Distance Learning: What I Would & Will Do Differently

I've said this before: You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. As my very unique school year comes to a close, I started to reflect on what I would have done differently.

Teleservices: Hindsight

In a previous post, I mentioned that my state regulates teletherapy. The State Education Department took a little over a week, but they came out with a decision: Our therapy is considered an extension of the services the regular education teacher is providing, so we were given the green light to see out students through teleservices. Zoom was not available to us for a couple of specific reasons, and I wasn't happy with the lack of student interaction using Google Meet. I knew that if I was going to see my students through teleservices, I wanted to give them the optimal experience and go "all in". I didn't want to do this halfway. A couple of friends in different parts of the country had a platform they were using, so I tried it out (after receiving permission from my SpEd director). After a couple of frustrating weeks, I finally had it down and really enjoyed using that platform for therapy. Through working with it; however, I realized there were some things I wish I had started out doing at the beginning of distance learning:

  1. Set a ground rule with parents: have the child sit in a chair, preferably at a table.  I had several parents who already did this and it worked fabulously. There were a couple of sessions in the beginning when the child made faces at the computer (which made for some serious laughs), but then they settled down and knew it was time for business when they saw me. I had a couple of students who actually paid better attention through teleservices than when they come to school.
  2. Another ground rule: request that the parents set an alarm when it's time for therapy. I feel like I sat around and waited for the child to show up more than I saw him. It was a bit frustrating to have everything set up on my laptop, ready to go, only to have to wait. And wait...and wait. I don't think the parents realize the time it takes to set everything up so they aren't waiting on me to pull up the day's activities. 
  3. While a headset with a mic isn't necessary, if there is a gaming headset in the house it would be beneficial to have the child wear it during therapy. I had one student who, at the second session, showed up wearing her sister's gaming headset and the session went so much better. I ended up buying a very inexpensive headset on Amazon. It had good reviews and worked very well. It allowed me to maintain confidentiality since my husband is also working in the house, as well as allowed me to hear responses and have my students understand me more clearly. The best part was that I didn't have to spend $100 or more.
  4. Afterschool Care Attendees. I have a couple of students whose parents are essential workers. The afterschool care opened up for those parents who needed child care. By the time I realized I could see the student through distance learning while he is there, I only had another week of teleservices left. I emailed the director at one of the sites (thinking we could quickly get it set up before I presented the option to the parents) but never received a response. If this continues into next school year, I will definitely call the site director to see which of my students go to afterschool care and what we can do to set therapy up for them while they're there.

A Challenge

The SLPs in my school system have been challenged to think about what we've started doing during the extended school closure that we will continue. Here's what I've come up with so far:
  1. BOOM Cards. I had tinkered a bit with them during therapy over the past couple of years, mostly with my students who have scrambled sentences as goals, but this brought my distance therapy to a whole new level. I dove into converting some of my TpT products to BOOM to use in therapy. We were able to play games that we would have been playing in therapy (with the student actually playing with me). We were able to have therapy just as we would have in the school using these cards. When we are able to get into school and resume face-to-face therapy, I will be able to use these cards during my 5-Minute Days. I can even assign homework pages that way instead of having them take folders home. I don't think I would do that on a consistent basis, but over breaks when I don't send the folders home it would work nicely. I can assign them specific decks and check their progress (and if they actually completed it). 
  2. Google Meet. When parents aren't able to attend meetings or there are a lot of people involved in a meeting (such as DCS, counselors, etc.), I can use Google Meet to have everyone meet. It's a good alternative!
  3. I bought a couple of things specifically for use during this distance learning time that I will continue to use when I resume face-to-face therapy. The students will enjoy using the iPad as our activity. 

Teleservices: A Recap

I'm actually a bit disappointed that this is over. After Spring Break, when the changes hit, I couldn't wait to see my students' faces. I recorded a book that I promised (before Spring Break) the students we would read and sent the Google Drive link to the parents. The parent of a student who was not seen through teleservices thanked me and said that her child enjoyed hearing my voice. I tried to keep my sessions as "normal" as I could since the students are used to my routine. (For this reason, I didn't watch any "training videos" that were hurriedly put together...I did my therapy session as I normally would have.) I used the parents' emails for both the student's and my own protection. The parents were able to see "Speech in Action" and understand what a Speech Session looks like. Some of my parents saw me use cues so they can also use those cues at home. 
Overall, I enjoyed being able to see most of my students through teleservices. I was a little disappointed that a couple of parents chose not to go this route, even though the internet is available to them. I realize this is a crazy time and that parents are stressed to the max...they have to draw the line somewhere and, unfortunately, Speech is what doesn't make the cut. 

We don't know what the beginning of the school year is going to look like at this point. I'm going to take the summer off and reboot. I feel like I'll be ready if we have to continue distance learning. I also feel like my parents will be ready, too. 
Distance Learning: Lessons Learned during Teleservices

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