In this episode, Alec talks to Dr. Margo Vreeburg Izzo, Program Director of Transition Services at Ohio State University Nisonger Center, about how they moved their program for students with intellectual disabilities entirely online.
This is the first episode in a series called “How We Do It”, in which Alec interviews teachers and school leaders about how they’re doing online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many teachers have multiple roles. They’re mothers, and we’ve now closed the daycares. They’re being asked to teach virtually, and they have to learn three or four new technologies. And then they also have the same issues that we all have about managing their emotions about the coronavirus in terms of practicing safe practices, keeping their homes clean, going to the grocery store at non-peak hours, making sure when they bring their groceries home, their groceries don’t transmit any potential viruses or germs.
This is High Tech High Unboxed. I’m Alec Patton. I’m still recording in my garage as I will be for a while. High Tech High is on spring break this week, but next week, we’ll be in session again. And like everyone, we’re going to be figuring out a whole lot as we go.
Whenever I’ve talked to teachers over the last couple of weeks, they’ve asked me the same question. What are you guys doing? Now, teachers are always trying to learn from each other and grab ideas, so there’s nothing new there. But this situation is at a whole other level, so over the next few weeks, I’m going to be interviewing teachers and school leaders to get answers to that question, what are you guys doing?
We’re calling the series “How We Do It,” and if you’re around my age and you’re American, you’ll know what the theme music to the series should be. But I’m afraid of getting sued by Montell Jordan, so you’ll just have to sing it in your head.
For the first episode of “How We Do It,” I talked to Margo Vreeburg Izzo, program director of transition services at Ohio State University Nisonger Center. Specifically, Margo directs a college program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Here’s Margo to explain how it works.
It’s a special certificate program at Ohio State University where students with intellectual disabilities don’t apply through the typical college admissions process. They apply to our program, and then once they’re accepted, they audit one inclusive class that is based on their career interests or leisure interests like hip hop or jazz or sports kinds of classes. And then my staff teach employment-related skills, independent living skills, and self-determination skills. And so they teach one to two hours a day for four days, and then they all have to work an internship as well, either paid or not paid.
How long’s that program?
It can be two or four years.
And how many students do you have right now?
We have 26 students, so it’s a small program.
And just in case like me, you need a refresher on what exactly intellectual disability means–
It’s a type of disability where students have below a 70 IQ.
Ohio State University students went on spring break at the beginning of March and were told not to come back to campus afterwards. The university extended spring break by one week, so classes started again on March 23. I talked to Margo on Friday, March 27, at the end of their first week of being an online university. How has this week gone?
It’s gone very well. The students have responded very well to the conversion from face-to-face instruction to online instruction. The staff have met individually with the students at the beginning of the week to provide direct instruction on how the features of Zoom work and how they can share their screen, how they turn on their video and their audio. And that tutorial helps students log on and engage.
Just to be totally clear, the students and the teachers met virtually. There was no breaking the code of social distancing going on. Initially, they use whatever virtual platform the student was comfortable using– Facetime, Skype, or Zoom. And using that platform, they taught each student how to use Zoom. Access to the technology itself wasn’t an issue.
Because it’s a college program, we primarily get a student that’s from a high SES background. The parents are very educated. They’ve found our program, so their parents who advocate for their sons and daughters and found what the next step was after high school.
After the initial training, students had class. These are synchronous classes. That is, everyone’s meeting at the same time. Asynchronous means there’s stuff to watch or read and work to do, but students are doing it on their own time.
We felt it was important to be synchronous to be able to manage student engagement and be able to use the chat functions and the poll functions of Zoom to continually assess our students on the other end of the computer. Are they responding to questions, and are they responding accurately? So I can assess whether I’ve made this point and students understand and can demonstrate this point and answer comprehension questions appropriately, and then I can move to the next concept that builds upon the concept I just taught.
All 26 students are engaging in their classes. A couple students are responding or are walking away from their computer and taking breaks when they shouldn’t, but we’re dealing with that kind of issue.
Margo described how one of the teachers is starting her classes, and I wanted to share it because I love it.
One of my teachers starts her class with a discussion of what she is grateful for, and then she has students volunteer for what they are grateful for. Then she does a two- to three–minute meditation to help her ease her own anxiety.
But we’ve been doing this– feet on the ground. Plant yourself. You’re firm. You’re getting energy from the earth.
And then they do a two- to three-minute breathing exercise, and then they do a physical poll of their body to see if they’re holding tension. And they try to relax those shoulders and their neck and their legs, and then she starts the lesson.
And teachers are also using this time to, as one to draw Margo’s team put it, make sure students aren’t overreacting or underreacting to the pandemic.
Part of our teaching objectives aren’t just to teach the self determination skills or the academic concept that’s the lesson objective. It’s to review why are we self-isolating and what are the effective practices that we can each do that will keep us and our family safe.
I also want to understand more about those self-determination skills and learning objectives. So Margo explained what they’re working on in class right now.
We’re doing a lot of work on career exploration and how do you identify the best match for an employment goal for yourself. And so students are triangulating their personality style, their interests, and their learning style, and then seeing how their own characteristics in terms of interest and personality match to the world of work and all the different employment goals and whether you want to be working in sales or if you want to be working in health care, in central sterile supply, or if you want to be working directly with people as a patient care assistant. And so some students are able to understand that these are four websites where I can do virtual tours of the kinds of careers that are a good match for me, where other students aren’t going to understand that they’re supposed to watch these videos and then complete a blog that has them discuss whether or not what they’re seeing online in a virtual tour of a work site matches what they think they would be able to do.
I asked Margo what had been hardest about this. She talked about teachers needing to be parents, teachers, and expert self-quarantiners all at the same time. That was the clip I played at the start of the episode. She pointed out that this should get a little easier over time because of the intense synchronous teaching and one-on-one tutorials will ease up as students get used to working online.
Start with lots of engagement between the teacher and their students to make sure that they’re present, they’re managing their stress related to COVID-19, and they’re engaging in the learning material appropriately. And then once a teacher has confidence that the student is engaged, then you can move to a less frequent synchronous meeting and move to a more asynchronous teaching schedule where you post an assignment.
And you expect your students to work more independently, and you provide technical assistance directly to the student who has the need for technical assistance and extra direct instruction. And the students who are more independent don’t have to listen to the specific direct instruction. So it’s a wonderful way for teachers to be able to differentiate instruction and provide more support to students who need more support and then can provide less support to those students who can work more independently because they’ve learned those skills.
She also pointed out something really obvious that somehow I hadn’t fully grasped. This is a whole lot of technical stuff for staff to learn.
Some of my staff are less techie than I am. And so my job– and I’ve got two other staff that are very techie, and they’ve been supporting them as well.
Finally, I asked Margo what her advice was for other teachers based on what she’s learned so far.
Embrace your fear about using technology. Give yourself lots of grace and give your students lots of grace about making mistakes or forgetting how to unmute yourself when you go to talk and modeling for students how they can make the best of a national crisis and continue to dive into ultimately where and how they want to spend their life in terms of employment and independent living.
High Tech High Unboxed is written and edited by me, Alec Patton. Our theme music is by Brother Hershel. I talked to Margo Vreeburg Izzo, the co-author, with fellow podcast guest, LeDerick Horne, of Empowering Students with Hidden Disabilities– A Path to Pride and Success. Order through your local independent bookstore, seriously. They need your support if they’re going to be around when you start leaving the house again.
And if you know of a teacher or a school doing cool stuff who I should interview for “How We Do It,” let me know. And let me know even and especially if the teacher I should interview is you. Now is not a time for modesty. Your fellow teachers need you.
You can get in touch on Twitter. I’m @alecpatton, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And also get in touch if you know Montell Jordan or just know how one goes about asking a famous person for permission to use their song on a podcast. Thanks for listening.