leverage “Topics” to better organize student resources. Many students benefit from using graphic organizers to put their thoughts together. It could become cumbersome to reuse these resources every time an assignment is posted, so save time by creating a topic for these tools. On the right, you can see a “Graphic Organizer” topic with resources like Trusted Websites for Research and Essay Outline Organizer. Relevant resources in this topic can be referenced every time a new assignment is posted.

Differentiation_graphic organizers

Breakout rooms in Zoom

Many districts are utilizing Zoom now that the service has lifted the 40-minute limit on calls with the free version. A great tool within Zoom is the Breakout Room, which allows the creator of the call to pull specific people into smaller sessions to make the conversation more manageable. This is great if a co-teacher wanted to pull their students out of the meeting temporarily to provide more focused instruction. Here is the list of steps needed to start a Breakout. A video showing these steps can also be found here:

1. On Zoom.us go to the Meetings Settings tab.

2. Click to edit Advanced Settings, and make sure that “Breakout Room” is enabled.

3. Check to see if there is a Breakout Room button at the bottom of your Zoom panel.

4. Another way to access the room is selecting the “More” option when in a meeting.

Once you have chosen to create a Breakout Room, you can have the groups made automatically or manually. Automatic generation is great if you want to create quick discussion groups. For pulling out Special Education students, however, it is better to use the manual option. Once you do this, you can assign the specific students you want to see to a single breakout room, and leave the rest of the class in the other one. Select “Open All Rooms” when ready. Everyone will be connected when the dot next to their name turns green.

Provide multiple types of resources for learning

Many teachers are still most comfortable utilizing what I call “meat and potatoes” teaching, using lectures and book learning as the primary medium of instruction. This is not a bad thing, as many of these educators are incredibly effective in using these methods. With the move to remote learning, educators have an opportunity to get creative and provide students with multiple options for accessing learning content.

On top of using articles and excerpts from the textbook, perhaps consider educational YouTube videos, Khan Academy, and podcasts, as additional resources to help students access the content. These resources are also great for students who may not have a quiet place at home to dig into a text and would be better off having something to watch or listen to with headphones.

Remember useful Chrome extensions like Mercury Reader and Open Dyslexic Font

Google Chrome has several extensions that can make assigned reading more accessible to students with learning disabilities. Two great examples of this are Mercury Reader and the Open Dyslexic Font. Mercury Reader can be activated on websites with long articles. Once it is turned on, the article will be streamlined and distracting advertisements will be removed. The user can also increase the font size and change the view from black text on a white background to white text on a black background, which is generally easier to process. A similar tool exists in the Safari web browser. It is called Reader View, and if it is available it will briefly appear at the top of a web page that can be converted. This is great for either teachers that want to use a web resource and want to make it look clean, or students who may be distracted or have a difficult time processing a highly broken up article.

If a teacher wants to continue to try and make readings more accessible for students, there is also the Open Dyslexic Font extension. Once activated, this extension converts all of the text on a website to a font better suited for people with processing issues related to reading. The letters are darker and “heavier” on the bottom, making them more distinct. The example below shows text that has been converted to the Dyslexic Font.

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Final thoughts

I hope that you found these resources helpful in supporting your students with learning disabilities. If you would like to know more about how to use technology to support your students, I would strongly recommend using our OTIS for educators PD platform, which is free to all educators during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find videos and blogs to help you set up your virtual classroom, help with leveraging digital tools, and more.

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