As a special education teacher, we’re faced with a lot of plans every day: Individualized Education Plans, behavior plans, lesson plans, back-up lesson plans for the students who need further clarification...the list is never-ending. Now, many districts are working on a new plan: technology. More schools are transitioning into 1:1 environments where every child will come to school equipped with a Chromebook or laptop. It’s just one more plan to add stress to any special educator. How will the students react to the switch? How can we make them individually accountable? How can I ease my students through the technology transition?
Last year, I took my students from paper to entirely digital in about a month. My resource room was accustomed to working in notebooks with handouts and folders but quickly turned around to become technology pros. So, instead of having to develop yet another plan of action, I will share the plan I used to take my classified students into a paperless, technology classroom.
Modeling is Key
Do as I say and as I do. The best way for students to learn is to watch you do it. The more you make technology an integral part of your daily life, the easier it will be for your students. I was an active member of the technology community, utilizing the exact same technology the students were using. I modeled how to make proper comments on Google Classroom. I modeled the use of Recap when conducting different parts of a lesson. I modeled sending appropriate emails and showed students proper methods of communication by emailing them directly. You cannot just expect students to use the technology if you are not using it in the classroom yourself.
My first year teaching, I started my flipped classroom. I made the mistake of putting the video resources in a bunch of different places, such as my website, EdPuzzle, YouTube, and Zaption, among others. The problem became that students did not know where to look for the homework. The key to strong technology integration is consistency. Students should know where to go for daily or typical procedures. The bell ringers, homework assigned, and resources should remain in the same place all year. In the special education classroom, it becomes difficult to switch from one place to another and it can throw students off. I made sure that Google Classroom, our learning management system, became the go-to place for everything. Students knew exactly where to access homework and Do Now assignments, assessments and resources, and even where to ask questions. Consistency made the transition a lot easier for everyone.
One New Piece of Tech at a Time
There is so much out there. Between apps, extensions, and add-ons on top of awesome websites and programs, it’s almost overwhelming for both teachers and students. Every day a new piece of technology comes out and it’s hard to for many teachers (myself included) to hold back introducing it to the students. Don’t give them too much at once. Three new Chrome extensions and two apps in one day can send students on information overload, which means no one is learning to operate any of the new tools. Instead, work with one new piece of technology at a time. Not every student needs to be using the same tool, but the key is to make sure it’s only one new tool per student. Allow the students to become so comfortable with the tool that they can operate it daily without question or concern. Then you can introduce more. By the end of the year, they’ll have a variety of brand new educational tools for creation and production.
Give a Little...but Only at the Beginning
I’m more flexible about technology at the very, very beginning of the year. “It’s okay that you shared it instead of uploading it to Google Classroom.” However, that only happens at the beginning. After at least three weeks of consistent technology use, I am not flexible about the procedures. Think of it like setting up regular classroom procedures. It’s okay to get the steps wrong at the beginning and learn from the errors. However, allowing errors in the middle of the year will throw your technology plan into chaos and eventually you’ll have to go hunting around for student assignments and projects. At the beginning, I remind the students of the procedure and help them complete the step they missed. After that, they’re expected to know it. Obviously, breaks cause a regression and they may need some reminders upon returning, but after that, the technical procedures are set in place. Upload it where you know it goes. Turn it in.
Special education rooms require certain key steps in order to bring them into the technology-integrated classroom. Just as it might take them more time to find success in the curriculum, it might take a little longer for them to feel comfortable using the technology successfully. Use these steps to help bring your students into a digital classroom.