Vizzler of the Month – May 2020 – Distance Learning


Mr. & Mrs. Smith take on distance learning with Vizzle

To finish up the school year, we thought it would be fun to get the perspective of a husband and wife team, Brian and Cristina Smith. Both are Intervention Specialists in Northeast Ohio and both use Vizzle to support their students. Brian is a preschool special education teacher with Rocky River City Schools and Cristina is a special education teacher at the elementary level with Lakewood City Schools.

How were you using Vizzle with your students before distance learning and now?

Brian: Before I would use it primarily in the classroom as a reinforcement tool of lessons we were working on, but I didn’t typically keep data with it. Now I use it as one of our key assessment tools.

Cristina: Before DL I used it as a resource to teach whole group lessons. It was great to use as a supplement for science and social studies topics, but also for a lot of our functional math lessons. I now use it as our primary way to keep track of IEP objectives. 

What has been the response from your students when using Vizzle?

Brian: I have about 22 of my 30 students using it daily. There are limited options for online activities for preschoolers, so the students (and their parents) love it as a chance to do “homework” like many of their older siblings.

Cristina: Our entire program of students use Vizzle daily (30 plus students with moderate to intensive special needs). My co-teacher and I use it for our lessons and IEP goal data for our 11 students. I believe parents enjoy the independence of how easy it is for our students to navigate the lessons. 

What is your favorite Vizzle feature and why? Has that changed since being out of the classroom?

Brian: The data component and the updated authoring tool. The data saves time in that I don’t have to figure out a way to assess each student individually over Zoom. The updated authoring tool makes it easy to customize the games/assessments in order to use the same language we use in our lessons.

Cristina: Definitely the data collection tool. Like Brian said, it saves time when it comes to averaging the data for progress reports. I didn’t use the individual data as much before, but now it has been really helpful. I found it easy to find lessons that coincided with each individual student’s IEP objectives and if I thought it would work for more than one student, I found assigning it was simple.

What does a school day or week look like now for you?

Brian: Definitely more work now as I feel our team – and everyone else – is reinventing the wheel each week. Without all our classroom materials and environment that we’ve worked with forever, we’re digging for new ways to reach the kids, keep them engaged, and differentiate for each of them. We created a new website with a weekly newsletter of activities, hold six Zoom sessions a week (between AM/PM classes), and hold one-on-one sessions for those who need extra support.  

Cristina: This is a whole new way of teaching. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I had to just go with the flow. I am fortunate I have a great team and an amazing co-teacher to work with. We are writing weekly lessons and including interactive activities as well as links for everything. We want to make this as easy as we can on the parents. We also hold weekly google hangout sessions to touch base with the families. The kids love seeing us and their friends. 

What are your biggest concerns or challenges with distance learning?

Brian: Behavior. It’s difficult to reinforce or modify student behavior when you’re sitting in different homes on a computer. At the same time I’m fortunate to have engaged families who are open to suggestions.

Cristina: Definitely teaching and modeling appropriate behavior and giving different levels of prompting for each lesson. We are so used to showing the students how to use hands-on materials and giving them prompts to complete activities. I find it emotional as well. It was hard for teachers and students to be disconnected without much warning. These students are like our second family so it was very emotional to not get to say goodbye. 

What creative ways have you found to engage your students in distance learning?

Brian: I try to use classroom photos for most of our lessons – both through Vizzle and Zoom – in order to keep the kids engaged and to give them a little sense of normalcy. I’ve also created weekly Google Slides geared towards particular students. These slideshows include Vizzle games and other activities based on their IEP goals that the parents can cycle through with their children each day of the week. It’s more work upfront but makes it easier in the long run for both the teachers and the families who are looking for something to do with their children. Our district also purchased Butterfly kits for each family to raise their own butterflies at home. This has been a great way to bring all the kids together (remotely) for a shared experience.

Cristina: We have set up google hangout sessions to read books to the students, recording video and audio on lessons, and delivering prizes to students. 

How much do you talk about school at the dinner table?

Brian: We try to turn it off when our own two children are around, or if we do talk, we try to keep it to the fun stuff, of which there is plenty.  

Cristina: I think we do a pretty good job not talking about school when the kids are there. Once they have asked to be excused, it’s our time to vent, bounce ideas off each other, or just inform each other of some good things that happened that day. 

How do you use each other as a support system?

Brian: Cristina has really developed into one of the leaders of her program and inspires me to see how she’s found her niche and makes it work. She also does a great job of talking me off the ledge every now and then  Plus, she’s H-O-T. Can I include that?

Cristina: Well, Brian is AMAZING at teaching and is so easy to talk to. He will always try and help me whether it be with new ideas or some kind of technology problem I have. I lean on him a lot and I am always impressed on how much he works for his students and families. Rocky River is extremely lucky to have him as a teacher. 

Thank you both for sharing your experiences with us and giving us a peek into how you’ve so creatively managed to still meet the needs of your students through distance learning! Love this take on an old saying I saw somewhere…”When the going gets tough, the tough keep teaching online.” Your students are fortunate to have you in their corner!

Sign up for a free trial at and see why Brian and Cristina are using Vizzle!