Grad student uses creativity, collaboration to keep her students learning

Contact: Caryn Davidson

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The closing of school buildings to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus presents a unique challenge to keep students learning. Through creativity and collaboration with families, special education teacher and master’s student in the Interdisciplinary Preparation in Autism—IPA—program, Jenna Silverstein, has been able to do just that.

She continues to deliver the exact same reading interventions she would normally provide in person to her elementary students, it just looks a little different.

Jenna Silverstein holds her laptop computer.

Jenna Silverstein

"I think some people would assume that evidence-based instruction might go out the window when quickly moving to online instruction, but she continues to implement best practices just like she does in the classroom. It's impressive," says Dr. Kate LaLonde, Silverstein's instructor and mentor in the IPA program. "I was able to observe a session virtually and was so impressed and inspired by her creativity and that she continues to work on IEP goals during this challenging time."

Through the use of online tools, Silverstein is able to share her screen with students one-on-one to show the lesson she would normally show in person in a small group. She uses a mouse instead of her finger to guide students through the lesson and utilizes the same token board she uses in class to keep her students motivated. Because her students are used to the systems and routines they established in the classroom, it has been easy to move them to a virtual format.

"The best thing has been to be able to still support my students from afar and see they are still learning and making progress, even if we aren’t able to be together in person," Silverstein says. "I also get to see them in their home and they get to show me all the cool and amazing things they are doing. This is a tough time, so being able to have my students continue to learn through all the chaos has been the best!"

She is teaching math by giving "number talks," a teaching strategy allowing a teacher to share their thinking as they explore all the possible methods to solve a math problem, and by assigning individualized online math games for students to work on skills at their level.

Silverstein says the shift to virtual instruction wouldn’t have been possible without strong collaboration with families.

"I’ve been in constant communication with parents about getting materials printed for students and helping with technology issues. My parents have been amazing!” says Silverstein. "Now, more than ever, it takes a village to keep our students learning. Although our villages may be physically fragmented, technology can help us maintain our connections and continue to make progress."

Here are some tips Silverstein shares to help other educators continue to provide high-quality instruction in the online environment:

Special education teacher Jenna Silverstein shares her online session.

Silverstein shares a photo of one of her online sessions.

  1. Make a plan for how you want your instruction online to look and modify it for the online environment. "I work in small groups in my classroom but knew if I wanted to be effective online it would be best to work one-on-one. I also knew I needed to see students at least twice a week for 30 minutes at a time to maintain each students' current level. My goal is to move them forward so I'm meeting with them more frequently."
  2. Keep your instruction short. "If you are talking at students for more than a minute and a half, I'd say the instruction may not be effective. You need to keep students engaged by encouraging active student (responses). The more opportunities for students to respond, the more the student will learn."
  3. Be patient with yourself and with your families. "This is new for everyone. Technology doesn't always work. If a student misses time with you, it's okay. Be understanding and appreciative that you're able to work with them in an online setting."

Silverstein teaches special education in Plainwell Community Schools and plans to graduate from the IPA program in June. She gives a great deal of credit to Drs. Kate LaLonde, Kristal Ehrhardt and Sonia Lewis for supporting her throughout the second year of the IPA program.

"These three women have been there for me all year," Silverstein says. "I reach out to them all the time with different questions, and I've learned a lot about behavior, which has helped me tremendously in my teaching!”

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