I've learned a lot from other educators during the pandemic, especially @MrJackCat1 on TikTok. He's challenged me to think of the role of Special Education teachers to shift to accessibility specialists. We work to make sure students have access to learning no matter their ability level- I believe this extends to circumstances that make it difficult for students to attend a physical classroom. The pandemic shed light on difficulties with access to learning, but there are plenty of cases why students might not have access, such as health concerns, family hardships, and more. Students in these situations also deserve access to learning- technology is the key to making that happen.
The Biggest Takeaway I have from Pandemic Teaching is asynchronous learning can be incredibly effective for reaching all students at their current level, bridging the learning gap, organizing student workload, reducing teacher stress, and creating time to build meaningful relationships with students.
Asynchronous learning is a way for students to learn at their own pace. It makes learning accessible because it can be done anywhere at any time. It works best when paired with individualized instruction.
A way for students to access learning if something prevents them from attending class
A way for students to hear instruction multiple times
A way for parents to really understand what students are learning
A digital-yet tangible piece of evidence that we are providing supports according to legal paperwork
A tool for students with real-time examples to boost student confidence.
I create a library of skills lessons with video instruction and give students access to the lessons that they need based on progress monitoring data.
Tools for Asycnhrnous Teaching
Personal Learning Plans are incredibly effective for organizing asynchronous instruction. They allow for
each student to receive a number and have a list of personalized asynchronous
assignments with video instruction built right in.
One way I create sanity and organization when teaching asynchronous is by creating my own digital textbooks. This allows for assignments, digital lessons, supplementary materials, and more to be all in one location, easily shared with adults who support students, and can be done at a pace that is right for students.
Elements of Asynchronous Teaching
You can be as creative as you would like, and there's not a right or wrong way to make YOUR digital textbooks. Here's an article to get started.
One of the best ways we can make learning accessible is to record ourselves teaching the lesson. It can feel awkward at first to teach to students who aren't really there, but that one video can be played over and over, ensuring that students hear instruction at their pace and can repeat if needed.
Mastering hyperlinks is an incredible teaching tool because it allows for clarity with instruction. Students can look at an assignment, click directly on supplementary resources, and don't have to hunt through a notebook or digital files.
Benefits of Asynchronous Teaching
Everyone needs Asynchnous Supports from time to time. If students need to hear a lesson repeated to
understand- they now have access. Asynchronous supports not only benefit struggling learns, but they support athletes that stayed up late for games, families that went on vacation, a family that went to visit sick grandma for a few extra days, the student who needs to quarantine. The benefits are endless, the access is possible.
Students might lose access to the physical classroom, but they should never lose access to learning and support.
Once it is done- it is done. We have more time to care for the kids.
If a teacher is out-the supports are still in place
If we work to build our culture of collaboration between our accessibility specialists- we lighten everyone's workload
It takes me about 30 mins per subject per week to create asynchronous supports. This is just almost as much time as I was spending on lesson plans before- I just turned my planning sheet into my digital notebook that students can access. Asynchronous supports actually save time because it allows students to watch videos for reteaching and frees me up to help students directly.
Teaching and Co-Teaching with Asynchronous Supports
Instruction does not have to be fully virtual for digital asynchronous supports to be beneficial. Brick-and-mortar schools can also benefit from asynchronous instruction. This is because it allows for the teacher to be in multiple places at once. If the main lecture is pre-recorded and students have access to this at any time, last time can be spent bridging the learning gap and assessing students" needs.
Co-teaching is an excellent concept, but it isn't always perfect, especially when facing the pandemic's staff
shortage. It is not always possible for co-teachers to have planning time to work within the traditional co-teaching models that worked in the past. Co-teaching with asynchronous supports allows the GenEd teacher to plan grade-level lessons with their job-alike peers. The special education teacher creates an asynchronous notebook with supports and videos, walking students through the assignment step-by-step, adding supplementary materials along the way that bridge the learning gap and are an accessible resource for any student who might need additional support.
The current model in many schools is the grade-level content teachers work together to create content or at least a planning map- and the special education teachers support. Many times that model doesn't allow for the special educator to collaborate and create supports for students in a meaningful way- and special educators are treated more like teaching assistants. Extra Help Notebooks are a way for Special Education teachers to bridge the learning gap between what students know and what they need to know.
This can work with GenEd teachers doing what they already do so well, creating amazing student-centered lessons. They can then share those lessons with the special education teacher a few days in advance. If the administration supports this initiative, special education teachers can use one day a week to create content in the extra help notebooks, connect with families, and catch up on paperwork. Students will then have supports, and special education teachers will be less overwhelmed.
Why This Isn't Just One More Thing
Teachers have pushed past their breaking point already, so why wouldn't asynchronous supports be just "one more thing" added to our plates?
Because it takes what we are already doing and makes it accessible for students in organized for teachers, creating digital notebooks has saved me an incredible amount of time that I can now use to focus on caring for my students and myself. It also allows for every student to have exactly what they need. This is also possible through collaboration with peers. One of the most beautiful things about these days they're going to support is once it is done, it is finished. We do not have to continue to make these supports over and over year after year. We can always refer back to her videos and digital toolbox of student supports.
Some educators don't feel that asynchronous supports are necessary because they don't believe their students will use them. That might be true for some students, but it's not for all. As Educators, all we can do is provide access to students to receive the education they deserve. It is up to them whether or not they want to engage with supports and use those to understand the content. I also believe that is the art of teaching. When we focus on mindfulness and self-care in our instruction, students are more academically successful and more willing/ able to learn. I know that I am doing what I can by creating these supports, and the rest is out of my control. The funny thing is- when I surrender that control, my students do more work.
How Admin Can Support
Implementing asynchronous support allows their teachers the time and space needed to create them. One of the best things that an administrator could do for a school is giving their special education teacher at least one day a week to develop supports, catch up on paperwork, Outreach to families, and do all of the secondary responsibilities outside of just teaching students. If teachers are given one day to do this, the results of what they can do when they're with the students are immeasurable. An admin can support teachers by giving them the trust needed to do their jobs well.