Innovations in Remote Learning at May Institute


The following will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Verbal Behavior Special Interest Group (VB SIG) Newsletter. We thank the VB SIG for allowing us to share the work with our broader community. 
Like service providers and schools all over the country, the staff members, educators, and clinicians at May Institute, Inc. have responded to the challenges of remote learning with rapid innovation. The needs of our students and clients have differed greatly across ages, states, and program types (e.g., home services, schools-based, and center-based). To address these needs, the clinical and educational leaders at the May developed a spectrum of remote learning services. 

In many of the school-based services, Google Classroom © became an integral part of remote learning. Through the combined efforts of teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and board certified behavior analysts, a “library” of activities was developed and is continually growing.

Students with more advanced verbal and technological skills were taught to access their classrooms and respond to personalized assignments. In one of our vocation-oriented classrooms, the teachers encourage students to actively use the message boards to read posts, respond with comments or photos, and respond to subsequent posts by peers. The virtual conversations allow the students to practice their social media skills in the safety of a secure environment.

The library was also developed to include assignments for students to watch a video or read an article, then respond to a quiz developed through Google Forms ©. The students have gone on virtual field trips to Yosemite through YouTube © then written a report about their favorite sights and turned it in via Forms ©. The students have watched videos about what to write in a professional email, then taken a quiz and attempted one on their own. In some instances, the assignments are video models of our staff members demonstrating daily living activities and task analyses that have been developed to match the videos. Caregivers are given instructions on how to show the video to their child, prompt steps in the order on the task analysis form, and record data. 

For students and clients receiving home or center-based services, teletherapy provided via Boom Learning ©. Instructors use “decks” from within the Boom ©library or developed their own to match the individual’s goals. The decks include interactive features that allow a responder to click, drag and drop, or type in responses to various instructions. The decks are typically used in Zoom © sessions with the teacher or clinician leading the session and a caregiver facilitating the interaction with the learner. In these virtual sessions, instructors apply principles of errorless teaching, mixing and varying targets, and using strategies to enhance motivation. For example, the instructor will assess what YouTube © video the client wants to watch when their tokens have been earned. Following correct responses to matching, sorting, and listener instruction trials delivered through the Boom © decks, the instructor provides a virtual token. When the tokens are earned, the instructor plays the YouTube © video and pairs herself with the activity through narration, commenting, and encouraging the caregiver to provide additional forms of reinforcement in the home context. Consultation and training is also provided to caregivers regarding use of the Boom © decks outside of instructor-led sessions. 

For other students, remote learning has allowed for unique opportunities to practice social and conversational skills through daily Zoom © lessons. These lessons allow students to maintain a connection with their instructors through face-to-face interaction and enable teachers to directly observe and assess their students’ social skills.

Educators, clinicians, and parents first collaborated to identify ways to encourage students to attend and participate in the scheduled Zoom © sessions designed to facilitate conversation. Teachers began with what was termed “Virtual Hangout,” which involved pairing Zoom © lessons with virtual activities thought to be reinforcing. While hanging out, they offered various choices within the virtual activities and followed the student’s lead while refraining from instruction and reflecting and modelling appropriate conversation skills. Examples of virtual activities include “spirit day” themes (e.g., silly hat day, crazy makeup day), surprise guests (i.e., staff the student knows would “pop” into the chat), songs and games (e.g., guess the logo), and joint activities (e.g., watch a video, learn a new song or dance, engage in joint imaginative play). Virtual Hangout lessons continued until students consistently participated, interacted with the instructor, and appeared happy, relaxed, and engaged in the virtual activities for the duration of the meeting. Teachers then began slowly fading in “Virtual Instruction” to directly teach new skills. Whereas

Virtual Hangout is student-led, Virtual Instruction is teacher-led. For example, some students are learning conversational skills such as listening to what others have to say without interrupting, reflecting on what was said, asking a question, responding to the answer, and sharing something of their own. Students are sent brief homework assignments to complete before the virtual instruction session. During the session, the instructor reviews the homework with the student and then arranges opportunities for the student to practice and receive feedback on conversational skills. Student-led time (i.e., Hangout) is provided to reinforce responding during teacher-led time. Students have practiced conversational skills across several contexts including during scavenger hunts (which require them to find and show off items in the home based on a relevant category [e.g., silly, festive]), talent shows (showing off buildings they’ve made, videos they’ve created), and even general discussions about topics of interest. As they master skills with the instructor, they are given opportunities to practice with peers during group lessons. 

At each turn, the support of each team member has been critical to developing and deploying new approaches. We cannot thank our team members enough for all the work they have done and continue to do to support our students and clients in this unprecedented time. 

By Sarah Frampton, M.A., BCBA, Director of Skill Acquisition & Robin K. Landa, M.S., BCBA, Clinical Director