Building Engagement with Distance Learning provides a framework for supporting all students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities, to actively engage:
Think about distance learning for students with disabilities as happening in phases. The First Phase is just starting. The focus is on getting something going for students, even if it is not perfect. The Second Phase is thinking more holistically about the students, how to embed learning opportunities in their home environments, moving forward with greater collaboration with team members, including parents and siblings, and using online tools to provide greater access and engagement. The Third Phase is when programs integrate the principles of quality inclusive practices and effective instruction into distance learning. Eventually, there will be a time to pause and reflect on what we have learned during this period of significant change to understand how the knowledge and skills that were gained transfer back into the classroom. The TIES Center is focusing its work on moving forward to the Second Phase and then the Third Phase, particularly for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
Please check out additional TIPS in this series for practical illustrations of how this can be done. New illustrations will be added weekly. We are also soliciting suggestions and questions via the TIES Facebook page.
EVERY student, including students with significant cognitive disabilities, has the same inclusive environment right now. It is called home. At the same time, they need to remain connected to their larger inclusive community at school. As we navigate this new norm, it is important to realize that learning opportunities are abundant and can be generalized across the day for all students. Focusing on IEP priorities within this new learning situation can be done successfully and inclusively.
Distance learning presents a myriad of teachable moments that connect to the primary underpinnings of inclusive education - its emphasis on access to and engagement with grade level, standards-based academics; communicative competence; relationships and belonging; and learning life-long essential skills in real places with real people. Capitalizing on the thousands of teachable opportunities that occur throughout a day can, in fact, reinforce the value of thinking about IEP priorities in terms of the whole child across the whole day. We know students are more than just learners for the 6-7 hours that they are typically in school. In this sense, creating distance learning in an inclusive way presents an exciting opportunity. We are able to structure learning and establish IEP priorities within the most natural and inclusive context, their home.
Looking at the learning opportunities that exist for all students across the day (Participating in Routines and Transitions, Engaging in Grade Level Academics and Other Essential Skills, and Interacting with Others), we can prioritize learning opportunities for students with the most significant disabilities. All of these examples can be modified or expanded upon depending on the individual student's strengths and identified needs. It is important to remember that engagement begins with the sense of community all students feel, even with distance learning.