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July 2020

Virtual Teaching Tips for Educators

By |2020-07-28T17:51:19-04:00July 28th, 2020|Resources, Teaching Tips|

Virtual Teaching Tips!

Wow! 2020 has been quite a year so far! Classroom teachers were suddenly thrust out of their brick and mortar buildings and into the virtual teaching world. Talk about a shock to the system! As we conquer the hurdles and reframe our thinking during this time, I have eight helpful virtual teaching tips and practices that you can implement immediately for your 2020-2021 school year. These virtual teaching tips will help you get started.

Tip #1: Get Organized

  1. Buy a planner. Teachers LOVE a good planner. I would recommend a planner that has lots of space for writing notes and a to-do list, like this Lilly Pulitzer.open planner on table
  2. Make your virtual teaching environment fun. Create a colorful “school” backdrop. One of my favorite things about starting a new school year is setting up my classroom. Fresh bulletin boards, desk arrangements, and classroom libraries are so fun! From pirates to ladybugs, I was quite the theme-enthusiast over the years. The virtual classroom can have those same elements on a smaller scale. Choose a teaching spot in your home. Mine is at the dining table because it gives me a HUGE teacher desk and an attractive, well lit backdrop. Purchase some stackable cubbies, or materials on a rolly cart. It will be so convenient to have all your teaching tools right next to you, so you don’t have to go searching mid-lesson.

Check out this link for a cheap and easy way to make a background: ONLINE CLASSROOM SET UP – TOUR MY TEACHER BACKGROUND!

Teacher in front of virtual classroom setting3. Familiarize yourself with the material. Even the most seasoned classroom teacher is going to need to study the new virtual formats. Get comfortable with the resources beforehand by pre-reading the lesson, watching the videos available, and experimenting with virtual manipulatives. Because your virtual sessions with students may be shorter than typical classroom blocks, you must be able to condense instruction.

Tip #2: Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the lesson objective and/or main standard I need to hit?
  2. What are the things my students are going to need me to focus on now, so that they can complete the rest of the work independently? You may need to shorten assignments based on student needs. Prioritize the time because you won’t be able to cover EVERYTHING, so pick the most important problems/questions that support the lesson objective.
  3. Which activities will be the hardest for them? Predicting barriers and troubleshooting ahead of time can save a lot of instructional time. Be prepared to model, give guided practice, then at least one chance at independence practice before you release them from the lesson.

Tip #3: Create your virtual teaching schedule

Let go of covering everything and being perfect when teaching online. Learn to prioritize your time. When is your ELA, Math, and Science Blocks? You will also need to set aside time for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), grade level meetings, parent communication, and most importantly planning time. Remember: your planning time is instrumental in your preparedness, but also for your student documentation. Below is an example from K. Hawks, an ESE elementary teacher:

An example Special Education Teacher's virtual teaching schedule

Tip #4: Establish Your Communication Processes

  1. While teaching virtually, you will likely meet the students and their families via Zoom, Google Meet, or Google Classroom depending on what your district uses. Make sure you are comfortable with the format before engaging with your new families.Four teachers staying connected via Zoom If you are wearing comfy pants be sure they can’t see and that you look professional. You can play, “Meet the Teacher” and tell them a little about yourself. Before meeting, send them (via email or snail mail) a little survey about their child. This would be a great ice breaker in a group or one on one. I used to give each parent a simple half-sheet of paper entitled, “Three Things I Wish You Knew About My Child.” It was so helpful and informative and I referred often to it over the course of the year.
  2. The Remind, ClassTag, and Google Voice Apps are all great ways to call, text, and group message parents. With Google Voice you can choose a phone number that’s local, and when parents call it shows up like a regular call but it keeps your personal number private.
  3. Give a parent survey to find out what tech resources they have available at home. Can the district help them with acquiring iPads or other devices?
  4. Offer a pre-teach session to help them get acquainted with the technology (websites, log ins, how to access the work, find out when it is due etc.)
  5. Do some basic background research on your students. Do any of your students have IEPs or are second language learners? You may need to offer slower pacing, extended time, and small group time.
  6. Documentation: Pro tip alert! Print your schedule weekly and use it to make notes such as “student attended ⅔ ELA sessions and 3/3 math sessions.” Did you send messages and resources to the student/parent? For example, on Monday you could write, “Sequencing Graphic Organizer sent to students.”

Tip #5: Set Virtual Teaching & Classroom Expectations

  1. Build a virtual classroom family by immediately setting expectations for messaging and overall communication decorum. Even if you are not in the structure of a classroom with four walls, you can still build a family atmosphere from day one. At the beginning of each day I would start out by saying to my students: “We are a family! We build each other up; we don’t tear each other down. And in this family we follow 5 rules…”Classroom family keywords for a virtual classroom
  2. Whichever virtual teaching platform your school district chooses to work with, make sure parents and students understand how to access assignments, due dates, and how to ask for help. Florida Virtual School has a “Week at a Glance” that parents can print off and check off as students complete the assignment.
  3. Participation expectations can be reviewed at the start of each lesson with the use of an anchor chart.
  4. Be consistent with your days and times that you teach subjects, and keep office hours for students and parents to login and chat with you when needed (phone calls, texts, DMs).

That being said, give yourself some grace to cancel when needed. If your virtual teaching schedule isn’t working, give it a few weeks then change it. Sessions are more productive when the schedule works for the teacher. Just make sure to keep parents and students informed of the changes ahead of time.

Rubric for "four-star" participants in online classrooms

Tip #6: Keep Engagement High

  1. Whole Brain Teaching. This is BY FAR my favorite way to engage students. Check out this video below of Chris Biffle teaching the basics. You can go to WholeBrainTeaching.com to access awesome freebies and ideas! Whole Brain Teaching: The Basics Pro Tip: Mirrors and Words may be challenging in a virtual environment because of WIFI delays and glitches. Instead, use Mirrors Only. Students will still be able to associate a gesture with a concept, helping to cement the learning.
  2. Toy Theater. Here is a video walking you through this website’s wealth of free resources for students Coach Gretchen Recommends Toy Theater!
  3. Class Dojo What Families See (in the ClassDojo app) 🤗
  4. Boom Cards are described as “…self-grading exercises that are gamified for students and provide the data teachers want.” https://wow.boomlearning.com/
  5. Rewards like “chat time.” Sometimes your students will be in desperate need of social time with their peers, especially as they get more comfortable with each other. One teacher suggests that you say, “I know you guys are really excited to share today, so let’s get through numbers 1 and 2, and then we will have 4 minutes to talk and share.”
  6. Graphic Organizers help to keep kids on track with their thinking and writing.A graphic organizer to engage online leaners
  7. Quick Feedback can be given in the moment, with emojis, and with deeper reflection by rubric. Students need to know that their work is being looked at for them to have buy in.A writing rubric to provide detailed feedback for virtual learners

Tip #7: Set BoundariesA teacher smiling at the screen while teaching virtually

  1. Stick to your office hours. The virtual teaching classroom is not like your 7:30 to 3:00 classroom. You may have to start later in the morning, and then be available in the evenings for an hour or two for your working parents. Sticking to your office hours allows you time to carve out a portion of your day to yourself. Be careful with texting at all hours. If you respond to a parent at 6 am, that parent may think it’s fine to contact you regularly at 6 am! Keeping to your schedule will help you with your time management, and having time to yourself.
  2. Get physical! Don’t forget to incorporate daily movement into your life. The virtual teaching classroom is not as physical as the brick and mortar classroom, so you must carve out time for personal movement, even if it’s just a walk around the block or a 5 minute dance party. Be aware of your posture and eye-strain and take breaks as needed.

And Finally…Tip #8: Give Yourself Grace

Give yourself some grace. This is a big change for all of us. It really is okay if the lesson is a flop and sometimes you feel disconnected. Take it day by day and learn from each experience. The kids are worth it!

Bonus Virtual Teaching Tip: Ask for Help!

The challenges you may face this year are going to be different, we are all on a new learning curve. It is important to reach out to your team members, your school or district support staff. Advocate for the things that you need to be effective when working with your students. We are here to help too, talk with your administrators about how Parity Coaching could help your school. And, in closing, If you have enjoyed these tips, I would appreciate it if you would like our page or leave us a message about what we can do to help you even more!

Read more about Coach Amanda’s background. For more information feel free to contact Amanda: amandarussell @ paritycoaching.net


Photo Credits & Works Cited:

Best Practices in Teaching K-12 Online

Best Practices: Online Pedagogy

Image of How to Create a Colorful Background

We Are Family Class Poster

Be a Four Star Participant

Participation Rubric

Graphic Organizers

Writing Rubric

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Do you struggle to engage students with complex disabilities in your classroom? Parity expert Phyllis Jones, Ph.D. shares a valuable tool for maximizing engagement based on her collaboration with the UK Complex Disabilities (CLDD) Research Project.

By |2020-07-14T16:28:58-04:00July 14th, 2020|Coaching, Professional Development|

Book Cover - Engaging Learners with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Book Cover - Engaging Learners with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities

Book Cover – Engaging Learners with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities

Engagement is Key

It is well-known that students need to be engaged in order for them to actively and successfully learn. As teachers, we have become very adept at recognizing student engagement, but for some of the students in our schools this is a more challenging endeavor. For students with severe disabilities, their engagement in learning may look different.

As teachers, it is appropriate for us to recognize how engagement may look differently across individual students and how this influences the planning of specially-designed instruction (SD).

Engaging Students with Complex Learning Disabilities

This is where the UK Complex Disabilities (CLDD) Research Project can help. I had the privilege of being an international advisor to this project. As the CCLD’s briefing sheets illustrate, students with severe or complex learning disabilities have compounding issues that create learning  profiles that are indeed complex. These students make up a small percentage of our school population and may present as non-engaged or may present as engaging in negative/self-stimulatory behaviors.

In these situations, the Engagement 4 Learning Profile may be adopted as a collaborative multi-disciplinary assessment that helps the team view engagement in learning a little differently . The findings can be used as starting points from which the teacher can plan specially-designed instruction (SD).

About the Engagement 4 Learning Profile

The Engagement Profile helps us to look more creatively at engagement in learning for students with severe or complex disabilities. A four-minute video of engagement in a preferred activity is created and later collaborative  analyzed by a multi-disciplinary team, which are familiar with the student. This team usually involves the parents. In this collaborative analysis, the team collaboratively completes an engagement profile that demonstrates how the student is engaging in a preferred activity. The Aspects of engagement in the Engagement Profile include:

  •     Exploration – the ‘noticing’ phase, where the student demonstrates awareness/recognition of the activity.
  •     Realization – a prelude to further exploration, where the learner displays curiosity about the activity.
  •     Anticipation – where the student demonstrates prediction because of previous knowledge.
  •     Persistence – where the student demonstrates continued effort within the activity.
  •     Initiation – where the student expresses their initiation in the activity

The team engages in conversations about their decisions about how the student demonstrates each aspect of engagement in the video. Notes are made about the ‘lessons learned’ about how the student engages in a preferred activity. These discussions are particularly positive. when talking about the nuance of engagement and, in my experience, people are surprised at team members’ perspective of how the student engages in his or her preferred activity. The ‘lessons learned’ can then be applied to non preferred activities. An Engagement Scale may be completed by the team, but this is the topic of another post.  The Engagement Profile is a cumulative process that involves a new video analysis occurring at least every month for the school year, so the team needs to be committed to this sustained focus.

Using the Engagement Profile in Florida

The engagement profile was successfully used in SouthWest Florida for a student (Jones et al. 2015). The teacher struggled to think of a 4 minute span where the student was engaged in something other than self-stimulatory or negative behaviors. The multidisciplinary team came together and decided the swimming pool was a time when the student was not engaged in a negative/self-stimulating behavior. So, the initial video comprised of a swimming pool session. Lots of lessons were learned by the team  about student engagement  in this initial video in the swimming pool, and subsequent videos were taken in the classroom.  Ferdy’s transformation in the classroom was significant, showing that once engagement occurs learning can be limitless.

How to Get Started

Book Cover - Curricula for Students with Severe DisabilitiesI would be happy to work with you or your school around improving engagement for students with complex learning difficulties. My recent book, Curricula for Students with Severe Disabilities supports the development of greater understandings of the role that state curriculum standards play in the pedagogical decision-making for students with severe intellectual disabilities. The book first discusses the nature and needs of these students, the curriculum for this group of learners and the recent contributions of state curriculum standards, before presenting narratives of real classrooms, teachers and students who have meaningfully integrated state curriculum standards at the kindergarten, elementary and high school levels.

Further reading and information

Phyllis Jones – pmjonesconsult at gmail.com or info.parity@paritycoaching.net

Carpenter, B., Egerton, J., Brooks, T., Cockbill, B., Fotheringham, J. and Rawlings, H. (2011). The Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project: Developing pathways to personalized learning. London: SSAT, complexld.ssatrust.org.uk. London, UK:SSAT/

Jones, P., Cahuilla, I., Demes, A.,Saddle, R., Sweeney, M., & Pastore, H. (2015). Finding Ferdy: Collaborative Inquiry About a Student with Complex Disabilities, The Canadian Journal for Teacher Research, 3  https://www.teacherresearch.ca/detail/post/finding-ferdy-a-collaborative-inquiry-about-a-student-with-complex-disabilities

April 2020

Teaching K-5 Online? Gretchen Recommends… Toy Theater!

By |2020-04-18T15:10:49-04:00April 18th, 2020|Resources, Virtual Manipulatives|

According to Coach Gretchen, making learning fun can be a challenge when you are not face-to-face with your students. Here is one mega resource and Gretchen’s top five suggestions for ramping up engagement during your live lessons. Coming soon: Recorded coaching session using Toy Theater while conducting a live lesson!

The amazing, TOY THEATER at https://toytheater.com/ is a live lesson teachers’ dream come true for many reasons, including that you don’t have to sign in, sign up, or download anything!

There are so many great ways to use this resource and everything on Toy Theater is educational and safe for kids. Super appropriate for grades K-3, it is also great for students with special education services who may need visual representations of concepts and includes a few things for those ever tricky concepts like fractions and ratios that you may encounter in the upper elementary grade levels. The Games, Art, and Teacher tabs are helpful for those teaching K-5. There is even an animation tool that could be applicable K-8.

So, without further ado, here are my top 5 fun way to liven up your virtual lessons using Toy Theater:

  1. Teacher Tab: By clicking on teacher tools, you get access to 70 virtual manipulatives that are super simple to use. You can easily translate what you used to do in person to your virtual classroom. The key is to share control of your screen with your student(s) so they can manipulate, the manipulatives! You can do this through Zoom’s remote control features. Note: the remote screen function is not currently supporting on IOS (iPad). Too, there are reports of folks using Chromebook’s, having issues with giving screen control to meeting participants. So, if you have a MAC or PC laptop of desktop, that is recommend.
  2. Puzzles Tab: The puzzles in Toy Theater are sophisticated yet fun ways to work on critical skills such as visual discrimination, attending to details, sustaining attention, short term memory, sequences, and so much more! My personal favorites are the hidden picture puzzles, and the parking lot game, which requires problem solving and trail and error. Open lessons with a puzzle, sprinkle them in along the way, or close with a couple that relate to the topic you are teaching.
  3. Read Tab: In the reading tab, you can take the hidden picture visual discrimination tools I mentioned above to the next level, by doing a hidden picture party with your students. They are given a word to read, and then have to find that item in the hidden picture. The awesome thing about every Toy Theater tool is that none of them last more than a minute or two max. You can scatter them in and around the longer tasks you want your students to do, use them as motivational breaks, and/or use them as a part of your concept developments.
  4. Math Tab: The math tab is an K-3 teachers’ dream. The tools are organized by concept, task, and grade level. The Pool game is so uber fun! Students understand place value with tens frames and then use a virtual cue ball to aim it at pool balls that keep changing the count in the tens frame, until the pool table is cleared. It adds such an engaging element in that the virtual pool balls behave much like real ones, so students learn about momentum and angles too! With the math tools, it becomes possible for students to participate in concept development, versus passive participation by watching you, or a watching and listening to a video, on the screen.
  5. Games Tab: The games tab is a great way to connect with your students in a fun way. The games are challenging yet simple enough to teach on the fly and play right away. They are non-violent and use all sorts of skills kids need to encourage cognitive development. My favorites are the darts game and reversi. As a special education teacher, I can see games as a way to connect with my kiddos who have social and behavioral goals – setting the stage for talking about how things are going while in a very low stress environment.
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