In this article, Lina, a special education teacher, shares her personal experiences of delivering remote education at Paaralang Sentral ng Mataasnakahoy in Batangas province in the Philippines.
School Year 2020-2021 has taught us that we need to be ready for last-minute changes, especially those that mean we move to distance learning at short notice. It is essential that educators understand that each student, and their family, comes with their own unique set of challenges. All of us were affected by the pandemic, and these challenges are even more pronounced when learning is no longer in the physical classroom.
During the enrollment to remote education in March 2020, parents completed the Department of Education’s Learners Survey Enrolment Form (LSEF). They were able to choose the mode of delivery of the remote education programmes provided. For example, the Modular Distance Learning programme – developed and recommended by the Department of Education – takes account of having no access to the internet or the devices to sustain online learning. Even though they were not able to access online platforms, parents of children enrolled in special education programmes still chose to continue supporting their children’s learning at home.
The Modular Distance Learning programme brought its own challenges, and that is ok! Transitions from typical face-to-face teaching to remote provision do not have to be perfect. What is important is that parents are together with the special education teacher hitting the same goals, to continue education at home despite everything. Remote learning can sometimes feel impersonal and inaccessible, but there are ways to make it easy for learners and parents, supporting them to feel connected, comfortable, and motivated.
For example, I develop instructional materials/workbooks of simple and practical instruction. Parents read this and facilitate learning with their children. I give instruction using phone calls, texts or video calls. Whatever is available to them.
While distance learning comes with its own unique challenges, there were a wealth of resources that helped me to succeed during the transition. I found that distance learning could be collaborative, fun, participatory, and creative. It all depends on how we, as teachers, handle the available tools. Influential things can happen when pedagogy meets technology. But how is this possible if there is insufficient access to devices or the internet.
As a special education teacher who was new to this challenge, I found the following list of practices useful. (The advice here not only ensures an easier transition to distance learning, but I found it helped to make the transition for learners with special educational needs and their families more effective – especially those with less access to technology.)
Useful pedagogical strategies:
- Give simple and practical instructions to parents about how to set up activities for their children at home.
- Break the target skills into many steps to avoid overloading the child as well the parent providing support.
- Be consistent and mindful of the advice provided in a child’s individual education plan (IEP).
- Plan activities so that they are familiar to the child, developing the learning through set schedules.
- Develop a routine for activities to make it easier for them to engage.
Providing on-going support
One of the main pieces of advice I can share about my experience of supporting home learning is making sure that you have lots of time for communication with parents and caregivers. Each family will have access to different available technologies, so this could involve sending personal messages using Facebook, WhatsApp, video calls, phone calls, or text messages. The most important thing is that you have the time and the most effective way to communicate and keep in touch regularly. This communication ensures that we get feedback from parents about the development of their child and provides another way of assessing the child at home.
Having good collaboration between parents and teachers was emphasised during our Parent Teacher Meetings during the pandemic. These took place using telephone calls and text messages when they did not have access to the internet or smart phones. If they had access to the internet, I was able to meet with them regularly online. So during the remote teaching period, parents and teachers could be reminded that the main goal was to work together towards a common purpose – the child’s learning. Teamwork between the closed school and open homes let the learning continue.
This communication required that we recognise the commendable efforts made by the parents. Parents need praise from the teacher for an activity that is completed well, or for good teamwork with the child, or for the efforts they are making to support their child’s learning.
We developed workbooks and supplementary activities that the parents could use to build children’s skills. These were a great help and we made sure that the supplementary resources, such as worksheets, were appropriate to the level of performance of the child to avoid frustration on the part of parents and learners.
Some of the resources suggested practical activities that could be based on aspects of daily living such as gardening, washing clothes, washing dishes, brushing teeth, and washing hands. These were some of the most important daily living skills that we focused on as a team for the learners with special educational needs.
Finally, although we are focused on the IEP of each child, it is also important to consider the incidental learning, either unplanned or unintended, that develops while children are engaging in a task or activity. Such unintended learning can arise as a by-product of planning and these aspects are useful for parents to understand as they support home learning.
A final word
Understanding the situation of each family and the share that each parent can give to their child is an essential point to consider when planning to support home learning for children with special educational needs. I believe that this feeling of being understood is one of the most important parts of making remote teaching possible. As a teacher, I avoid demanding that parents meet a schedule of outputs. It is important that we consider their skills and capability and that parents are able to work through an activity considering the behaviour of their child and their own work. This was explained and discussed during the parent teacher meetings.
Maria Lina Sangrador is a special education teacher in Paaralang Sentral ng Mataasnakahoy, Batangas Province, Philippines. She can be contacted via the EENET office.