Teaching Together through Distance Learning

Parents, Siblings Are Important Partners in Learning

Teaching Together: Embracing Remote Learning

By Diane Torsiello, SWBOCES special education teacher at Tappan Hill School

We’re all in this together, and together we will be successful!

During this very stressful time, parents are trying to keep their families safe, dealing with the anxiety of being apart from loved ones, and attempting to keep some sort of normalcy within their household. Under the current circumstances, many are now nurses to their very fragile children, in addition to being mom or dad, chefs and housekeepers. Now throw into the mix having to work from home and be a teacher, too.

As a teacher, I am committed to continuing best practices through remote learning, an entirely new way of teaching for many of us. And I am asking parents to help me navigate this new approach as best they can, as we work together to keep our students on track and engaged. On my end, I have been preparing lesson plans, adapted to be done at home rather than in a classroom setting. I am mindful to keep lessons straightforward and familiar, and to give clear instructions to help ensure a successful experience.

Moreover, a very important part of this remote learning is just being in contact with our parents, which I have been doing largely through email. I strive to show my appreciation in each email, and recognize that parents are doing the best they can. This goes a long way to maintain the school-home connection and hopefully takes some stress off already overburdened parents. It was through these emails that also I realized it isn’t just the parents, but often the entire family who are committed to helping during these challenging times. Siblings are a major contributor to our students' success, and the way families come together to support one another inspires me to be at my best as well.

Here are just a few examples of how we are teaching together:

For one student, I suggested the parent read one of her daughter’s favorite books and to be VERY dramatic and animated while reading. The goal is for the student to increase her receptive vocabulary with hand-over-hand assistance (helping her to touch the relevant picture) and use non-verbal means to communicate. As shown in the photo, she is doing beautifully -- her big smile and body language show that she is engaged and enjoying the lesson. Notice it is her sister who is reading the book.

The mother later wrote to thank me for all of the recommendations. She told me that she has “BIG books” (jumbo-sized books that aid the visually impaired) that her daughter enjoys, and her other daughter is helping out a lot. The other daughter also plays the piano for her sister and family. The mother mentioned how difficult things are generally, and how emotions are running high. But she is thankful that everyone is healthy and that the lessons make her daughter happy.

For another student, I let the parent know that we have been working very diligently on mastering basic concepts such as out, in, up, down, etc. To continue this learning, I suggested that he watch a video of the story  “Bears in the Night,” which depicts many of these concepts in a fun and memorable way. I also recommended that she ask him to help around the house by putting things away or getting things for her while using these words, and to try to make it fun. Mom responded, “Thank you very much for helping me keep (my son) learning.” This sort of positive response is always appreciated, and lets me know that the lessons are working in the home setting.

For a third student, I suggested a ”dressing lesson” that would increase his vocabulary and work on his skills in following directions. The lesson involved labeling clothing while getting dressed and having him repeat the words and/or identify each item. The mother responded quickly, thanking me and letting me know that she had passed on the information to everyone who assists him. The mother later added that the lesson had gone very well, and that her son was successful in repeating the words “pants,” “socks,” and “sirt” (that's how he pronounces shirt). He also helped pick out outfits the next day, when he again repeated the words for clothing items. She ended by asking if I would provide her with “more helpful ideas” and thanked me again.

These unprecedented times bring many challenges, particularly for parents, teachers and students, who are all trying to adjust to new ways of teaching and learning. The most important lesson my students and their families have taught me is that this truly is a group effort. I am thankful for all the effort everyone is putting toward our students’ success. It is especially gratifying to be appreciated by our parents, who have so much on their plates right now. No one can do this alone, and I am looking forward to continuing our work together to keep our students (and their families) healthy, happy and learning. Remember: We’re all in this together, and together we will be successful!