In this episode, Alec talks to LeDerick Horne about what teachers can do to support kids with special educational needs (and their families) in the midst of this craziness.
Can I talk to you about the mask? One of the anxieties that I have about the mask — I have for the most part been doing a really good job at just staying in the house all day, every day, but I am a runner. And when all this started happening, I got back into a running routine and sort of cranking up the distance more than anything as a form of self care, but also just making sure that I was staying healthy through all of it. It’s become clear to me like, okay, maybe I should be running with a mask on, but I can also tell you that, you know, I’m an African American male, right? So like if I’m walking around with a mask on and there’s just like, anything you do can be looked at as being suspicious. And I just don’t want to give police officers any sort of like triggering impulse to be able to come after me because I’m running around with my face covered. And the other side of that is in New Jersey. Now you can’t go into a supermarket without having your face covered. So I better make sure that while I’m out in the world, I’ve got some sort of covering over my face. ‘Cause I also don’t want to use that as an opportunity for me to be stopped, approached, and then possibly asked to be you know, searched or something like that. So that’s just one of the things that I’m dealing with.
This is High Tech High Unboxed, I’m Alec Patton, and I’m very pleased to announce that you just heard the voice of poet and disability rights activists LeDerick Horne, back on our podcast for a second time. The rest of this episode isn’t about masks, race or policing, but we started with the mask because what LeDerick described, this accumulation of new anxieties that interact with longstanding fears, it’s a big part of our lives right now. Maybe you share LeDerick’s concern about how police will respond to you wearing a mask. And even if you don’t, it’s likely that some of your students do. So right now, students are using unfamiliar digital platforms with much less contact with teachers and they’re used to, and every day that discovering new things to worry about. This is a tough foundation for anyone to try to learn. Add dyslexia or poor executive functioning to that, and the student is in a really tough position. None of this is news to you. Obviously you’re facing this challenge every day, but LeDerick has some ideas that can help. That’s right, it’s time for a Pro Session.
[“Pro Sessions” intro music]
When I asked LeDerick what teachers could do to support kids with special educational needs right now, he started with the technology itself — specifically, making sure everyone knows how to use it.
So one of the things that I’ve heard is helpful is just making sure that there’s sort of a technology tutorial that happens early on, right? Because we just don’t want to assume that everybody knows how to use these devices. Another thing to think about is to help your students and the families to create a space within the home where learning can happen, right? Some place that is organized and dedicated to that.
As a man recording in my garage while my family’s in the house, I can attest the importance of dedicated workspace during quarantine. And if I need it, kids and teenagers definitely need it too.
Another thing that I think is really challenging for a big portion of our population is executive functioning skills. So again, this is one of the pieces of advice that has come in from the Learning Disability Association of America. It’s this idea that being able to simplify, particularly, the number of portals in which assignments get delivered to students and families, and then how that material gets submitted back to a teacher.
This takes me back to my first year of teaching when my Dean, Spencer Gooch, shadowed a student in my class for two days. At the end of it, Spencer told me that even he couldn’t figure out where to find information about my class online or where to turn in assignments. My system seemed really simple to me, but for anybody not inside my head, it was baffling. And then there’s assistive technology. When I was in the classroom, I considered myself a master of making PDFs. One thing I didn’t think about making sure computers could read the text.
One of the big challenges that we have is that sometimes folks will like scan text and present that as a PDF. But it’s almost looked at as an image by a computer or by your phone, instead of sending someone a link where they can then use a screen reader, being able to highlight texts and have their device, read it back to them.
That’s right. Your phone can read out loud to you, which is a really useful feature if you’re dyslexic, but only if you know it’s there. So LeDerick recommends helping students and their families set up the accessibility features on the devices they’re using at home.
Just walking throughthe accessibility features on many of our devices. A lot of our young people are really familiar with the tech that they’re using as far as cell phones or iPads or what have you, but you know, it doesn’t hurt to go through and just make sure everyone knows.
And if like me, you don’t know much about the accessibility features on Chromebooks, tablets or smartphones. Lederick has a pretty simple solution.
You can go on YouTube and search accessibility features for the different devices and being able to just send those to the students, but also to the family so that they’re able to optimize and leverage the technology to the fullest extent.
Of course, technology is just the tip of the iceberg here. Teaching kids with special educational needs requires a complex set of skills and Paris did not start this year out expecting to become their kids’ main teacher in the spring.
Parents are really struggling with being able to provide the sort of supports that a special education teacher would provide at home.
Lederick pointed out that like any new teachers, parents need to be able to contact instructional coaches for advice. And in this case, instructional coaches means teachers and other staff members.
They really need to be able to hear from school staff, they need to be contacted particularly from special education teachers, just to see how they’re doing, to be able to offer advice and pointers, just providing a space where you are available to take questions and hear the concerns of the families in your school, whether that’s like an online hangout or an open Zoom meeting that anyone from the school can log in. Just to say “Hey, I’m available. What questions do you have?”
Holding regular office hours for parents rather than just for students? It feels a little weird, but it’s a reminder that we are very much all in this together.
High Tech High Unboxed is written and edited by me, Alec Patton. Our theme music is by brother Hershel, and the Pro Sessions theme is by Temple Dogs. Lederick recommended a website with a lot of great resources for supporting students with special educational needs called www.educatingalllearners.org/ Just type that into your browser. All one word. Thanks for listening.