Special Needs - 2- Specific Strategies for Online Differentiation and Personalization

posted Oct 21, 2019, 3:08 PM by Emily Kroutil

Each semester, there are several things I do to learn about my students - both academically and personality-wise. I typically do these 4 things by the first week of class:

  1. Look at past performance data available to me
  2. Make welcome calls to families
  3. Receive (and implement) any accommodations for the student
  4. Make a welcome post about myself, read the student's welcome discussion post, and respond individually to each student's post


As soon as a student is added to my roster, I look at their data. I look at where they go to school, their grade, etc. Then, I look to see if they have taken classes with us before. If they have not, I know I'll need to keep a careful eye on them at the beginning of the semester because they may have trouble with the format of the course. If a student has taken courses with us before, I color their names green on my spreadsheet so I know they should be fairly comfortable with the format. If they have taken courses with us before, I also look at the following information:

  1. Their past courses and grades (in the red box) -
    1. Have they taken an AP course with us before (I teach AP)? - If so, what was their grade in the course? If it was low, I know I need to keep an extra eye out for them. If they've taken an AP course and have done well, then I know it should be relatively smooth sailing with that student. And, if their grade does start to drop, I need to check in, because that is unexpected and something might be going on.
    2. What subjects have they taken online? - Have they taken science courses with us before? Or were they primarily another subject? If science, they should have a good hold on how our science classes work. If not, I need to keep an eye on them, especially when it comes to lab reports.
    3. What was their grade in previous courses? - If their grade was low, I know I need to keep close tabs on them. If their grade was in the low 70s, I also need to keep close tabs on them because they will likely need a lot of support. If their grade was very high, I probably won't need to do much to keep them on track in the course.
  1. Their current GAVS courses (the course NOT in the red box above) -
    1. Are they taking many courses with us? - If so, this might mean that they are homebound or have some reason to do most or all of their classes online. If not, they probably take most of their classes at their home school and likely have a full load of classes on top of mine.
    2. Are any of their other courses AP courses? - If so, I know they will be spending a lot of time online and might need extra support because AP courses, especially an AP AB (full year course in one semester) takes quite a bit of work and time to complete successfully.
  2. Their designation (Regular education/Special Needs/Gifted) -
    1. If they are special needs, have they been assigned a case manager at my school? If they are designated special needs, but do not have a case manager, I need to let the special needs department know about this student in case they are unaware and they can be on the lookout for their accommodations.



Once I start making welcome calls, if the parent answers, I sometimes get an idea of the student. Parents of high-achieving students are often quick to tell me that their student does well in school and they rarely have to get involved or intervene. If a student struggles, sometimes the parent won't tell me, but I can tell from their tone that they may not be comfortable with school or teachers. Sometimes they will tell me and I'll give them some strategies for success I like to pass on to parents (use the schedule like a checklist, turn in work early, work every day, do NOT wait until the last minute, etc). Sometimes, they will tell me about any accommodations their child usually receives or any learning differences their child may have. This information is very helpful in learning about the student.


Once the students' Special Needs Case manager sends me their accommodation information. I have some more data to add to my repository about the student. Usually, this email tells me why the student is being served under the IEP or 504 and the accommodations. Here is an example of part of one of those emails:

For example, If I see that a student needs assignments broken into smaller parts, I know the student may struggle with executive functioning, and I can supply some additional strategies that have worked for those students in the past. It is helpful to know what strategies are in place to help the student because that gives me an idea of where the student might struggle.


At this point, I've learned quite a bit about the student, even though I usually have yet to talk to the student. The first assignment in my course is a welcome discussion post. The students are asked to answer a few questions about themselves. 

I love this assignment because I get to hear from the students about themselves. They share their favorite movies and music, what sports or instruments they play, and I get a little glimpse into their personality. I try to make a little mental note about each student and reply to each post specifically about that student.


After the welcome post, I know quite a bit about each student before they've done anything related to my content area.  Throughout the semester, I get more information about the students - when they like to work, whether they tend to procrastinate, whether they are utilizing the extra resources I provide, etc. All of this information helps me support the student as best as I can.