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Online teaching through a Specific Learning Disabilities Teacher

Last updated on April 28, 2020

Nenagh Sheehan ’21

Due to the current pandemic COVID-19, all schools have been shut down and moved to online learning and teaching. My sister Reilly is a special education teacher for 3rd grade, so she had to change her lesson plans to work for special education students and their guardians,  She works with 14 kids at Peter Muschal middle school in Borden Town, New Jersey. Since this was her first year working here it was challenging for her to adjust her teaching lessons to help her students that are used to working in classroom settings. 

The idea of flexibility we discussed in class plays an important role in this instance because Reilly has to make sure her online assignments are suitable for all of her students with multiple different disabilities. For example, not all of her students are able to work a computer without her help and her aids help in the classroom. In Building Access Universal Design and the Politics of Disability, Aimi Hamraie discusses the importance of bodies and machines. “The successful ergonomic object reduces these frictions, blending the body and the machine seamlessly to enable efficient and comfortable work” (Hamraie, 41). The importance of bodies and machines is the idea of friction, and disabilities and accessibility can be understood by the friction of where bodies and technologies meet. 

Reilly said, “One of my students is hard of hearing and has to wear a hearing aid during class which is connected to a microphone I wear on my shirt during class, but now since everything is online I knew I had to accommodate my lessons for this student.” She explained that when she posts a YouTube video of her reading a book that the students have to follow along to, she uses closed captions on the bottom of the video. Not only is this helping one of her students, but it’s helping the entire class because is she says something unclear or confusing they can follow along with the words at the bottom of the page. Instead of singling the student who is hard of hearing she changed the lesson plan to make it better for the class as a whole. To reduce the friction of this student’s disability, she put up closed captions. 

This is a screen shot from Reilly's lesson that she gave online. She made sure to speak loud and clear so the closed captions could pick up what she is saying in order for her students to understanding the reading.
This is a screen shot from Reilly’s lesson that she gave online. She made sure to speak loud and clear so the closed captions could pick up what she is saying in order for her students to understanding the reading.

Another layer of friction is financial issues and when taking into consideration all of her students, Reilly realized that financial issues may play a part in some kid’s ability to complete online tasks. For example, one student in her class didn’t have a computer, luckily she made it known to the school board and they were able to provide the family with a computer. Also, some parents still have to work to provide their kids with food and other necessary items during this time. Before the pandemic, she realized one of her kids was on a meal plan with the school cafeteria, so she needed to think of a way for him to still get food while not in school. Luckily after this was brought to the school board’s attention Chill’s Grill & Bar was able to drop off meals to students’ houses who needed extra help. 

Sensory overload is also friction that Reilly’s students are faced within a classroom setting, that is why her classroom is small, so her students feel is it a safe place to learn. Her students are hypersensitive to large groups so as a teacher, Reilly realized her students would not be able to meet with her in large groups online due to lack of personal attention. So instead of holding large class meetings, she has a schedule where her students can sign up for individual screen time and get personal help with her on the assignments. Learning strategies are posted on the school website where her students can find visual aids like multiplication tables and graphics. It’s crucial during this time to remember not to eliminate disabilities because no student should be left behind. 

The idea of friction and accommodating to all bodies play a role for Saint Joseph’s University students with the transition to online learning. All students might not have access to a personal computer due to financial issues and their home living situations could not be a suitable environment to learn in. It’s crucial for all professors to realize these frictions caused by online learning and to address the issues head-on if a student is facing them.

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