Today started our state’s third week of Virtual Learning due to the COVID-19 precautions and country-wide shutdowns. I am sure you have probably read at least twenty blog posts about ‘homeschooling’ your kids during this stressful and (for most of us) unprecendented time. I have tweeted a few resources here and there, but I thought putting them in a blog would be more beneficial to folks who do not tweet as much as I do (I really tweet too much). Supporting students with Learning Disabilities during a school shutdown is difficult because supporting those students in a classroom is difficult. I am going to do my part by offering a short list of programs I use in my classes.
Supporting or Teaching?
Before I share the Very Short List of Sites I Use in My Resource Classroom (might turn this into an ebook…you never know), I want to make a few things clear:
- No one was prepared for this;
- You are not your child’s teacher, unless you are truly a homeschooling family;
- Despite popular opinion, it takes training, commitment, and hours of work to be an effective teacher.
Number 3 is not a dig at homeschooling parents; even they have to put in serious work to be effective. I homeschooled all of my kids for several years, so I know. It is neither an indictment on a parent or caregiver’s ability to teach / educate their own child(ren). I need you to understand that we do this for 6+ hours each day, without simultanesouly trying to juggle a full-time job, other kids, pets, laundry, lunches, etc. This is actual work. I also need you to understand that, as the parent / caregiver, you can either say “This assignment is too long” or “We need to adjust this” at any point during this…situation we are in. This is especially true for families of students with disabilities; more specifically, students with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Since the majority of my teaching experience has involved students with SLD, the sites I am sharing are the exact same sites I use in both my Math and Science Resource classes each day.
DISCLAIMER: I am not being compensated by any of these companies to promote their sites. If you actually do follow me on Twitter, then you know I tweeted about these sites before now. It’s important for parents to know this. I believe in the resources I use in my classroom, otehrwise I would not use them.
Finding Quality Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities
Last Spring, I tried teaching Earth Science from an outdated textbook. It did not go well. As much as I tried, the students were not interested. (SPOILER ALERT: Neither was the teacher!) Other than the large amounts of text on each page, the Readability was extremely high. Why does that matter? Well, if you teach students with a Reading-related Disability, then there is a chance they may not be able to access the information (curriculum) on their own. Even though I read the text out loud, it was still difficult. I conducted a Fleisch-Kincaid Readability test on some of the passages. As it turned out, most of the text registered at the 9th grade level; I teach 6th grade. Many, not all, students with reading disabilities tend to read one or more grade levels below their assigned school grade. Fortunately, a reading disability does not always negatively impact a student’s comprehension ability. Students tend to be extraordinary listeners when they have a reading disability and can. therefore, respond to questions about a text that was read aloud and participate in discussions. Note: I said listeners, not followers of instructions. 😆
I stumbled upon CK12 by accident. It is likely that I Googled ‘free + middle school science curriculum’ because I am always looking for free stuff! I have been most impressed by the presentation of the content (layout and navigation) and content Readability. Although I read everything aloud (the first time), students can read on their own using Google’s ReadWrite Extension; some students are even comfortable reading without assistance. Within CK12, you can search for content in all subjects and grade levels. I often set my filter to include grades 4-6 to ensure I am differentiating and providing opportunities for all of my students to access the content on their Functional Reading Level (actual current level where they can read independently). Discussion follows our class read alouds; then, I assign the Concept Practice activities to students. I really like these because they are interactive and reinforce what we just read. The concepts are presented several times, as either multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions. Students can practice until they reach 100%. Reading content aloud, repetition of content, and multiple methods of presentation ensure that my students receive their IEP Accommodations during instruction and independent work.
Study Island is another program we use to supplement classroom instruction. There is an added benefit of this program: Homework practice. Despite the arguments against homework, I assign review exercises for my students as part of their IEP Accommodations (repetition of content). Students with Learning Disabilities often exhibit proccessing and memory difficulties, so it benefits them to have unlimited opportunties to review the content on their own. Study Island offers content materials for all subject areas, grades 1-12. As part of their review, they can watch a video demonstration, practice with flashcards, and then work through some problems. Students have unlimited practice opportunities. I can view the exact problems that students missed. Sometimes I use those as Warmups or Exit Tickets. Study Island is not a free program; however, I believe they are offering access during the school shutdowns.
For parents who are concerned about Progress Monitoring, or ensuring their kids still make progress towards their goals, I am suggest two programs I have used for at least 10 years: ReadWorks and EasyCBM. Typically, Progress Monitoring is handled by Special Education Teachers; however, we are not living in typical times. Although I can still manage to get some work samples and data from my students, I do understand this may not be the case for everyone. If your family is considering requesting Extended School Year (ESY) services once schools re-open, then I implore you to collect some data on your child’s IEP Goals. With ReadWorks, you can search for passages on a variety of topics and at all grade and Lexile levels. Like with CK12, I tend to search 1-2 grade levels below 6th grade; there are some students who are assigned 6th-7th grade passages. Those who do well with grade-level passages tend to prefer non-fiction topics, as they do not have to make inferences or determine whether statements are facts or opinions. Those are actually areas of diffifulty for students with Learning Disabilities, so we still have to spend time practicing. EasyCBM is mostly used to assess Reading Fluency, which is important for comprehension. Fortunately, the fluency assessments only require 1 minute and should be done once a week. EasyCBM also provides Math Benchmarks which help pinpoint specific skill areas where students need additional supports or intervention. Again, you are neither required nor expected to conduct Progress Monitoring for your child, but you are certainly welcome to do so! The best is that EasyCBM has a free version that comes with enough functionality to make the effort worthwhile.
Last, but by no means least, is a wonderful program I discovered last summer: Dybuster. This program is currently free to U.S. Schools. Please ask your school leaders to set-up an account. I spent a great deal of time looking far and wide for a program created specifically for students with Dyscalculia, a Math Learning Disability. The Math apps and programs used by most U.S. schools do not support the unique needs of students with Dyscalculia. Instead, our solution has been subjecting students to memorizing fact families despite ‘memory’ being the underlying issue for many students. When my students worked in Dysbuster, I would watch them progress through the activities – all presented with interactive visual models. This was yet another opportunity to implement an IEP Accommodation: Manipulatives for solving Math problems. Dybuster also have a great report system integrated into their software. I can access reports to determine if all of my students can compute (using all operations) with numbers 1-100 or which students are still working on that skill. I have seen a lot of Math programs adopted and/or required for use in schools. Likewise, a lot of those programs go unused either due to time or teachers simply not liking them. Due to the unique needs of my students, I worked through the programs purchased by our district; I do not like any of them (except those mentioned in this post), primarily for one simple reason: They were not developed for students with Learning Disabilities. It does not take long for me to figure that out once I log-in to the program.
Every program I shared here, I share with my students. I have chosen not to introduce anything new because we are all under a great deal of stress. I cannot troubleshoot for people who are not in my presence; I do not expect parents to assume that responsibility. I hope you can find something useful in supporting your child. If you have any questions about anything written here, please feel free to send me a message.
Go easy on yourself and good luck!