By Lisa Combs, MA, Special Education, Certified Autism Specialist
We have all been faced with many challenges in the 2020 world of virtual interaction. One of the biggest faced by school support personnel is how to best support students with disabilities in the virtual classroom. Special education paraprofessionals play several critical roles in the provision of behavior and academic support for students with disabilities in the real life classroom. They provide CONNECTION between teachers, intervention specialists, therapists, family and student. They provide CONSISTENCY of instructional and behavioral supports from subject to subject, environment to environment, and teacher to teacher. They provide COMMUNICATION about student strengths and needs, to ensure that all stakeholders are aware and addressing the barriers that may be hindering the child’s access and success. It only takes a bit of creative thinking to translate those same supports into the virtual environment.
Let’s consider a few examples.
In the real life classroom, paraprofessionals often provide support as they rotate among students to monitor frustration, encourage independence, answer questions, and offer assistance. They may cue students with verbal reminders or a tap on the desk or the setting of a timer to support task initiation or completion. While, in the virtual classroom, paraprofessionals cannot necessarily be monitoring students continuously or physically providing verbal and non-verbal cues, the same support can be accomplished by setting up regularly scheduled video check-ins or chats multiple times a day. These short opportunities to just touch base can provide the critical sense of “connection” that some students need to remain focused and feel supported in accomplishing their tasks.
Another frequent role of the paraprofessional in the real life classroom is to provide accommodations and modifications as outlined in the student’s IEP. Much of this can and should be done “behind the scenes” by having the paraprofessional and teacher review upcoming assignments, projects, and tests in order to modify them or plan what accommodations may be necessary. Paraprofessionals can then host “break out Zoom rooms” or GoogleMeets to provide the required accommodations such as reading aloud, scribing, providing clarifications of instructions, etc.
Many of the related services provided to students with disabilities truly rely on daily implementation and reinforcement of the strategies by paraprofessionals since the therapist may only actually see the student a few times weekly or monthly. In the virtual environment, the same may be true. Paraprofessionals may be tasked with scheduling regular virtual sessions to guide the student in the practice of their therapeutic practice activities.
These are just a few examples of how paraprofessionals can translate their roles into the virtual environment, where they are more important than ever! While it is impossible to create the same exact circumstances in a virtual environment as in a real life classroom, paraprofessionals can play critical roles in providing the connection, consistency, and coordination of specialized instruction and related services for students with disabilities.