Building Engagement with Distance Learning

The Learning Matrix Tool


Gail Ghere, Ph.D.

Jennifer Sommerness, Ed. S.

Terri Vandercook, Ph.D

An example learning matrix that has been filled in for Josie, a 6th grade student. The matrix allows users to fill in overarching learning competencies, corresponding IEP goals, the student's daily schedule, and which goals are to be tracked.

An example of how you might use the learning matrix with an elementary school student

There are thousands of teachable moments in which to embed learning, both at school and at home. Aligning priorities and generalizing the use of knowledge and skills across both settings has always been best practice as a means to anchor and solidify student learning. When students generalize what they have learned across different contexts they are truly integrating what is being taught. With the possibility of students moving between instruction at school and at home during distance learning, the 5C Process can be used to collaboratively develop a coherent plan. This article will introduce how to use the Learning Matrix Tool along with the 5C Process to help teams visualize the plan together, as well as determine to what extent the learning components and IEP goals can be focused on in each location; when and where they will be embedded during the day; and how the priorities will be taught in each environment. 

Clear, Concise, Coherent Communication

The Learning Matrix Tool is a clear, concise, and coherent means of communication for instructional teams, inclusive of families, to align student supports. Using the 5C Process, teams can create a Learning Matrix for School and a Learning Matrix for Home based on the same or similar IEP goals for each Learning Component (Step 1).  In this way, alignment across the settings is purposeful and supports transitioning back and forth between instruction at home and school. The tool is useful for unpacking the steps needed to build Collaboration (Step 2)  and Continuity (Step 3) between home and school, Collect data (Step 4), and develop team members’ Capacity (Step 5) to support the instructional plan. 

We are used to the defined time limits during the typical school day with the start and end of the school day built into the schedule. We don’t know the times of the day, or even the days of the week, that are best for focusing on the learning priorities at home until we talk with each other. What works for one family may not work for another family. For example, if a parent works a late shift, their availability for instruction in the morning could be challenging. Siblings might be a possibility to offer support, but they too might have distance learning responsibilities. These details need to be discussed collaboratively to identify what can be taught when and where, as well as who is available to provide support when necessary. Adjustments will need to be made regarding how and when learning priorities can be embedded within the home routines and schedule. The Learning Matrix Tool helps to clarify these decisions both at school and at home. It provides a quick overview of the whole day, making it more obvious when each learning component and related IEP goals could be focused on across the day.

Using the Learning Matrix Tool as Part of the 5C Process 

A student’s IEP goals are not the curriculum. A student’s whole day consists of learning within the grade-level general education curriculum, participating in routines and transitions across the school day, and working on specific IEP goals. There are many opportunities for students to engage with peers, content, environment, and activities. These opportunities may not be predictable, but the team can still capitalize upon them. Creating and recognizing moments where the learning happens naturally and are embedded within the grade level experience for all students is the ultimate goal for students with significant cognitive disabilities within inclusive environments. When a student is learning something new, or beginning to use a skill in a new environment, it is challenging to focus on all of the details for every learning priority simultaneously. By specifically linking each IEP goal to instruction during daily activities, we assure that each goal will be intentionally addressed during the normal course of the day. This does not mean that IEP goals cannot be supported at other times of the day, too. It just means that at certain times, during certain activities, this goal will be focused on as part of the regular activities.

The Elementary Learning Matrix Tool Templates and Examples and Middle School Learning Matrix Tool Templates and Examples (There are four tabs in each file. Microsoft Excel versions appear at the bottom of this article.) provide blank home and school templates for teams to copy and provide examples of the instructional programs for two students who have significant cognitive disabilities. Each student has a Learning Matrix for School and a Learning Matrix for Home. Before moving into the details of the matrix, revisit the team’s beliefs about the student being a valued member and actively participating within general education settings. These beliefs underscore the 5C Process. Keep these beliefs at the forefront as the team links the schedule and IEP goals across the day. While the Learning Components remain constant across the two environments, some IEP goal areas have a slightly different focus. Sometimes an IEP goal is modified so the activities advance a student’s learning within the same Learning Component while being reasonable for the family to implement at home. When collaborating with the family to align the instructional plan between school and home, refer to the questions for Step 2: Collaboration to guide these discussions.

The Learning Matrix Tool provides a natural bridge for discussing the remainder of the steps in the 5C Process after Step 1 (Components) and Step 2 (Collaboration) are completed. Planning for Continuity (Step 3) to support student learning means using the same instructional no-tech, low-tech and high-tech tools and strategies at school and home to the greatest extent possible. Having as much continuity as is feasible allows students to access meaningful instruction across the day or when changes in the instructional setting are mandated because of distance learning. It also enhances a student’s generalization of skills because students will be able to depend on having their learning supported in familiar ways regardless of where instruction happens. Using the Learning Matrix Tools and considering the key questions for Step 3: Continuity helps to build continuity for supporting student learning across any environment.

Similarly, the Learning Matrix Tools are useful for collaborating about when and where to collect student data (Step 4). Discussing the importance of collecting data to document student learning is an important part of ensuring that learning is happening both at school and at home. Discussing the feasibility of collecting data at home on the IEP goals and how data collection can be streamlined can make the task less daunting. When decisions are made about when, where, and how to collect data at school and at home, those cells on the Learning Matrix Tool can be highlighted to indicate when data will be collected for each IEP goal. It is not necessary for data on every IEP goal to be collected on a daily basis. A schedule with intermittent data probes is sufficient for tracking progress and determining if changes in instruction are needed. A notation can be added at the bottom of the matrix to identify the schedule for collecting data for an IEP goal area.

The data collection schedule at school and home will likely not be the same. Modifications must be made for families so collecting data is uncomplicated and simple to share with the team. In some cases, a family may choose not to collect data at home and their desires need to be respected. As you plan for Step 4, it helps to refer to the questions for facilitating the discussion about data collection. 

The last step is Capacity Building (Step 5). This is where the team identifies who needs to learn what about a student’s learning priorities, IEP goals, and the instructional tools and strategies needed to support student learning. By planning for this step, we build the capacity of the whole team, inclusive of the family and the student, to support student development across the whole day, week, and year. There is no one way to build the capacity of team members. A team helps to build the capacity and access resources for other team members. For example, the general education teacher may be the expert on using the school learning management platform. The special education teacher may have expertise in prompting and fading support. The paraeducator may know how to use a teleconferencing platform. Finally, the family knows the online games they enjoy that could be used in support of learning or how they use an AAC device regularly. The district may offer more formal professional development sessions and YouTube is rich with “how-to” videos for various tools. The key questions for Step 5 are useful for facilitating this discussion to identify what learning needs to be supported, so a plan can be developed.

While the 5C Process has a linear flow, it is not a one-way process. Instructional plans will be adjusted for a variety of reasons. These include identification of new or different needs at school and home, new insights about student learning, and input from students. Whenever changes are made in a plan, it is important to scan the other steps in the process to adjust, as needed, to assure instructional coherency.  

Learning Matrix Documents