April 5, 2021
By Eve Kessler, Esq.
With the COVID-19 school closures, teaching has shifted from classroom, small group, and individual instruction to distance learning. Teachers and service providers are working hard to adapt to remote platforms. As parents, you are in a unique position to let your school team know how your kids are responding to online learning: How are they doing at home with teachers, special educators, and therapists? Are they engaged and responsive? What’s working and what’s not?
“This is our time to explore and see what our kids are really able to do,” says Solandy Forte, a behavior analyst and clinical social worker. The insights you glean will help your child’s team decide the adjustments that need to be made in order for your child to succeed while learning at home.
Collect & Record
To do that, Forte recommends keeping a user-friendly diary to record information about your child’s responses. This journal can be used not only to inform team decisions for the remainder of COVID-19 closure but it will also be of value when school reopens. At that point when assessments are resumed, it will be essential to determine present levels of performance and any regression that may have occurred. Following are the simple steps to gather the information you’ll need.
- Collect and Record Data Weekly. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns: Domains and Notes. Domains are the areas of concern being addressed in your child’s IEP/504 Plan. They may include:
- Academic/Cognitive: language arts; math; other academic/nonacademic areas.
- Social/Behavioral: harmful, uncooperative or refusal social/ emotional/physical behaviors that interfere with her learning (e.g., hitting; kicking; pushing; blurting out; non-compliance; negative comments/gestures; anger; frustration; poor on-task/work completion; anxiety; unwillingness to follow directions; poor peer interactions; weak social/emotional problem solving).
- Communication: impairments in your child’s receptive language (ability to understand) or expressive language (ability to use) being addressed by speech and language therapy.
- Gross/Fine Motor: delays in your child’s controlled, coordinated and efficient motor skills being addressed by occupational and/or physical therapy (e.g., kicking/throwing a ball, jumping, gripping a pencil, tying shoelaces, etc).
- Self-help: skills needed to encourage responsibility, such as independent dressing, grooming, daily hygiene, chores (table setting; picking up toys; doing dishes/laundry).
- Postsecondary Education/Training: transition goals are integrated into the IEP by the time your child turns 15. These focus on her transition to postsecondary education, training, employment, or independent living.
For each domain you use, ask and answer how your child responded to instruction/services this week. For instance: Was excited to see providers on screen. But saw an increase in refusal behavior. Ask teacher for specific strategies to help with refusal behavior.
The Notes section should contain five sections: Baseline, Instruction Materials/Services, Progress, Other, and Notes to yourself.
- Be specific. List each material received for home instruction (eg., Google Classroom; video consultation; links to websites; tele-therapy; workbooks; manipulatives, etc.) and explain how your child responded to it (Did it work? If not, what about it didn’t work?). Add details; the more thorough you are, the more helpful your discussions will be, and the more your team will be able to individualize the IEP/504 Plan, adjust assignments, and dive into different modes of instruction.
- Clarify what isn’t working. If the team doesn’t know your child is struggling, they will continue to provide the same lesson plans and services in the same manner. Be clear when she is having difficulty with an assignment, isn’t responsive to particular materials or platforms, or refuses to participate in a specific activity.
- Include what is working. Some kids are more engaged and responsive to online instruction. If this is the case, your team will want to include more of what is working during the remainder of distance learning, as well as when your kids return to the classroom.
- Individualize the form to make it your own. Look at your child’s IEP/504 Plan, ask yourself what goal/objective the assignment is targeting, and add it to the specific section on the form. If you don’t know, be sure to ask your team.
- Have additional conversations with your team. When something important needs to be addressed that can’t wait for the weekly sheet, reach out immediately by email or phone. For example, if your child is hostile and unable to complete assignments, teachers can change a lesson plan, prioritize easier work, or intersperse more difficult tasks throughout the day. If you think a goal isn’t being addressed appropriately, ask what data the team has collected and how it determined “satisfactory progress.”
Use these example notes to help guide you.
Instruction Materials/Services: Worksheets combined with online reading materials and word fluency program. Make sure to communicate with special education teacher if there are any other materials/websites she can access independently.
Baseline: Responded positively to reading worksheet. Was able to read 8/10 high-frequency words independently.
Progress: Slight increase in refusal to participate in online reading fluency activities. On Tuesday, we attempted 5 times to complete word-fluency activity and all were refusals.
Note to self: Ask for independent projects so I can structure my work-at-home day.
Other: Responded better to materials presented online but not to worksheets. Was excited to see pictures paired with words on screen.
This blogpost is based on Practical Ways to Help Your Team Measure Your Child’s Learning During Covid-19 School Closure, a webinar for SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), by Solandy Forte, PhD, LCSW, BCBA-D, a doctoral level Board Certified Behavior Analyst, licensed clinical social worker, and Director of Milestones Family Services. Other source materials includes Data Collection Sheets created for Special Education Equity for Kids of Connecticut (SEEK-CT), available in English at https://seekct.com/english-version-data and in Spanish at https://seekct.com/spanish-version-data. Eve Kessler, Esq., a retired criminal appellate attorney, is Executive Director of SPED*NET and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.