Suddenly, teachers across the world have been tasked with teaching online. You probably are wondering how to teach online. I want to share my best tools for teaching online. I’ve tutored many students online in the past, and it truly can be an effective way to learn, even for students with disabilities. My experience has helped me find my own essential tools for teaching online.
Consider Accessibility Tools for Teaching Online
When tutoring online, it was the choice of the families I worked with. Accessibility wasn’t usually an issue, but even so, sometimes we had technical glitches. If your students don’t have devices and are expected to do online learning, the district should be providing the technology. They also should be providing YOU, yes you, dear teacher, the technology too. Of course, I know that isn’t always the case. Not only do you need to have access, your students do. I’m going to breakdown accessibility into two categories, input and output. Input is the information, lessons and everything else you send to the student. Output is what the student is producing in response.
How are you getting information delivered to your students? As always, communication is a two-way street. We need to make sure our students can access the information we are sending them. Otherwise, it would be like us getting a message from our principal in Morse code. Sure, they sent information, but was it understandable? Unless you have an unusual talent for this day and age, it would be useless to you.
For most students, one of the best ways we can make ourselves understood is through visuals. Visuals help kids with autism, kids who are deaf, kids with intellectual disability, and of course they help general education students too. The easiest tool I have is my dry erase board. I used it with my elementary kids all the way through college kids. I’ve liked these so much I’m on my second one (in over a decade). As you can see, even my new one has been well loved. It’s from Melissa and Doug and has a chalkboard on the back. It also comes with a bunch of magnetic letters. I got mine from Amazon, and you can get one too (affiliate link).
Sign Language Interpretation
If your student has access to an interpreter at school, they need to have that same access virtually. Figure out a way to work it out with your district.
Screen readers can help blind students access web pages. They can also help students who need text read aloud to them for comprehension.
- ChromeVox is a Chrome Extension for this purpose. Be sure that anything you install on district computers or suggest to parents to use is OK with your district’s tech department.
- Read Aloud is a text to speech voice reader Chrome extension.
I love the extension Open Dyslexic. It change fonts on the web to the free font Open Dyslexic. Each letter is unique so that reversals aren’t as much of an issue. I had one family love it so much, the Dad started using it too because he was dyslexic. A friend of mine said that it helped her headaches. Go figure!
Total Physical Response
Have students respond to you by using total physical response. It helps students to learn new vocabulary. Essentially, students make up their own physical movement to demonstrate and represent a word. Here is a video from Texas’s Region 13 about using TPR. Can you imagine how fun it will be to see your class acting out words through your screen? They’ll love it, and it is something you can bring back to your classroom when you return. It is also a great intervention for English Language Learners.
Audio and Video Recording
Can your students record an audio response to your lesson? It’s a great opportunity to focus on speaking as a language skill when your students are remote. Speaking skills get left out of classrooms too often in favor of quiet. Let your kids talk! They might even want to do a video performing a task.
If you have students who are visually impaired, you must consider how tactile output will be used. Can sanitary materials be mailed to the student’s home? Communicate with your child’s parents and the vision specialists in your district to make it happen for them.
My Tech Tools for Teaching Online
Before you go out and purchase anything, really your district should be providing you materials to do your job. Push them to properly equip you before going out and buying your own tools. I tutor privately, so I have the tools for myself (and for playing The Sims, don’t judge). This is me in my guest room/office where I have all my teaching stuff.
- I have an MSI laptop which is a fancy gaming laptop. It allows me to have videos play without getting jammed up. When it does get laggy, it’s usually because my teenager is playing an online video game at the same time. It’s not the computer, it’s the bandwidth. You won’t need a laptop like mine for online teaching though.
- My headphones are from Logitech. They plug into a USB port. I’ve had these for quite some time. I drop them all the time and they still work great. They have a built in mic. I can’t find my exact pair anymore, but these are priced similarly to the ones I have. I’ve always had good experiences with Logitech. The link is an affiliate link.
- If your computer doesn’t have a built in camera, you will need one. My laptop has one (that’s been glitchy lately, arg!), but this one from AUKEY is affordable and well reviewed. (affiliate link). This one also has a microphone. I still recommend using a headset for your audio. When I teach online without using a headset, I get too much noise feedback, and it’s distracting to both me and my students.
How Does This Fit with the IEP?
Good question, and I’m glad you asked. We are currently in uncharted waters, but it’s important we do our very best to ensure our students are recieving their Free Appropriate Public Education. We can all use this as a learning experience moving forward to have contingency plans for remote learning in the future. As the world becomes more connected dititally, I think there will be increasing times of online learning days in our future. Here is my advice on writing IEP contingency plans for online learning.
Special Education Teachers Rock
You may not hear it enough, but special education teachers rock. You are caring and creative, and by reading this far to find tools for teaching online, I know you are devoted to meeting your students needs no matter what. Here’s a virtual high five! You don’t need a ton of things to be an effective teacher online. You’ve got this. If you found this information helpful, let your other teacher friends know about it.