5 remote learning tips for diverse SEND cohorts

Dan Tallis, a teacher at a school for pupils with complex physical and learning needs, shares advice on remote teaching
28th December 2020, 12:00pm
Dan Tallis


5 remote learning tips for diverse SEND cohorts

Coronavirus & Schools: How To Get Online Learning Right For Send Pupils

Although lockdown has placed unprecedented stress on the whole of the education sector, we have found some unexpected benefits and real positives to increased online and virtual teaching - even for incredibly diverse cohorts of SEND students, such as those who attend my school. 

Chailey Heritage School is a special school for children and young people aged 3 to 19 with complex physical disabilities, high health needs, sensory impairments and associated learning difficulties.

Coronavirus: Successful online lessons for SEND pupils

We've come up with our top five tips for successful online lessons.

1. Use different approaches for different families

It might sound obvious, but not all families and not all students are the same, so it was really important that we thought hard about the best way to contact each parent, carer or young person individually. 

Although video-call apps like Teams or Zoom are wonderful, some families need time to become comfortable with them. Don't be afraid to take things slowly and start with a technology your audience is familiar with, like phone or email, before moving to new ones they are more wary of - you can always add new approaches later, but it's much harder to re-engage someone who's already been put off. 

2. Don't give up on group activities

Initially, we thought it would be really difficult to run a large group activity virtually, particularly for students with complex health needs and various sensory impairments. However, we have actually found that, with careful planning, it's easier to engage a large group this way as there is greater flexibility to emphasise different aspects of the same activity simultaneously. 

For example, everyone has the capacity to enjoy a story. One way to help our students with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) to do this is through massage: the nurturing touch allows them to "experience" the story, while the narrative engages our more cognitively able students' understanding of language. This is something that parents or carers at home can be trained to deliver.

3. Be inventive and be brave

Although lockdown presented some significant challenges regarding resources, we also found it made us think more about what might be readily available for parents/carers at home, and how these everyday objects could be used to replicate more conventional learning activities.

For example, one of our teachers came up with a brilliant solution for their student's physio lesson by helping parents create improvised apparatus from old milk boxes for a box-sitting session (an important physio routine for our pupils).

4. Use the time to train

One key benefit of increased virtual learning is that we have been able to help parents, carers and sometimes even other professionals or therapists to understand the best way to deliver different learning activities - our online sessions almost became mini-training sessions for adults as well as learning opportunities for young people. For example, we have modelled how to teach things like maths or phonics to parents, explained simple guidelines for running successful mindfulness sessions at home, and even helped bring daily routines like "hello", circle time and end-of-day songs to the students by talking them through with their carers. 

5. Make space for social sessions

An important lesson for us was just how significant it is for families, carers and young people to feel connected to one another. 

We've found our virtual lessons have fostered a real sense of unity and togetherness and helped build a sense of community among the students, parents and staff. Sometimes this social connection was the focus of group sessions, with students and families coming together to enjoy songs and music in lieu of what would have normally been a collective event. 

Through sessions like this, we have been able to continue to celebrate all our young people and ensure all parents and carers feel supported and part of our wider school community. 

While this year has been incredibly difficult, and we wouldn't want to repeat it, it has given rise to some valuable developments in our online and virtual learning provision. We hope you find these tips useful and would love to hear any of your success stories as well, so please get in touch via the email below.

Dan Tallis is a teacher at Chailey Heritage School. You can get in touch by email: office@chf.org.uk

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