Q&A with Sarah Betz: Special Ed. Online

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: May 13, 2021

Before COVID-19 pushed schools around the country online, Sarah Betz already worked in a virtual environment. Betz is a teacher at the Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy, where she leads online classes for students who have moderate to intensive disabilities and require a modified curriculum. 

Here are Betz’s tips and insights for helping children with special needs learn online. 


NSCW: What are best practices you’ve developed for working in special ed. and online learning? 


Sarah Betz: For Math, we use Google Drawings when working with manipulatives. For students to practice work, I use Pear Deck in conjunction with Google Slides, which allows students to demonstrate their understanding without their peers seeing the answers. I also record readings using a screen recording program, upload the readings to YouTube, and then embed the YouTube video into Canvas, our learning management system. We also incorporate the Unique Learning System’s monthly lessons for science and social studies. I project readings by sharing my screen and have students enable their microphones and read the text.


NSCW: What’s the biggest difference between online learning and traditional classroom learning? 


Betz: The biggest difference is that I’m not in front of or physically with my students when I’m teaching. While some students have their web cams turned on during our live class sessions, allowing me to know that they are listening and paying attention, I can’t always tell with students who don’t have their web cams on. I can, however, ask students questions and have them respond in the chat box to check for understanding and make sure they are focused. 


NSCW: How have you seen children express their unique personalities and talents online? 


Betz: My students LOVE to express themselves using their microphones and web cams during live class. They tell me about what they had for dinner, what their plans are for the weekend, and anything else they want to share. Parents will send me pictures of their child completing an activity or of something special they did outside of school. I also incorporate opportunities for students to share stories in assignments, which helps me to get to know more about them. 


NSCW: Are there aspects of online learning that pose challenges for special education?  


Betz: Being online is especially difficult in a multi-disabilities classroom when students require more hands-on assistance. I can provide them with Chrome extensions for text to speech and to write on the screen, but I can’t always see where they are struggling as I could if I were in the brick and mortar classroom. Students sometimes struggle with asking for help because they don’t always have the ability to ask for help, whether it be verbally or through text (typing).

For both families and teachers, ask for help. You might learn about a cool new resource while getting your questions answered. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to fail. – Sarah Betz

NSCW: How can districts transition online without leaving special education students behind? 


Betz: [Teachers] can suggest activities for families to complete during the extended breaks to ensure that the child can stay in a routine. When making the transition to online learning, it is important to create guides, especially videos, to help everyone learn how to navigate to lessons. Districts need to establish clear expectations for how much time needs to be spent on school daily, and when assignments need to be completed. Districts also need to make sure that alternate resources, such as hard copies of texts and assignments, are available to all students. This allows special education students to access the curriculum and allows students without technology to continue learning. 


NSCW: What encouragement would you give to those feeling overwhelmed by the educational challenges caused by COVID-19?


Betz: Know that you aren’t alone. We are all struggling. It will take time to figure out a new routine, and that’s okay. Things won’t be perfect. Ask for help, because chances are that you aren’t the only one struggling. 


NSCW: Are there online resources or at-home activities you can recommend for special education students?


Betz: Cooking! It is a great way to practice important life skills needed for independence. Let the kids help measure, stir, and cook the food. Let them read the recipe. 

There are many great online resources available to families such as Epic, which is a website with thousands of books that students can read and listen to, and IXL, which offers practice in the four core subject areas for grades K-8. YouTube offers many great educational videos to help reinforce concepts, as well as Khan Academy

[A routine] will make learning and homework time much easier. Set a schedule for when schoolwork needs to be done. If possible, make it during the school day when teachers are available to provide help. 


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