Like most educators, I was stressed about what the school year would look like this fall. I think the spring was a trauma for most educators that none of us wants to be replayed this year. I felt no matter what I did in the spring, nothing measured up to the standards I had as a special educator in my high school Life Skills classroom.
I spent hours a day on the computer trying to deliver the instruction I knew my students needed. It was challenging, as all the time it took to make small videos online seemed to not deliver what I knew my kids needed, and the videos were time-consuming to load. After a few weeks of remote instruction, many students were unable to navigate Google Classroom due to a lack of computer skills and ended up with paper packets that I had to hand-deliver each week. I was overloaded with putting assignments into Classroom since the same homework wouldn’t work for each student, given the variety of skill levels I had in my class. There just never seemed to be enough time in the day, and I felt like every day I was waking up to the movie Groundhog Day.
I was really scared of what the fall would look like, especially since my school was coming back into session and my students with disabilities had the option of being in session all day every day. I also knew I had a few students whose families had chosen to keep them remote in the fall. I didn’t know how I would find time to meet the needs of my students who would still be at home while also teaching to those in person all day.
I went to training before our school year began to hear about strategies to prepare for the upcoming school year and one of the programs mentioned was Seesaw. Seesaw is an online platform targeted at elementary school users. Teachers can post instruction and assignments and collaborate with students and their families. I knew before the year began, I needed to make major changes to help students develop computer skills in case we ended up in remote learning again, as I didn’t want a repeat of the spring. I did my research and found that Seesaw would be something I could use to give content and instruction to my at-home learners and students in class without having to do both separately.
Fast forward ten weeks. I don’t think I would ever go back to not using Seesaw in my classroom, even once our threats from COVID are over. From day one, students began using Seesaw for both math and English every day. I figured I needed to pick one major technology platform and run with it.
What does a typical day look like for us?
I do group instruction at the front of the room as I did in previous years. I record my instruction on my webcam and microphone using a separate website called Loom. My Loom clips can then be uploaded to my Seesaw assignments, and students at home can access what I just taped in class with the click of a button on their homework. Students at school complete group practice together and then have an assignment to turn in on Seesaw. My students at home can follow along afterward and at their own pace. We still do vocational instruction and calendar warmups using paper and pencil, but everything else is completed daily on Seesaw. I also can have students do work at home, which I didn’t typically didn’t ever do in a Life Skills setting. Parents can check their student’s progress whenever they’d like, so it helps improve communication.
What do I love about Seesaw?
It is just easier to use both for me and my students. My students can navigate Seesaw more easily than other platforms like Google Classroom, as everything is centrally located for each assignment. It’s not as difficult to navigate with separate files, links, etc. at different places. There are a ton of picture icons I can use in the instructions to help those with low reading levels. If my students need to read the instructions, they can also listen to an audio or video clip I taped of me going over it. I also can take a pdf document and they can type, draw, circle, and highlight directly on the document. They also can tape themselves giving answers through a microphone or video.
It has elements of Universal Design built into the program, as there are multiple formats learners may use to turn in an assignment. Some accommodations for special needs learners are built into the program. For example, students can record taped answers instead of typing, listen to audio files when reading is difficult, use picture symbols when reading or writing is challenging, etc. I also can differentiate assignments for a wide range of abilities.
Seesaw is great because I can upload my own assignments and use assignments that other people have created in the community, so I don’t have to “recreate the wheel.” It’s taken time to learn how to use different features but saved me a great deal of time in the end to bridge the gap for all my students.
Seesaw is beneficial for me for many reasons. I can use it for math whether we are practicing touch money and need to draw dots on coins, or we are telling time and need to draw hands on a clock. In English, if we need to work on making practice telephone calls as a life skill, students can type a small script of what they want to say. Then, they can tape themselves and turn in an audio clip for me to grade. If we read a Life Skills passage and highlight keywords to answer questions, we can do that on a computer now instead of by hand.
Not only has Seesaw cut down on our paper usage, but it has also taught my students vital computer skills, such as editing, using assistive technology, and saving work. For some students, the changes I’ve seen in one quarter is more growth than I've seen in them in any other year. A few had to stop using computers this spring because it was too challenging. Now, those same students are completing homework on Seesaw on their own in class or for work at home. It makes me teary-eyed sometimes to think how far these students have come in such a short amount of time.
I think many special educators with students with profound needs could benefit from exploring the use of Seesaw. I was skeptical in the beginning, but I am glad I made the leap. I realized this past quarter that in addition to all the life skills I teach my students such as cooking, cleaning, consumer skills, etc., computer skills belong in that list. The computer skills my students are learning will be important for them in their personal lives and jobs one day. Given how much our lives during COVID rely on computers, these life skills are important for all learners, especially for those with special needs.
Beth Beckett teaches students in special education at St. Joseph-Ogden High School. She was hired 18 years ago and has been in Spartan Country ever since, where she has built a life with her family. She believes strongly that education isn't always taught from a book. She values students of all ability levels and believes that the world needs all kinds of minds.