E-Learning in the Self Contained Classroom

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“How am I going to do THAT?”

I’m pretty sure those were my words when I found out I needed to move to e-learning because our district was under a mandatory shut down of all schools for two (I’m praying it’s only two) weeks. My students have intense needs. They learn in a one-to-one environment. They need structure. How am I going to meet their goals?!? AHHH!

I know many of you are feeling the same way. When I got the notice this was happening, my team and I had 3 hours to pull something together (turns out we actually had more time, but we didn’t know it). Thankfully, with the help of the world’s best assistants, we got it done. Here’s how I approached e-learning for my K-2 self contained autism classroom.

Stick with what you (and your students) know.

When communicating with parents, stick with what you know. Now isn’t the time to jump into something you haven’t done before (I mean, isn’t this learning curve for e-learning enough?!). I understand you may not have a choice in this, but if at all possible, stick to a format you know. I use SeeSaw in my classroom for all communication, so I’m continuing to send notes, updates, and work via SeeSaw. 

Differentiate & Give Directions

This is no different than the classroom. Make sure whatever you do, meet your students where they are at. Don’t just send home one packet of work for every kiddo in your class and hope for the best. Shoot for work that can be done as independently as possible. Also, your parents aren’t in your classroom every day. You will need to tell them what to do and how to do it. Do you have a kiddo who completes tasks hand over hand? Tell the parent how you do it. Do you have a child who needs verbal reminders to stay on task? Tell the parent what you say. Do you need a sensory break before working? Tell the parent any trick you have for getting it done. Set your parents up for success!

Send Supplies

I sent home supplies with each student including the following:

  • scissors (adapted if needed)
  • glue stick
  • pencil 
  • crayons
  • pencil
  • dry erase crayon
  • eraser (We use Mr. Clean Erasers)
  • reinforcers (chips, skittles, nerds, a special toy)
  • first/then board with visuals

Model for Your Parents

I sent home instructional videos like the one above explaining what I was sending, where to find directions, and how to use things like the first/then board and visuals I sent home. A visual is worth a thousand words. This is true not only for our students, but for our parents as well. Don’t be afraid to send pictures or videos to help them understand what you are sending home. 

What I Sent Home

In addition to a supply bag, I sent home leveled work for all of my students that met their individualized IEP goals in reading, math, written expression, and social skills. I used The Autism Helper Curriculums for most of my academic goals. Because we were already using this in the classroom, I grabbed where each kiddo was at, grabbed the anchor chart and threw it in a binder. For social skills, I sent home 3 social stories and instructions for parents on student specific goal (such as greeting adults) instructions for those who needed it. For independent functioning goals, I reminded parents to work on the skills we were doing in the classroom (potty training, hanging up coat, unpacking backpack, carrying lunch tray, etc). I took video of each student’s binder and shared directions with the parents on how to use them. 


Provide Continual Support

Check in with your parents and students. Most parents are incredibly overwhelmed by the events of the past weeks and may need support. Keep your expectations reasonable, too. Parents aren’t trained as teachers, and that’s OK. Many are balancing the stress of working only to come home to mounds of school work to complete with their children. Keep your activities fun, and not all paper/pencil. I utilize the activities available on SeeSaw for parents to do with their child and share with me when they are completed. This has been a huge hit so far. They are easy to create and have a library to choose from if you are looking for ideas. This week we are doing everything from reading a book as a family to dancing along with a silly St. Patrick’s Day song! I love that teachers can share activities with each other too!

Problem Solving

***What if my student doesn’t have internet? I get it. I teach in a title one school, and many of my families do not have home internet. This is one reason I’m using both paper and electronic activities. Several internet companies are offering 60-90 days free for low-income students. Otherwise, talk to your district and come up with a plan. I made packet deliveries when necessary. Our school also had a day where parents could come pick up work.

***What if I won’t see my student before I need to move to e-learning? Make deliveries, email parents materials, or leave items out for parent pick up.

*** What about related services?? Tricky question. Here’s a document put out by the Department of Education on QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON PROVIDING SERVICES TO CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES DURING THE CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 OUTBREAK (published on March 12, 2020). I’m sure things will change as the situation changes, but this is the most up-to-date literature available at the time this post goes live. 

Ask for Grace, Give Grace

The first thing I asked for from my parents and students was for them to extend some grace as we walked through this together. For many of.us this is all new and there are bound to be hiccups along the way. I plan on extending grace to my families, especially knowing they are doing the best they can right now. Things may not come back perfect (heck, they may not come back at all), but together we can promise to do our best. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. 

As we move through these next few weeks, let’s continue to offer grace to those around us, especially fellow educators. After all, we aren’t in it for the money and the fame. We are here for the kids. Let’s keep our chins up and support each other anyway possible. Now, more than ever, I’m proud of my fellow teachers. It’s so evident that they care deeply for their students and the families they serve. Together we will get through this!

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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  1. This is so helpful!

    Can you share any of the assignments or activities you have put on Seesaw for your class? I have to have some type of work set up by Monday but I am on shelter one place here in California. I’ll take all the help I can get.

  2. These ideas are awesome! I set up my binders for my SC classroom very similar, except I also sent home task boxes as most of my students do not due much paper/pencil activities. I do a lot of errorr less activities.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Joanne! Happy to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. Ashley,
    So far I’ve had student check in to see how they are feeling using an emotional reference chart. I’ve read stories to students and had them send a photo or video with their answer (For example I read a story abut a dog and had them send me a picture of their dog if they had one). I’ve also had them fill out TAH math meeting via seesaw each morning.

  5. I love this idea– but do you have any thoughts for classrooms with similar needs who had no notice and sent nothing home?

  6. I know teachers who have dropped off packets or work at student houses. You can also send electronic work only or a combo of work plus videos.

  7. Thank you for these awesome ideas!!!!! We are an Early Intervention School with 3-5 year old kiddos with different abilities. My classroom is an Autism program and I have been breaking my head the last 2 weeks trying to figure out what would be the best way to do Distance Learning with my students. LOVE your website and love the ideas you have for e-learning! THANK YOU

  8. Hi Veronica! I’m so happy to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

  9. Thanks so much for sharing, Jen. I’m making weekly deliveries to my families with new work; I’m definitely adding a little instructional video now.

  10. Holy Cow!!! You are an amazing teacher!!! I can only imagine how much work this tooK!

  11. Thank you! We are all just doing our very best!

  12. Awesome, Melissa! Let me know how it goes over!

  13. These are all fantastic ideas and I love all the work everyone has put it. This has been huge learning curve for sure.

    Wondering if anyone has any advice or suggestions on doing e-learning with a nonverbal student with severe Autism and behavioral challenges. Moms is VERY concerned about regression (with very good reason) and is having a hard time to get him to do any work at home. I originally sent home his visual schedule, token board, and materials for the goals we are working on. He is a very rigid student, and home is home and school is school so this is the first huge battle we have. I think she would like us to do some lessons with him via Zoom. He is doing speech with way with his talker. I am having such a difficult time envisioning what these lessons would look like for him. Please if anyone is doing anything similar please let me know what you are doing and how you are making it work. Thank you sooo much

  14. As a parent with a child on the spectrum, I so appreciate the effort made to equip your parents in this time away from the traditional school setting. You are AMAZING and thoughtful at what you do.

  15. Thank you! Your kind words mean so much!

  16. Hey Jen,

    I was so happy to come across your blog. I am beginning to plan for my students for the upcoming school year and I am really at a lost for what ill need to do to engage them virtually. I have previously taught kindergarten and provided specialized instruction through the inclusion model. This year I’ll be moving into a role in a CES self contained classroom for pre-k 3/4 students and I have no idea, how to begin to engage them. I don’t specifically know what their needs or temperament is like or what their parent may or may not have access to. Do you have any suggestions or have you came across any resources that maybe helpful.

    Thx in advance for any assistance you maybe able to provide!

  17. Hello Jen, I really enjoyed reading and getting suggestions from your blog. I have a pre-k 3/4 contained classroom with students on the autism spectrum. Will do my best to try and keep them engaged, which I feel will pose a challenge.


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