Many of us wondered if the Covid-19 shut down would be temporary, but schools not only stopped in-person instruction this year, it is likely that at least some part of next year will be through distance learning. Many students with significant cognitive disabilities who may have previously accessed inclusive environments are now experiencing isolation. The focus of this article is to plan online group instruction that is inclusive and engaging for all students.
Given what we know about the positive outcomes for students with significant cognitive disabilities and inclusive education (see 10 Reasons Why), we must ask ourselves, “where does inclusion exist in a social distancing world?” Opportunities for students with significant cognitive disabilities to interact with peers through inclusive education is even more important now as one way to keep them in touch with their former reality. This connection may give them some sense of normalcy in these trying times and help with transitions between school and distance learning.
Now that teachers have had some time to adjust, it’s time to revisit collaborative work. And, it is time to move beyond whole group online instruction and try other evidence-based practices, such as small group instruction and peer collaboration to engage students with significant cognitive disabilities with their grade-level peers with and without disabilities. Let’s consider how learning platforms can help us with:
We have developed the table below to provide ideas for how to use different technology platforms to more actively engage all students, including those with significant disabilities. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best option when choosing a tool to effectively support engagement for all children. At the end of this post, there are resources and examples to demonstrate how to access, use, and add supports to some of these platforms.
Don’t let this list overwhelm you. The most important thing is to start somewhere. Try one to two strategies aimed at engaging all learners and increasing access. Remember to keep what works and adapt what didn’t for future use.
Video conferencing with breakout rooms or small group work (e.g., Zoom, Google Hangouts, Webex, Facetime calls , Facebook groups, Google Classroom)
Empower student voice and collaboration (e.g., Flip grid, SeeSaw, Slack, Padlet)
Conference calls, group texts, email conversations, or sending postcards
Facetime or Marco Polo, video conferencing rooms, Google Slides or Google Docs, shared Dropbox or One Note folder, recorded powerpoint, Slideshare, Prezi, Padlet
Phone calls, texts, emails, snail mail
Within the context of distance learning, we have opportunities for building inclusive practices for students with significant cognitive disabilities. We should not move backward for students who were already included and if we deliberately use online platforms inclusively we could expand on that when school is in-person. Now teachers have time for planning, flexible scheduling, etc. As general and special educators, related service personnel, and paraprofessionals, we are hopeful that we will look back and see that we took advantage of this opportunity to develop and build upon inclusive practices that support all students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities.
Below are some links to resources and examples that have already been developed. You may use them as is, or you may want to adapt them to meet your individual students’ needs. Resources that cost money are indicated with a dollar sign ($) after the name.
Seesaw: Students use built-in annotation tools to capture what they know in Seesaw’s digital portfolio. Here are two examples for using Seesaw.
TalkBack and VoiceOver do similar things. Talkback is for a PC or Android operating system. VoiceOver is for a Mac. Both enlarge text on the screen, will read and describe what is happening on the screen. They also allow for searching a web page and may allow for braille display and color changes to support people with visual needs.
ReadWrite Google: Add Read/Write Google to a Chrome browser or directly into Google Drive and it will read text from the screen, highlight as it reads and provides text to speech. It includes a visual dictionary, voice notes, and can simplify text on a page or remove ads. Free for teachers.
Live Caption: This app works on Android phones and when activated will automatically add closed captions to whatever media is playing on your phone. May be used with videos, audio, podcasts, and even messages you record yourself.
SnapRead: ($) Add Snap Read to your browser and it will read both accessible and inaccessible text aloud. It levels vocabulary and it translates it if needed. It can easily pull text and add to an outline for notes. It includes color overlay for paragraphs, reading text, picture supported dictionary, and screenshot reader. Students may also use it to annotate the text.
CoWriter: ($) Add CoWriter to your browser and it provides word prediction, translation, and speech recognition. It includes Flexspell that changes phonetic spelling to traditional spelling and it pulls vocabulary related to the topic for predictive text writing.
Disclaimer: The information in this Brief is not an endorsement of any identified products. Products identified in this Brief are shared solely as examples to help communicate information about ways to reach the desired goals for students.
TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (# H326Y170004). The Center is affiliated with the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) which is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: Susan Weigert
The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) leads the TIES Center partnership. Collaborating partners are: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North-Carolina–Charlotte, and the University of North Carolina–Greensboro.
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