I never in a million years thought that I would be doing my job in the format that I am currently. None of us went to school for this. We don’t have years, months, or even days of training for this scenario. However, this alternate reality is the current hurdle that we have. As special educators, we problem solve with the best of them. For my current caseload, we are hosting a morning group session, very similar to our Morning Meeting that we have done daily for years. This continuity is great for them to have some moments of similarity. After our morning group session, I am engaging in several hours daily of Zoom sessions, working individually with students. Some teachers are doing more small group sessions, but the leveled nature of my subject matter lends itself to solo sessions. I felt that my best bet to maintain their attention would be shorter, individualized sessions.
To my surprise, some of my students have taken to this format beautifully. They are excited to get on and they engage with every lesson. They have always had an affinity for screens, but I was so pleasantly surprised to see that they can connect with us and learn in this format. However, some of my students have not had an easy time. Sessions are not paced quickly enough or the material is not engaging enough. We are addressing all of these issues as they arise, often mid-session. I wanted to share some of my video session troubleshooting tips that I have gained over the past few weeks.
Setting up for Success
Just like in our classrooms, we have to make sure that the stage is set. We need to have our materials ready and contingency plans in place. With online learning, we have to take into consideration download times and delayed internet connections. Having more than enough materials ready before your sessions is key.
Video Session Troubleshooting
Hopefully by now we have all found the setting in our video conferencing software that allows us to Mute All participants when entering. In a group setting, I like to keep all students muted and unmute after I give a heads up of calling their name. This is a common practice for our gen ed counterparts and it can be especially helpful with vocalizations or echolalia.
During our Morning Meeting, I love seeing all the students in a Gallery View. It warms my heart to see a collection of so many of their faces. I think it is visually stimulating for my students as well. I encourage parents of my students to put the setting in a gallery view instead of faces lined up along the top or side. We see students pay attention much better when they can see all the speakers
During group or individual sessions, I like to share the screen and annotate with the Zoom tools. I can highlight, mark up, and bring attention to whatever I need students to pay attention to. I like to use bright colors and heavy lines to gain my student’s attention.
Whether you have your visual cues in hard copy or you need to pull them up on the computer, a great way to help curb behaviors is to use familiar cues. In my few weeks of experience on video conferencing, pulling something routine out of my behavioral toolbox has been a lifesaver.
When I am really struggling to keep the student’s attention, specifically in an individual session, I go to a preferred character to bring the student’s attention back to the screen. A quick video clip or even just a preferred image flashed on the shared screen can bring attention back to the session.
Music or Rewarding Videos
At the end of a session, after using the old reliable “First/Then” visual, I often end our session on a good note. I like to bring up preferred songs or videos and pair them with the less enjoyable experience of a video session. This online teaching/learning is difficult for all of us; it is nice to have a happy moment with our students in the middle of it.