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Recommendations for using Khan Academy with students in special education
This article provides recommendations for using Khan Academy with students in special education.
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The following recommendations were gathered from Khan Academy’s teacher communities. They have been reviewed by teachers in special education to help support learners and teachers using Khan Academy to better meet student needs. While we believe these recommendations are helpful, we also recognize that each student’s needs are unique. We know that the teacher is in the best position to determine what may be helpful for each student in a given situation, and we encourage teachers to use and adapt these recommendations as they see fit.
- For videos, some students find turning on captions and/or reducing the speed on the videos very helpful, depending on accommodations. If the student is on the lesson page, they can even view the complete transcript. Some teachers copy the transcript into a separate document (like a Google doc) so students can take notes or highlight while they watch the video.
- As a teacher, go through the lesson or assignment before assigning the work to students. Take notes to share with students when working through the content. Some teachers encourage making a short video working through an exercise or single problem to support student understanding.
- Teachers recognize that students in special education need additional help navigating the Khan Academy site. Teachers suggest making time to walk students through using hints and videos, where to find assignments and due dates, and also show students how to track time spent and/or progress made. We recommend that teachers revisit navigation steps with students occasionally throughout the school year. This video may help you better understand the student experience.
- Some teachers encourage synchronous work first and then encourage students to move into asynchronous learning. For full special education classes, try watching the video as a class first, work through an exercise together, and then let students work independently. Some teachers use the “same questions” option for the first few assignments on Khan Academy to maintain consistency across student support. When students feel more comfortable, they transition to the “different questions” option.
- A teacher/caregiver can set an alert for the student to use to self-monitor. When it dings, the student makes a tally mark if they are on task. This helps students assess their own ability to stay focused. Gradually support the student to increase the interval of time between alerts while still remaining on task.
Students can find unit tests and course challenges (which contain 30 randomly assigned skills from the entire course, agnostic to skill level) overwhelming, especially students in SPED. Instead, advocate for students to use Mastery challenges (6 questions on 3 skills, which students have practiced previously) to gain mixed practice. Also, mastery challenges do not present skills that the student is struggling with. (More on Mastery challenges here.)
Course mastery goals
- Create student-specific course mastery goals. It may be unlikely that students in SPED will be working on-grade level. However, you can provide students in SPED with their own course mastery goals, in addition to the on-grade level goal within the same class.
- This way students can work on content at their learning level and at their own pace, while also feeling like they are included in the class because they are working on their course mastery goal “like everyone else.” Teachers in special education note that for many students, these goals should be parallel to, and not in addition to, the goals of mainstream students (more on creating Course mastery goals here).
- Providing the on-grade level goal can also be important for many students in SPED because it gives them an opportunity to prove on-grade level knowledge and gain confidence with their peers. Teachers working in inclusive (mainstream + SPED) classrooms were particularly encouraging of this idea.
- Multiple teachers have shared that because students can work on their course mastery goal, with content that looks similar to that of other students, the students in SPED do not feel “different” or “ostracized” when the entire class is working on Khan Academy, even if their exercises are 2–3 grades below the mainstream class.
- While some teachers recommend personalized mastery goals, many still encourage assignments to help students focus on what is most important (more on creating assignments here). For many students, in SPED or otherwise, course mastery goals can feel overwhelming, while assignments help them narrow their focus. Also, please note that for some students who make progress more slowly, it may be more appropriate to focus on active learning time instead of mastery points.
- Most teachers working with students in special education encourage personalized assignments that align with standards and the student’s current abilities. Teachers provide these assignments within the main class or create a separate class just for the student(s) working on a different skill or grade level.
- Many teachers working with students on IEPs encourage creating assignments for standards that explicitly align to students' IEP goals. This way, the progress data can be directly connected to their IEP and updated accordingly.
- For students in special education, use the “same question for all students” setting when creating assignments. That way, when teachers are working with a group, one student can share their screen and the others can follow along.
- Many teachers encourage a scaffolded approach to assignments, where the first question is modeled by the teacher, the second question is supported with guiding questions, and the remaining questions are done independently.
- One teacher gave a great example of how her mainstream class is working on dividing fractions, so, to feel more aligned and inclusive, she provided her students in SPED with an exercise on identifying fractions. This way, the entire class was able to focus on “fractions,” while each student was making progress on their learning level without feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
- Teachers working with students in SPED explain that the stress of being assessed on one attempt or only being allowed to try something once can be especially challenging.
- Encouraging students to attempt and reattempt exercises as many or as few times as they like can relieve a significant amount of stress and anxiety.
- Some teachers recommend specific assignments with a due date but no score goal, taking a “work until you reach a score you are happy with” approach (more on Assignments reports here). If students do make multiple attempts until they are happy with their score, encourage them to write a reflection about what they learned between the first attempt to the last attempt.
- Teachers reinforce that this is where prerequisite identification is crucial. If progress is not being made, then the content standards necessary for mastery should be the focus. Some teachers even give additional recognition to students who try an exercise multiple times even if they do not improve their score.
Use the reports data
Most teachers, and especially teachers working with students in SPED, are hungry for data in order to make the best decisions for their students. Adapting lessons and skills to fit student accommodations for SPED can be particularly challenging. The more data available, the easier these adaptations become.
Key callouts from teachers in special education include:
- The assignment responses report: to view attempts and wrong answers to better identify mistakes and opportunities to intervene
- The skills report: to both identify skills to work on and to recognize skills in which students have demonstrated understanding
Multiple SPED teachers have also identified the importance of tracking Khan Academy data to individual students' IEPs and 504 plans to demonstrate accommodations and track student progress.
Official SAT Practice
- Use the assignable quick guide articles (like this one) to students to help them better understand how to approach each question type.
- Use the assignable interactive Math lesson articles (available for most of the Math skills on the SAT). This content is best assigned in thoughtful, small doses of 5–10 new pieces of content per week. Assignable SAT worked example videos can be included here as well.
- Establish short 15–25 minute SAT session goals such as: watch 1–2 videos, read 1–2 articles, and complete 1–2 recommended/personalized practice tasks (which are located at the top of “skill practice”).
- Reinforce to students that a little bit of work several times a week is much better than trying to cram in 1+ hours just 1–2 times weekly.
- Students can adjust timed sections for accommodations by section (All, Math only, Essay only, Math + Essay) and by time (100%, 150%, 200%) in the Settings of their Khan Academy profile.
- The simplicity and joy of LearnStorm has been particularly well-received with teachers in special education classrooms. Students in SPED can undertake personalized assignments, contributing to overall class success while still working on the level that best fits their learning needs.
- Students find the action of completing assignments easy to follow, truly enjoy the celebration of the tracker, and feel included in overall class progress.
A few more ideas and resources
- Use a text to speech app to have questions read to students instead of asking them to read the questions themselves. Some easy-to-access screen readers include: Chromebooks built-in screen reader ChromeVox (also available as a Chrome extension), MacOS built-in screen reader, iPadOS screen reader, and Windows screen reader.
- Allow students to choose how to respond (voice recording, video, drawing). Many teachers recommend using Flipgrid to allow for student voice, including capturing communications between students.
- Use the results from school/state testing data to identify skills students need to focus on the most.
- Host weekly office hours, especially for students in special education to create a safe space for them to ask questions, share ideas, and reflect on progress.
- Ensure additional communication is sent home to caregivers to help support student learning. If repeatedly unable to reach the caregiver, escalate as needed to principal, etc.
- Especially in a distance learning environment, ensure students know how to reach you and their other classroom teachers via email or school communication tools. Also, double or triple-check that students are comfortable with how to join video meetings.
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