Technology and empathy go hand in hand in teaching the differently-abled, Special Folks especially in challenging times, writes Kaanchan Bhagwat.
The challenges due to the ongoing pandemic have helped us unravel our hidden abilities. Definitely, we have been able to think more creatively, hone our skills, and form new ideas. As teachers, we had to review and relearn to cater to the needs of our special folks. The first rule we live with is that each of our special folk is talented and bright in their own way. Some very subtle interventions have helped make the online learning mechanism easier for them. I would not say that things have been completely smooth but parents, teachers, and most importantly, our special folks have pulled through this unprecedented year with grit.
I am part of an inclusive school. This school does not believe in segregating students on the basis of their learning needs. We have been able to ensure that all students felt included. And that our special folks did not get left behind in their learning journey as we have started the online learning modes. Below are five ways of teaching to educate children who learn differently when the pandemic hits.
Accessing online tools
The ability to use platforms like Google Meet and Zoom became synonymous with online learning in 2020. Grappling with multiple icons on the screen can become mind-boggling for some children, especially for those who face difficulties like Dyslexia. They may face difficulties in following patterns and procedures. As teachers, we have used diverse learning tools such as Jamboard to make lessons more effective. You can do assessments differently in the online medium using Google forms and Whiteboard.
Over the last nine months, new technologies have emerged in the field of education. Teachers are using interactive platforms like Nearpod, Quizzizz, Quizlet, Padlet, Perdeck, to name a few. We use them quite frequently to create learning materials to engage our special folks better. It’s fun for learners and comfortable for teachers as we can see children learn more effectively. We also ran individual sessions for parents to get accustomed to these modes of learning as their involvement is critical.
Making the connect (Special Folks)
Human beings thrive in social interactions. Communication is critical for learning, especially in the case of differently-abled children where the mode of communication, tone of voice, personal engagement and overall environment determine the outcome.
In a physical environment, teachers can prompt the child more effectively. However, now adjustments should made since children with special needs may not be able to sit through long sessions or read fast enough and may feel lost in large classes. For a child who finds it difficult to sit still for few minutes, a 20-minute session looks impossible. Giving students frequent movement breaks, breaking classes into smaller groups, or taking shorter lessons can help in such a situation. The sensory overload of seeing 30 people on-screen and having to focus on a particular speaker is yet another challenge. We have seen pinning the speaker’s thumbnail helps the child concentrate and follow instructions.
Reinforce Learning is all about ‘focus’.
Teachers have to reinforce learning – both in offline and online modes of teaching. One student may learn better through visuals and another might be more of an auditory learner. The attention span of children is generally good in small groups, however, there are children who require hyperactivity. While physical movement was easy in school it is somewhat restricted at home. So, we resort to alternate options like keeping the class active and alert through online celebrations, games, and activities.
Stress and anxiety
Comprehending changes are difficult for some children. They are quite sensitive to their surroundings, therefore sense the tension easily. In case a child is upset, restless, or agitated, teachers use different calming techniques like deep breathing and giving them frequent movement breaks. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, if a child was upset or agitated, the Special Educator could have used strategies like deep compression. Now, we have to look at alternate ways that involve changing the activity or even stopping the session when things become intense or when their routine is disrupted. Creating social stories is another technique to help students adapt to changes in their routine. This works brilliantly with children on the Autism Spectrum. A social story can be customised to the needs of the child in terms of context, elements, vocabulary, and storyline. Online apps like iCreate and Stories2Learn can be quite useful in creating these.
Parent- teacher partnership
The role of parents in their child’s learning journey has become more pronounced during the pandemic. And as teachers, we depend on them to assist the child physically when needed. For instance, if a child with Autism is unable to maneuver the cursor on the screen and struggles to mute or unmute, we have to request the parent to help the child. The need for teachers and parents to be connected and function as a well-coordinated unit is most important. While the teacher is the brain that strategizes, the parents or caretakers have to be the hands that execute the teaching strategy.
This pandemic is the perfect setting to help us select between ‘the glass half empty’ or ‘the glass half full’. Our children are living through unprecedented times, how well they are able to deal with it depends on how quickly and effectively we evolve and support them.
As special educators, our goal has always been that no child be left behind and we have been able to do so successfully thus far!
The writer is Special Educational Needs Coordinator (Primary School),
Shiv Nadar School, Gurugram.