Special Needs - 2 - Best Practices for Online Communication (Assignment #1)

posted Oct 13, 2019, 6:27 PM by Emily Kroutil

I decided to write about Option 2. I've included it here for reference:

You have a student in your online English class who has a 504 Plan in place for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The plan indicates she has significant difficulties with staying focused and executive functioning skills, making organization a constant challenge for her. The 504 committee that developed her plan decided to try an online placement for your one class to see if the online environment is an appropriate fit for future classes. So far, it seems she is enjoying and thriving in your class; she has been active in the class for the first couple of weeks, crafting thoughtful and meaningful posts and responses to classmates, she is asking questions when she needs clarification on a direction or a concept, and is turning in assignments and taking tests and quizzes on a regular basis. However, you notice she is turning in her work at various times, not necessarily in order as per the pacing schedule with due dates you have provided.

In this scenario, it is obvious that our student, whom I will call Teresa for ease of explanation, is struggling with executive functioning, which is a known challenge for her. This means that she may struggle with things that seem "easy" to others, such as keeping track of what assignments are due when, completing assignments, prioritizing assignments, and self-monitoring. So, for example, our schedules may be overwhelming to her, with a whole week or weeks displayed on the same page and several "asks" per day. 

There are a few things we can do to support Teresa. First, I would call Teresa's mom and explain the situation. Most likely, Teresa's mom has been working on these difficulties for years with her and might have some strategies in place that seem to work for Teresa. Then, mom and I could work on a plan to modify these strategies for her online class. For example, students that struggle with executive functioning, often do well when everything but what they need to do RIGHT NOW is covered up, so the other information does not distract them. She may be used to covering up all of a test, except the question she is working on. If so, Teresa could print out her schedule and cover up all but the current day's work so she can focus on exactly what she needs to do that day:

Or, Teresa might benefit from a simple list that lists exactly what she needs to turn in each week, but nothing else. This might help her focus. Here is an example of a simple checklist I created for a student this semester: Fall 2019 Due Date Checklist.

Next, I would email Teresa, mom, and her GAVS Special Education teacher a summary of what we talked about. If there was anything we agreed that I would provide, such as the schedule above, I would send that as well. This way, both Teresa and her mom have a written copy of what we discussed that they could refer back to as needed.

The third method of communication I would use to support Teresa is making sure she understands how to access the Course Resource S'mores for each module. These newsletters have FAQ, walkthrough videos, and other helpful tips for each assignment. I link these newsletters in the Bulletin Board section of my course:

When students click the button, they are directed to a S'more newsletter like this one: Chemical Oceanography. Hopefully, if Teresa has questions while she is working, she can reference the newsletter and have her questions answered right away, which could reduce the amount of time she spends "down the rabbit hole". For example, if the newsletters didn't exist, she might have a question while working on her assignment. She might navigate away from the assignment to send me an email to ask her question (or to Google to try and research the answer). Then, she'd already be away from the assignment, so she might decided to check Facebook or Instagram and then get lost in social media and then, before she knows it, an hour or more has passed and she hasn't gotten any farther in her assignments. Instead, she can check the newsletter, find the answer to her question immediately, and then continue on with her assignment (at least that's the hope). Hopefully, these would be helpful to Teresa, since she struggles with self-monitoring.

Ideally, reducing distractions on her pacing schedule, a weekly due date checklist, and the FAQ/Tips newsletters would help Teresa turn in her work in order and following the course pacing guide. This would bring her grade up in the course. But, perhaps more importantly, she would learn some valuable strategies that she could utilize in future online courses, since the online format seems to be working well for her otherwise.