by Charlotte Berman | June 29, 2021
Our new Teacher Feature series highlights how special education teachers have adapted their classroom during the pandemic and how they have each uniquely implemented Frenalytics into their classroom. This edition features Jen, a high school special education teacher at Escondido High School in Escondido, CA.
Jen Gentile is a 9th-12th grade Special Education Teacher at Escondido High School in Escondido, CA. Jen first realized her interest in special education when she was placed in a middle school homeroom with other special education students. Involvement with inclusion and special education extracurriculars, as well as a passion for working with special needs students, followed her throughout college and led her to a teaching career focused on special education. Jen’s current classroom supports students with intellectual disabilities and focuses on developing functional life skills.
Similar to Michaela’s students at Quad Prep, Jen’s classroom this past year looked incredibly different due to changes brought on by the pandemic. When reflecting upon the past academic year, Jen stated that the biggest initial challenge was surrounding the new reliance on technology:
The biggest challenge at the beginning was the amount of technology required – and knowledge of technology for my students. We always had a set of laptops in the classroom, but we did not use them for a large portion of the day…every once in a while maybe – and logging in was a challenge.”
Another challenge involved both teachers and students:
Being able to be flexible – the schedule changed a lot of of times, depending on state guidelines … and if the school could be open or not open. Sometimes we changed so that some students were on campus [and] some teachers were on campus. Right now, it’s open for everyone but not everyone attends [on campus].”
With in-person instruction resuming for Jen and a number of her students, Jen reflected on what she expects her next challenge to be:
How do we transition back to what we were but also keeping the things that really worked? Now, we’re really good at using computers, so we want to keep using computers and programs like [FrenalyticsEDU], so figuring out that balance is the current challenge.”
One of the things that really worked in Jen’s classroom this year was virtual Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings among teachers, staff and parents. IEPs lay out special education instruction, supports, and services a student needs to thrive in school. Having online IEP discussion meetings allowed more people to be able to attend these meetings, and as a result, she and her teaching team were able to help better individually support each of her students in the long run.
Additionally, at the forefront, one of the biggest unexpected positive outcomes of this academic year was utilizing digital programs from Zoom and Google Classroom to email accounts and FrenalyticsEDU. With our patented digital learning tool for special education use, students in Jen’s classroom greatly benefited from FrenalyticsEDU’s highly personalized and interactive educational sessions.
General technology skills were a major area of growth and learning potential for Jen’s life-skilled-focused classroom as well. Online learning promoted a needed focus on developing skills such as logging into a computer, sending emails, and planning online calendars. Jen shared how the majority of her students started the school year with flashcards of their login information and that students needed to be slowly guided through each step of logging in. Over the course of the school year, her students have shown tremendous growth in general technology skills, including web terminology and typing speed:
Navigating each step took a real long time, but now if I say we have to log in now, it’s like an everyday classroom … they know things like Wi-Fi, email, their passwords. Their typing speed has really improved. Sometimes it used to take us 20-30 minutes to login, now it’s 10 minutes for login and troubleshooting, and then we can do a lesson on them.”
With her class’s improved technology skills, Jen has successfully integrated FrenalyticsEDU into her classroom in a variety of ways this year:
The everyday use is a homework assignment – [students] know it will take them 15-20 minutes [and] have to do it everyday. They know to look for the confetti icon towards the end, and they know they’ve [then] completed their homework assignment … On Mondays – our virtual days – we do the sessions 1-on-1 where the students share their screens and complete it with an aide or a teacher to further their learning.”
Jen also leads group learning sessions with FrenalyticsEDU over Zoom on Fridays. These group sessions are one of the most innovative ways Jen has utilized the platform:
We do it as a whole group. We take turns passing the remote control, and they will come up and click – we work as a team, we work for 100%.”
It can be challenging to engage an entire classroom in an activity over Zoom, yet FrenalyticsEDU has proven to be a great tool that allows all of her students to enhance their learning and work together. Jen’s students love FrenalyticsEDU as well because the customizable learning sessions look truly like something an adult would be working on, with real-life pictures instead of cartoons or clip art. After meeting with Jen, student Jose shared his feedback on FrenalyticsEDU with us directly:
It’s fun. You learn a lot. You put our names, you put my mom’s name, my dad’s names, a lot of fun stuff. Even [the others students] like it.”
And, Jose followed up with a request for next school year:
Can you make more life skills [sections]? Because it’s more fun! You could add sports, like soccer, volleyball, hockey … and shapes, like circle, oval, square – school stuff.”
One thing that Jen and her students love most about the FrenalyticsEDU platform is how the learning content is age-appropriate. Oftentimes, accessible EdTech tools cater towards an elementary school audience:
I think the number one thing is the accessibility … We have some other programs that are just as accessible, but they’re usually formatted for someone in elementary school … Someone who is socially in high school does not want to be doing ‘baby work’, as they would call it. This is something that a high-schooler would be working on, and they like [the] real-life pictures.”
Another important feature that FrenalyticsEDU offers Jen’s class is the ability to individualize lessons to align goals with each student’s IEP:
Not everyone has to have the same sections or lessons turned on, which is really important for special education because no two students are doing the exact same thing at all times.”
Jen individually tailors each and every lesson towards the goals of particular students. She creates three different learning levels (Level 1, Level 2, Level 3) and assigns students to fitting difficulty levels within FrenalyticsEDU. Additionally, she pulls statistics for a particular learning session or even question and can write that directly into a student’s IEP.
Even when Jen’s classroom looks to go back fully in-person next school year, Jen absolutely plans on using FrenalyticsEDU with her students:
It’s so life-skilled based and there is not a lot of programming out there for it … just because we go back into the classroom doesn’t mean we won’t still be doing it. I definitely know it’ll be incorporated – it could still be homework, whole group, or [be done] independently.”
FrenalyticsEDU is loved by students in special ed schools from kindergarten all the way through high school. We are the first comprehensive and interactive software platform to streamline life skills learning within special education, including enrolling students, managing transitions, and reporting outcomes. Our team at Frenalytics works extensively with educators to craft a one-of-a-kind software platform that helps students live more independent lives while saving time and money for parents and schools.