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4 Distance Learning Tools for an Inclusive, Engaging Classroom

Teachers are looking for virtual ways to keep their students focused and engaged, including young learners with disabilities.
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This school year, most educators who are teaching through distance learning are on the lookout for ways to grab their young students’ attention and keep them focused. Whether it’s via Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, or a variety of other conferencing tools, teachers are reaching out, building relationships, creating learning units, and trying their best for their students, including children with special needs. Here are a few tools teachers can use to have interactive and engaging lessons with their students.

Children raising their hands in a classroom, iStock
Tips to keep children of all abilities engaged in the virtual classroom. | iStock

Tool 1: Nearpod
Nearpod allows teachers to create interactive lessons with games and more. Instead of passive one-way communications, this tool gives you the ability for two-way communication and to assess learning as you go. This is especially important for our youngest learners and those who have different learning abilities. “If a lesson is designed with activities, interactive websites, or games that teach a concept, [students with disabilities] remain involved and they learn,” according to a Nearpod article on using Nearpod software to support students with autism.”

Try out a Nearpod lesson here. Schools interested in testing Nearpod can try a free 6-month trial.

Tool 2: MySimpleShow
This program helps you make explainer videos that look professional and detailed, and it is super easy. Plus, giving students video lectures to watch after class frees up valuable classroom time for one-on-one questions and group interactions. “For many students with learning disabilities, the use of video content allows them to engage coursework more successfully. Rather than listening to a lecture only once in real time, students can listen to the recordings as many times as it takes,” according to “The Advantages of Flipped Learning for Special Education,” an article by The University of Texas Permian Basin. MySimpleShow gives teachers a simple, easy way to record themselves and create dynamic videos for classroom instruction. Find out how to get your free MySimpleShow account here.

Get a preview with this student-centered learning video.

Tool 3: Adobe Spark
Adobe Spark can help you create collages, mock websites, slideshows, and even faux Instagram and Facebook stories. It is a web-based and an iOs app, so it can be used on any device. Imagine learning about Johnny Appleseed and then creating an Instagram story to show his travels planting seeds. Consider reading Pete the Cat and creating a Facebook page for him to teach his “It’s All Good” mantra and share his stories. If you have a lesson about shapes, this app gives kids the ability to draw and go on scavenger hunts to look for shapes around the house, and then you put it all together into a movie.

Adobe Spark can also help make read alouds more inclusive for students with special needs by creating slideshow videos, displaying the text from the book in large fonts, allowing kids to doodle along with the storytelling and many other points of engagement. “The read aloud is one of the easiest ways to promote language learning as the development of literacy skills in those with disabilities,” according to “20 Ways to Adapt the Read Aloud in the Inclusive Classroom.”

To view some examples of ways to use Adobe Spark, check out “Save the Earth” by Girls Building STEAM and this video from my school, Scheck Hillel Community School.

Tool 4: Google Slides/Sites
Google Slides can help you make interactive and engaging presentations for your virtual classroom, while Google Sites can help you create class websites to give parents and students easy access to important information. “It is essential that every effort be made to ensure that ongoing and effective communication and partnerships be established and maintained with parents,” recommends the nonprofit National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Check out this presentation on giraffes for an example of ways to use Google Slides and visit my site to see the type of information that could be shared with Google Sites.

With so many tools and hands on ideas, it is often overwhelming for teachers to figure out where to start. Educator Vicki Davis has a saying that I have embraced and passed along to many: innovate like a turtle. Pick one or two new things, learn them, try them, master them, before moving on to try a new tool or idea. This will help you as the teacher and help your students not be overwhelmed as well.

Have questions? Want to show off how you are using these tools or share other ideas with me? Email nancypenchev@gmail.com.

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