SEND• 3 Min read

3rd March 2021

Top Tips for Supporting SEND Pupils when Remote Teaching

Teaching is an endlessly challenging and unpredictable career path, and that’s what makes it such an exciting choice for people of any and all professional backgrounds. But during the last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed many of the things we thought we knew about teaching. 

Of course, remote learning has been an invaluable tool during this period, allowing education to continue safely and keeping pupils on track for success. But in a year of ongoing uncertainty around school closures and reopenings, for many teachers it’s been an extra source of stress and anxiety. 

Maintaining quality education during the pandemic

Suddenly the very thing that can make or break a pupil’s experience in the classroom – that personal connection to a teacher that sparks a child’s interest and enthusiasm for a subject – can no longer be taken for granted. Teaching methods that have been years, even decades, in the making have been made to feel irrelevant overnight by the barrier of video technology. 

No teacher wants to be separated from their class, and there’s nothing to keep the job inspiring quite like a classroom full of captivated students – so the pandemic has presented challenges that most teachers had never imagined they would face. 

But for those teaching SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) pupils the obstacles can feel far greater. For SEND teachers, school is as much about creating a secure learning environment and familiar routines as it is about delivering education. This makes remote teaching all the more difficult, so we’ve compiled some tips on how to deliver the best and most supportive learning experience possible when teaching SEND students…

The challenges of remote teaching for SEND pupils

The upheaval of life we’ve all experienced during the last year has been especially pronounced for children with complex needs. Their education routine, delivered effectively, can provide an anchor during this confusing time. 

The specific challenges of delivering remote learning for SEND pupils during the pandemic include:

  • Supporting the building of their self-confidence and individual wellbeing without the face-to-face attention that classroom learning provides
  • Maintaining the close relationships and bonds that can often be formed between SEND pupils and staff without the physical proximity to underpin these
  • Maintaining clear and reassuring routines on a day-to-day basis
  • Helping SEND pupils understand and master the technology required to take part in remote learning
  • Helping those who struggle with dyslexia to continue learning in a virtual environment where much more information is delivered in written form
  • Keeping in touch with parents and families to the same extent in order to coordinate the structure of a child’s day

How to deliver remote teaching effectively for SEND pupils

No two classes are the same and every child has unique needs, meaning you will understand better than anyone what can make the often alienating process of learning from home that bit easier. In addition, after many months of this practice we have all developed our own methods and techniques, but – as is always the case with teaching – there is space to review how you teach and to consider things from other angles.

Place routines at the heart of what you do

Lack of structure and familiarity can be upsetting to many SEND pupils, especially when there is not time to prepare for an upcoming change. The sudden onset of lockdown last March meant the Covid-19 pandemic threw out many children’s regular routines with little warning, and schools had to adapt fast. 

Establishing routines that can be just as effective online as in the classroom is key to transitioning successfully between the two. 

  • Visual weekly timetables help to prepare pupils for what they can expect over the coming days, wherever their learning is taking place, and can be displayed just as easily online as in the classroom.
  • Giving rewards and praise like in the classroom helps to reinforce the relationship between teachers and pupils.
  • Including a ‘good morning’ and ‘goodbye’ video message as part of the day helps to separate school life from home life where the lines can often seem blurred.
  • Trying to stick to the same timetable and order of learning as pupils would experience in the classroom can help them to anticipate what is coming up next, and get them more excited and engaged by their favourite subjects.

Keep in regular contact with pupils and their families

Planned periods of absence like holidays can be easier for children with complex needs to understand because they have a clear end point. However, the lockdown has meant regular periods of upheaval with often indeterminate length – and giving pupils the space to air their anxieties and concerns can often make this easier. 

  • Use a class community page not only to deliver admin-related updates, but to encourage and reassure pupils that you will be with them in person again soon and this is not simply a ‘new normal’ for them to accept.
  • Try to use secure video calling and pre-recorded video as much as possible – seeing and hearing you will help SEND learners to feel like they are connected to you and can better contextualise their learning experience. 
  • Open up channels for pupils to get in touch with you directly during school hours (whether via email or otherwise) to ask questions or voice worries. This will not only provide reassurance and make them feel more confident, but help establish the boundary between school time and home time.

Ensure pupils do not feel isolated from classmates

Providing ways for SEND pupils to maintain contact with their friends is key to grounding their virtual education and helping them to feel like they are still at school.

  • Create a community space where daily topics for discussion can be established. Allowing pupils to talk about what they did over the weekend, or a piece of work they are proud of, at the start of a virtual lesson can help open them up and boost their confidence.
  • If possible and applicable, try to maintain connections between an SEND class and the rest of the school – for example, taking part in virtual assemblies – so that they do not feel cut off.
  • Friendships forged during school are important for any child’s development, and this can be especially true of children with complex needs, so try to place connection at the heart of the learning environment you create.
  • Encourage pupils to express their feelings at every opportunity – and encourage them to share these with others so that they can understand that everyone is in the same position and they are still part of the class.

Promote the growth mindset

It’s easy to focus on results in education but the learning journey is where the true value is – and for SEND pupils it’s important to reinforce this every day. Positive reinforcement instils an enthusiasm for learning and ensures the effort rather than the result is the subject of praise. 

Where children learn to anticipate difficulties or failures they will be put off a subject altogether, so make sure that rewarding everyone’s effort is a central feature of remote learning. If pupils feel guided along the way, rather than simply being expected to deliver a piece of work, they are less likely to approach it with reluctance or trepidation.

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