How I Discovered Using Online Teaching Tools Could Help My Students

If you don’t have time – ok, you likely don’t, – feel free to skip this bit and just start with the first article.

From 2001 until July, 2018* I was in private practice as a special education academic coach specialising in students with: giftedness, anxiety, depression, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, other learning disabilities, self-harm, high level student athletes. I also often worked with students who were at risk of failing, had experienced recent trauma (like a death in the family), had their schooling interrupted because of illness or a moving internationally. Sometimes one student had almost all of those needs. 

That First Student…

As iPads and laptops became more common for students in the early 2010s, I spent the final seven years also as an adaptive technology specialist. It was actually one of my students who got me started. She was a grade 10 student with and IEP (individual education plan) for ADHD, giftedness, short term memory learning disability, and mild dyslexia. She was a “triple threat” performing artist – dance, singing, and acting, so was very busy. Her uncle had died a few months before I met her, and while her grade 10 math teacher was really nice, she didn’t feel that she’d learned much because his teaching style didn’t meet her learning style. 

She was at risk of failing grade 10 math, and also not doing well in science – especially the chemistry and physics strands. But, she had an iPad and she was allowed to take it to class. When we met she was simply taking pictures of the blackboard notes because she could either write notes, or pay attention – but not both. I started researching and trying out different apps and translating my analog spec ed teaching methods to her iPad. I also picked up a Kobo tablet (Android). 

Using appropriate adaptive tech on her iPad resulted in her not only passing her math and science courses, but her notes were so good that other students started asking for them, and her teachers asked to use them as examples. She went on to do well in grade 11 math, even enjoy math class, and even took a special Ontario university prep science course in South America one summer.

I soon discovered that using adaptive tech meant that even though I only saw most students twice a week, I could easily keep track of what my students were working on and what they were mastering or getting stuck on. I even surprised one of my students who was on a Canadian national sports team when I caught him online up late only 4 hours before he had to be at practice. 

Note: With the intensive needs of my students, with my only seeing them a few hours a week, and that I frequently started with them part-way through the school year, I very rarely only did online academic coaching. I used adaptive tech to (The exception being essays – like the IB programs Extended Essay.) You, as a classroom teacher have the advantage of having your students full-time (or half-time).

Benefits of Using Adaptive Technology

Teaching online has many positive outcomes – once you’ve learned how, and what’s appropriate for your students needs and who you are as a teacher. (Yes, there’s a lot a reflecting and likely a steep learning curve.) This article series shares an easy step-by-step process to figure out how you can teach your specific class(es) of students, the mandated curriculum requirements, while:

  • Individualising instruction
  • Doing mastery learning
  • Meeting and exceeding IEP/ILP requirements,
    • without signing out spec ed students
  • Meeting your students’ diverse learning styles 
    • (aka Howard Gardener’s 8 Multiple Intelligences)
  • Engage your students
  • Having regular ongoing assessments and reports
  • Get to know your students better than you might in a bricks and mortar classroom
  • Connect with your students’ families – often more effectively than before,
  • Doing some of your marking and reports for you (bolded because as important as assessment is, ‘mark’ ing is a four letter word.)

Like most effective teaching being an effective online teacher starts with your learning. I hope this article series makes your year better, and even more so, the best year yet.

(*I also was academic coaching a few student part-time for the few months before covid happened, but I don’t count that as “being” an academic coach/adaptive tech specialist, because I was already back in university online and changing careers into tech.)

Elizabeth McCready ~ The Ginger MapGeek ~ September, 18, 2020.

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