Building Engagement with Distance Learning

1) Components


Gail Ghere, Ph.D.

Jennifer Sommerness, Ed.S.

Terri Vandercook, Ph.D.

This is a graphic of the three overarching Learning Components which are 

  • Participating in Routines and Transitions
  • Engaging in Grade Level Academics and Other Essential Skills
  • Interacting with Others. 

The image depicts an icon of a student above the three learning components linking the components to the student.

Student at the Center

As the infographic illustrates, the student is at the top and center of the entire process. That is intentional. Educators must remember to keep students with significant cognitive disabilities and their families included as equal partners on collaborative teams when working through the planning and implementation of instruction in inclusive environments. Students are central to the planning process whether instruction takes place at home or in general education school settings. The word "team" implies that this includes the individual student to the greatest degree possible. It also includes the family as an equal partner across all planning and collaboration.

Start with the Vision

Educational planning for every child begins with a vision or a path that leads long term to valued life outcomes for the future. From the earliest age, we ask children "What do you like to do? What interests you? What do you want to learn about? Over time, the questions may become more focused. We ask questions related to working, living, playing, and contributing to the community. The questions change as students grow older, but the focus is always on the future. Planning for post-school possibilities starts as soon as a child enters school. Going through this process as a team should help answer those questions. The team can focus more specifically on the year ahead by asking "What else does this student need to be able to do to be a more engaged and participating member of (enter grade level) grade? 

The 5C Process was intentionally designed for teams to pause, reflect, and plan together in a person-centered fashion while designing the IEP. The steps of the process may be a new way of thinking for teams as they come to agreement on instructional plans. First, there is a high-level vision discussion, where priorities are understood and identified across three learning components. Next, there is a discussion about the student’s present levels in relation to those priority areas and which learning component they represent. The present levels will be used as a baseline across those priority areas. In this step, teams decide how skillful a student is or what skills might be just emerging and in need of instructional support. Lastly, the IEP goals are created.

Learning Components and IEP Goals

This is different from typical IEP development. This assumes the student is accessing the general education curriculum and is a part of all that is available to all students in their grade level. The IEP is designed to support access and progress in the general education curriculum and overall grade-level experience. The IEP goals also address other priorities that enhance the student’s independence or interdependence across school, home, and other typical community environments. In this way, the 5C Process guides teams to create coherent plans crossing learning that happens while at school or at home.

Once a long-term vision is established and understood by all team members, then the overall priorities can be identified within the three learning components:

  • Participating in Routines and Transitions (for example, joining a group online; creating and following a personal schedule; beginning, sustaining and ending activities appropriately; going from one area of a building to another; greater independence in self-care);
  • Engaging in Grade-Level Academics and Other Essential Skills (for example, engaging in universally designed grade-level instruction with additional modifications or adaptations as necessary; using technology with increased independence; increasing self-advocacy skills; anticipating and managing behavior when frustrated); and
  • Interacting with Others (for example, participating in small and large group instruction with peers; staying in touch with/creating community with others; using an AAC device to ask questions, or offer prepared answers within the moment; maintaining conversational turns).

Planning with the three learning components in mind enhances and expands student engagement and active participation within grade-level content and general education experiences. It allows for instruction to capitalize on the thousands of teachable moments. It allows students to have multiple ways of engaging within general education environments, content, and relationships. It also provides a means for students to advance and achieve in ways that are not always captured on an IEP. 

The overall priorities should be able to be translated into annual IEP goals, where they can be addressed across the entire day. Ideally, we would recommend that a team agree to no more than 6-8 IEP goals to focus on across all three learning components. This keeps the IEP manageable and focused. Our recommendation is to have at least two IEP goals related to active participation within grade-level academics or related to grade-level standards. The remaining IEP goal areas should ensure active participation and learning across all aspects of the general education community. The IEP is a support document for learning across the three components, but it will not, nor should it, identify all of the learning priorities or opportunities in a day or a school year. The IEP is not a student’s full curriculum.

Key Questions to Consider

Here are some key questions for the team to consider to clarify overall priority areas, IEP goal areas, and instructional plans for the student:

  • What is the long term vision of the family and the student?
  • Given this vision, what priority areas should be focused on in each of the learning components to build the student’s knowledge and skills towards the vision?
    • What content standards are addressed at this grade level? Which parts of each standard are the most relevant to this student, at this time?
    • What are the priority routines and transitions to focus upon across environments?
    • What are the social and communication priorities to enhance interactions?
  • What are the family’s daily routines, important times of the day, and traditions that would help the instructional team support scheduling and instruction at home?
  • Are there any specific areas of concern that the family has already experienced through distance learning that we should proactively think about together?
  • How will the team work to maintain a focus on the student experiencing membership, active participation, and learning the general education curriculum across the day?

Once these questions have been discussed, then the team can collaboratively identify a comprehensive instructional plan. This plan will capitalize on the grade level experiences and learning opportunities across the day for the student, utilizing the remaining steps of the 5C Process. View an example that illustrates what responses to the questions in Step 1 might entail

For more information about future planning for student with disabilities , look at: 

* Choosing outcomes and accommodations for children (COACH): A guide to educational planning for students with disabilities. (Giangreco, et. al., 2011). 

* The PATH method person-centered ways to build community. (O'Brien, et. al., 2010).