DHS Special Education Teacher Leverages Technology to Connect with Her Students, Their Families

The coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered the education landscape this spring. Beginning March 19, all Stanislaus County school districts – including Denair Unified — were forced to suspend on-campus classes and move to a distance learning model. Today, in the second of a three-part series, we talk with a Denair teacher about distance learning, some of the challenges and the lessons that can be learned.

Teacher: Renee Hall

School: Denair High School

Grade/subject: Education specialist

What does a typical school day for you look like now? How do you organize your time?  

A typical school day for me is I start servicing my special education students via Zoom about 8:20 in the morning. Some students I see three times a week about 15 minutes per session. Other students I see two times per week about 20 to 30 minutes each session. I determined their time based on their individual needs and capabilities. I do not service students on Friday. I use Friday to do paperwork, data and planning.

What are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make? 

I have made several adjustments to meet the needs of my students. I had to make sure that I am still working on the students’ daily goals during our Zoom meeting. For goals that we are unable to work on via Zoom — such as their independent living skills — I have made a schedule for them to work on them on the days that we do not meet via Zoom. These include skills such as laundry, dishes and cleaning. Many parents have sent me videos or pictures of their student doing these tasks.

Are you presenting group lessons or spending time online one-on-one with students? 

Some students I see individually three times per week for 15 minutes. Then I do a small group of two students two times per week for 20 to 30 minutes. I have utilized my paraprofessionals who work in my classroom. They join me during our Zoom session to help support with instruction.

What are your most effective tools to connect with students?  

I connect with my students via Zoom meetings. I have sent packets and hands-on materials for them to interact with me during our Zoom session, much like we would do in the classroom. I am trying to keep a routine with them to help during this difficult and uncertain time.

Are there things you’re learning now that you’ll be able to apply in your classrooms when school resumes? 

For my students, it has been difficult for them to access their emails. I think that I will spend some time next year teaching my students how to log into their emails and be able to access different media platforms. I am lucky to have great parents who assist their children in the logging-on process. Being that we are a special education classroom and focus on life skills, this is a skill that we will be taking time to  focus on next year.

What are your biggest concerns about students’ ability to learn? 

I was very concerned going into this distance learning platform for my students. Some of my students use devices such as iPads to communicate. I was not sure how they would adapt to the learning environment, but they have adjusted very well. We do lots of interactive learning, giving students the opportunity to use their devices to answer questions and complete the lessons. I think the short time frame of their sessions also has helped with their adjustment. They are not overwhelmed and I am able to keep their attention.

Do you have a favorite distance learning story to share?  I do not have a story, but we are all in this together. Parents, students and staff are all learning new things. I will share something that I am enjoying. I sometimes do not have face-to-face interaction with parents. Since my parents have to help my students log on and help them during our sessions, I feel that our relationships are growing. I am getting to know my families better and they are a joy to see daily. They are very thankful for all our district is doing to support their child during this difficult time. 

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