Creating accessible resources
Even small adjustments can make a difference to the quality of learning for students with SEND, and making resources more accessible can often be done with relative ease. A good place to start would be to check that your home learning materials are accessible for the greatest number of pupils, taking into account font size, typeface, use of colours, and layout in text-based documents and presentations.
If you are providing live lessons or video content, can these include closed captions? Some web conferencing tools provide the option for users to turn on captions (e.g. in Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams). If you are using Office 365, you can record a narration for your PowerPoint and turn on captions.
When recording videos or delivering live lessons, keep your background as clear as possible, to help learners focus on the content. Microsoft Teams even allows you to blur the background. Similarly, try to maintain clear audio, without any distracting background noise. For a summary of good digital accessibility practice, take a look at this guide from the University of Sussex: helloworld.cc/access.
Making use of different formats
There are many benefits to providing materials in different formats, and by allowing students to work in different formats in turn. With the addition of audio, images, and text options where possible, the materials will become accessible to more students as a result.
Give students the freedom to create work in different formats. For example, you might encourage them to record a video, make an animation, draw a picture or cartoon, build a LEGO model or fill in a worksheet. I have observed pupils with poor writing and spelling being much more engaged with creating a comic strip than writing a traditional story.
Working in multiple formats will also help to build new skills such as fine motor skills, and may provide another outlet for communication and expression. This can also help to reduce the digital divide, as not everyone has access to a digital device throughout the day or the basic IT skills to access resources effectively, so do provide an offline activity too.
It is also worth considering whether your students know how to use some of the accessibility features:
Tablets come with a number of inbuilt accessibility tools, for example enabling users to magnify text, read text aloud, use dictation, or add colour filters. Find out more: iPad Accessibility Options: helloworld.cc/appleaccess; Android Accessibility Options: helloworld.cc/googleaccess.
In Word documents, you can enable ‘Speak selected text’ in the Quick Access Toolbar to read aloud any text. Pressing the Windows button + H (in Windows 10) will allow dictation into any document or application.
The Immersive Reader from Microsoft is wonderful for supporting weaker readers, pupils with English as an additional language, and pupils with dyslexia. This is available in Office 365, but there is also an extension for the Microsoft Edge browser, plus an unofficial one for Chrome.
Bear in mind that a Word or Google document is easier to format, and can be read by a screen reader more easily, than a PDF.
There are a number of short videos for teachers and parents on these features at sheffieldclc.net/remote-learning.
Synchronous vs asynchronous instruction
Synchronous activities (live online lessons) can be very demanding on a learner with poor working memory or processing ability. These may also present challenges to students with sensory impairments, as they may miss out on key information due to the absence of the usual cues. Keep synchronous interactions to discussion around a resource, checking in on pupils, and class chats for morale.
If you are expected to deliver live lessons, make them short and try to record the sessions so that they are available for students to revisit later on. Establish clear expectations: for example, everyone keeps their microphones muted unless answering a question. Ask for answers via the chat facility, to allow everyone the opportunity to participate.
Support and scaffold
While educational institutions remain closed, it is essential that teachers continue to support and scaffold their students’ learning. There are many ways to provide this support to your students remotely, for example, by providing a key vocabulary list and some worked examples to refer to, and encouraging lots of practice in different contexts to consolidate learning.
In terms of computer science concepts, you could provide working code for your students to adapt and modify, or create parson’s problems for students to work on: see for example helloworld.cc/parson. These puzzles provide parts of a working program for students to put in the correct order, and so don’t require the students to write any code themselves. Free online tools such as Hour of Code or Rapid Router are also useful for learners to work through independently with immediate feedback.
Well-being and morale
This is a very stressful time for many families and young people. Personal contact will be invaluable for our most vulnerable learners, whether it be a quick phone check-in or a whole-class virtual chat. It’s important that any home learning tasks set shouldn’t add to the anxiety and stress of the situation.
Clear expectations and structure are crucial in allowing students with special educational needs and disabilities to focus on the learning. My advice would be to stay realistic about the demands you are placing on the learner and their parents. Provide fun activities that may be carried out as a family, and allow for creative computing tasks that can incorporate your students’ own personal interests (see box).
These are remarkable times and the use of remote teaching can provide a great range of benefits to learners, who can access material at a time and duration and using a method best suited to themselves. Bear in mind that the most valuable experiences for our most vulnerable pupils will involve continuing a sense of community and contact while they are away from school.
Creative computing resources
Digital Making at Home with Raspberry Pi: helloworld.cc/pigames
Make Code Tutorials: helloworld.cc/makecode
Bradford Innovation Service Techaway Challenges: helloworld.cc/bradford
Remote learning with Minecraft: helloworld.cc/eduminecraft