Building Engagement with Distance Learning
Teams should strategically build continuity between school and home to ensure that the same tools and strategies are used to support student learning. These tools and strategies should include no-tech, low-tech and high-tech options for all students. When the array of options are available for all students, then students with significant cognitive disabilities can more easily participate using the same tools as their peers and they have peer models, including siblings, to help them use the tools. This way the student is familiar with the range of options so if a high-tech option is not possible at home, it is not a matter of changing whole programs or foregoing a learning priority or IEP goal. The no-tech and low-tech options are already familiar and available for instruction. Use The Learning Matrix Tool to reflect on the extent of continuity of the instructional tools and strategies used between school and home.
With students with significant cognitive disabilities using the same tools that others in the school use to the greatest degree possible and maximizing the accessibility features, there is a reduced need for additional individualized support at school or at home. Specialized apps should be supplemental and integrated with schoolwide platforms as much as possible. This means if a school or teacher uses one platform, such as Google or Microsoft, the student with disabilities should also use that platform to the greatest degree possible. When unique needs require specialized apps or technology, it is important to find those that integrate with the existing technology or platforms that all students are using. For example, Read Write Google (free to teachers) or Co-Writer (fee-based) work off of the Google suite easily. Microsoft has equivalent technology that works off of its platform. Keep in mind it is a major challenge for families and educators to navigate multiple technology platforms, so remaining consistent with school or classroom adopted tools is ideal.
Continuity simplifies aligning instruction and collaborating with all team members. It reduces the number of tools everyone, including the student, must learn to use. Continuity also facilitates the adaptation or modification of materials within the curriculum and increases inclusive opportunities for the student because all the peers, teachers, and families are using the same resources. Instruction is easier to pivot from in-person to distance learning environments when it is universally designed from the beginning. When general educators plan their instruction for all students by using a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens, they are providing students multiple ways to engage with the content, show what they know, and participate in instruction. When a UDL perspective is applied to the instructional plan, then flexibility is inherently present. Additionally, teams need to consider which formative and summative assessments used to assess progress in the general education curriculum will be used to monitor progress for the individual student with significant cognitive disabilities.
Key Questions to Consider
Key questions to discuss with the family to build continuity regarding the instructional tools and strategies used between school and home are:
- What no-tech, low-tech, or high-tech tools is the teacher offering to all students? Is this the same or different across classes/teachers?
- What are the available no-tech, low-tech, or high-tech tools and strategies that this specific student usually uses?
- Are there any other no-tech, low-tech, or high-tech tools and strategies that should be proactively introduced to prepare for the possibility of distance learning? (Note: This would include using any schoolwide platform or a supplemental support).
- Are there family members, including siblings, already familiar with the district platforms who can support the student?
- Would family members be able to comfortably use these tools and strategies if they were supported in learning them? What would support look like? By whom, how, and when would that support be provided?