As schools continue to close due to coronavirus, TpT is committed to curating tips and resources for teachers who are finding themselves in distance learning situations. In this post, we offer insights from special education experts in the TpT community on what steps educators can take and what materials they can use to help their students adapt to learning at home.

Encourage parents to create routines

Students with special needs often thrive off of structure and consistent routines, and as a result, major changes can be hard for them to navigate. To this end, K-12 special educator Success In Special Ed encourages her students’ parents — particularly those in lower elementary — to set up a daily schedule while students are learning at home. “The uncertainty and confusing nature of ‘learning’ while at home may be difficult for students to grasp,” she says. “Setting them up with the use of a schedule, similar to what they use at school, may help them to feel more comfortable with at-home learning.” 

Create learning opportunities with what’s on-hand at home

If you’re sending work home, Autism Classroom Resources – Christine Reeve urges teachers to think about what families can do with the materials they have on-hand to encourage language enrichment. “Going on scavenger hunts around the house and outside to find specific items and talking about them can be a good way to work on building everyday vocabulary,” she says. “If you are doing distance learning with video chats, you could have the student work with the parent to find the items and then talk about them in the video chat (or use visual supports for students to answer questions about them). This models for the parent how to enrich the students’ language skills, while also allowing you to assess the student’s performance.”

In addition, Check In with Mrs G recommends focusing instruction on teaching functional life skills that will support your students beyond the classroom. “Help them learn to become more independent with things like preparing their own meal, cleaning, and laundry, she says. “Set up a quick checklist in your home and tackle one task at a time.”

Use digital resources to promote interactivity

Students with special needs often respond well to learning that is interactive. We’ve heard that many teachers are looking for Google Drive activities and other digital resources for students that include manipulative pieces that students can touch and move using devices. To help special needs students navigate digital resources, Noodle Nook suggests that teachers make a Google Drive folder for each student they service and share that folder with each student’s parent through a link via email. “Then, add interactive resources to each student’s file folder to address specific IEP goals,” she says. “Also, because you are sharing the file, you can go in to see completion rates, score performance and take data, and then reset the activity so a student can repeat it.”

Address students’ social-emotional needs

During these uncertain times, special education curriculum developer Susan Traugh recommends that educators prioritize the social-emotional needs of their students in addition to their academic needs. “Students cannot learn if they’re so stressed with world events that it’s all they can think about. And, feeling powerless in the face of overwhelming information can lead to mental paralysis,” she says. “By acknowledging their very real fears and providing them with the tools to deal with those fears, we can free our students from panic and allow them to address the important skills necessary to continue their education remotely.”

This is an unprecedented moment — and we recognize that your role as a special education teacher has gotten a lot more challenging. As you figure out how to support your students through all of this, we at TpT are here to help you work through these new challenges by providing you with resources and tips from other special education teachers in the TpT community. Keep an eye on the blog and TpT’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, where we’ll be continuing to publish more tips and resources on distance learning for special educators!

Resources to get you started

Here are a few resources that TpT Teacher-Authors developed to support some of the strategies discussed in the article:

More tips the TpT community 

Looking for more tips from TpT about distance learning? Check out these blog posts, which feature strategies to help you get started: