Two years into the pandemic, we are still battling hard. There have been inevitable disruptions to our lives, and education is no exception. As new measures were introduced at different stages, we found ourselves having to adjust back and forth to home-based learning; once in May 2021, and again in September 2021.
In retrospect, our online education journey has come a long way. Teaching and learning online was never considered as an option for children with special needs, more so for a tactile subject such as the piano. But if we were to back down each time the country goes into lockdown, how can we ever make good progress? Will 2021 be another year “lost”?
A Mindset Shift
A year ago, we had no experience transiting our full curriculum online; we had no digital materials we could use to teach our children with special needs effectively. The mindset at that time was, “Online classes? Impossible.” In March 2020, only a quarter of our autistic students were able to transition to online lessons. For the rest, learning completely stopped.
This year, with experience in tow, our educators took it on themselves to improve the online learning journey for our students. Parents, worried that past progress would be erased, were more willing to give online learning a try. We started to witness a mindset shift.
Preparing Digital Teaching Materials and Resources for Home-Based Learning
As we embarked on Home-Based Learning once again, we find ourselves more prepared for what is to come. Our educators are calm; they prepare reusable visual supports and interactive digital teaching materials to help our students engage better through the online platform. Music scores are digitized, and worksheets are designed that don’t require students to write.
For students who face challenges learning through such an abstract platform, educators identify them at an early stage and mail out physical books and materials for these students promptly.
Communication and Collaboration during Home-Based Learning
Our physical lessons have always been 45 minutes in duration, with breaks inserted to keep our students’ engagement levels high. Now that all has to be transited online, our educators had to think creatively on how to structure their lessons effectively. How do we engage a student’s focus online? How do we communicate effectively with our students?
Communication and collaboration with our student’s parents are the key elements for effective online learning. Lesson plans are sent to parents ahead of time so they can have a quick glance and prepare their children by way of narrating social stories to set expectations. We also include materials such as keyboard setup visuals as well as expectation and communication supports so parents can use them to help their children focus during the lesson.
Designing Effective Online Lesson Structures
For students who struggle to attend to the screen for the full lesson duration, our educators offer to split the lesson up into two 20-minute sessions. The shorter sessions were more achievable for our students as their attention span need not be stretched to the point of anxiety and meltdown.
As our students see and feel their success in learning, their behaviours also changed; they feel more confident, try harder, and focus more in order to feel the initial feeling of success again. This positive cycle then resulted in a positive and successful online learning experience for our students, their parents, and our educators.
The final ingredient for successful online lessons is to think creatively. In our earlier article on Work Systems, we featured a student who collected stickers for each completed task. With lessons moving online, we asked ourselves, “How can we best replicate this experience for this student?” Using a graphic design application, we were able to make the online class more interactive. Fynn was able to search for different colored dinosaurs and “paste” them on his sheet after completing each task.
In the following video, watch Fynn’s face light up when he requests and receives a Tinky Winky sticker on his reward chart! We’d like to add that under normal circumstances, Fynn would have never been able to get a Tinky Winky sticker in a physical class because we simply don’t have it! Technology made this possible!
Lessons Learnt During Home-Based Learning
While Home-Based Learning may not be the most ideal platform for our children with autism and ADHD, but we learned to rise up to the challenge. Our educators feel more prepared and confident to modify their teaching methods effectively. They also discovered their strengths during this online education journey. As for our Radiant Children, they live up to this quote:
“If you never try, you will never know what you are capable of.”John Barrow, English cosmologist, theoretical physicist, and mathematician.
This time, two-thirds of our students successfully transitioned to online classes. Our students have excelled beyond our wildest imagination and thrived despite the changes that this pandemic brought about. We remain immensely grateful to the parents who journeyed with us online. It was not an easy and smooth sailing journey, and we are thankful for their understanding and their willingness to adapt. Our progress and achievements today are a result of everyone’s hard work.
“In our togetherness, castles are built.” – Irish proverb
With teamwork and cooperation, we can achieve greatness!