Special Education Teachers in Woodland Public Schools use technology, photos, and home-focused lesson plans to ensure their special needs students develop the social, cognitive, and fundamental skills necessary to succeed while learning remotely.
Some skills can be particularly tricky to teach outside of the classroom. Patricia “Patty” Morgan, a Special Education Teacher at Columbia Elementary School, manages Woodland Public School’s preschool program for special education students. “Children in my classroom have diverse needs with many involving social skills which can be incredibly difficult to teach in a home setting since having classmates around is key to learning how to be social,” she explained. “I’m working directly with my students’ parents to identify the behaviors their children may be exhibiting and using social stories with visuals for them to use at home.”
In her classroom, Patty created a giant Learning Tree from the floor to the ceiling that she changes with the passing of the seasons, adding new woodland creatures which she uses to help her students understand nature science and also engage in learning. When Patty learned schools would be closing, she took pictures of the tree in different phases and seasons to use in weekly messages for parents to share with her students. “My students had been waiting all winter for Brown Bear to wake up from his hibernation so one of my first weekly messages included pictures of him awake in the tree and waving to all his friends,” she said. “Parents reported their children were all so excited to see him awake including students who joined our class after he had begun hibernating in the fall.”
In addition to animals awakening from their winter sleep and springtime activities like bees spreading pollen on flowers to grow fruit, Patty includes a variety of other lessons and activities in her weekly messages to help her students engage with learning from home including learning scavenger hunts, writing assignments, speech lessons, songs, and many more. Patty also arranges video calls with her students so she can check in on their progress and so her students can share the projects they have been working on during their home learning. “Parents have been so grateful,” she said. “I’ve had many share stories of the success they have experienced using these tools.”
For Sarah Taylor, a second-grade teacher at Yale Elementary whose son, Judah, attends Patty’s preschool program, the lessons and one-on-one teacher engagement have not only been key to her son’s ongoing home learning, but also instrumental in helping manage the emotion trauma he experienced when he learned schools were closed for the remainder of the year. “It took Judah a while for the news to sink in that we were not going back to school until Kindergarten,” said Sarah. “When it did, he was devastated and cried, ‘But I love my teachers! I want to see them again.’”
Patty and her paraeducators arranged for a video call to chat with Judah to help him cope with the emotional side-effects of the closure. “They set aside time just for him even with all the work they put in to take care of their special-needs kiddos,” said Sarah. “Judah was so happy and overjoyed to speak with them; as a parent and teacher in our district – I’m so blessed to work with such an awesome staff.”
During the video call, Judah shared everything he had been learning about outer space with his teachers. The teachers sang songs with Judah and discussed the different changes happening outside during springtime. Judah shared his packets of seeds that he intends to plant with his mom. “It was such an uplifting phone call for my little guy,” said Sarah. “We really have some truly amazing teachers in Woodland.”