How Teachers Can Help Students With Special Needs Navigate Distance Learning

How Teachers Can Help Students With Special Needs Navigate Distance Learning

When you say ‘special education,’ you are talking about an umbrella of ages, interests, abilities, and disabilities, within which are individual needs identified by their Individualized Education Program.

Unlike developing a whole-class lesson plan online, special education teachers are now tasked with developing unique plans for every student. One huge hurdle, teachers say, is determining if both the learning and services students are accustomed to receiving in school—things like gross motor remediation and behavioural therapy—can even be offered in a home-based setting or through digital resources. 

Students with special needs face unique challenges when learning, but there are many resources online that can be used by educators to aid their students. Whether these students are homeschooled and using these resources 24/7 or enrolled in school full-time and utilizing these resources as supplemental material, online platforms can help children with special needs gain more of an understanding of course content. Interactive games, activities, and videos may be a better alternative to handwritten homework for some students with learning disabilities. Students with disabilities are often shortchanged by pandemic classroom conditions. Here are three tips for educators to boost their engagement and connection.

Team collaboration

One of the challenges for students with special needs is that their support is more disjointed and remote. This is why building out a team of support is even more critical than ever before. 

If you are an individual teacher who is struggling to support diverse learners in your classroom, consult with your school psychologist, special education team, and counselling support staff.

Most importantly though, connect with the parents! Parents are doing the best they can with the tools and skills they have at home, under stressful circumstances. When educators partner with parents, especially now, when the parent is the primary source of support during the day, that’s where the real change can happen for our students.

Use plenty of visuals in your class

Teacher and student cards with a picture and written word for vocabulary words are ideal. This is especially important for students who have hearing disabilities. Since they do not hear well, they need to focus on the written words to help them learn right from the beginning. Have students play games, in pairs or small groups, using small cards, each with a picture and a word to build knowledge in a playful way. Place pictures around your room with words that students can refer to as needed for support.

Use assistive technology to help provide differentiated learning opportunities for your students.

Digital resources for students often contain stories, which a student can listen to and read over and over, at their own pace. This gives students a chance to practice words and language that they might not be able to completely absorb during the in-class activities. The online practice also provides the students with a way to practice listening and new language on their own, in the privacy of their homes.

English Language Learners (ELLs), like the general student population, may have any one of many learning disorders, including visual impairment, hearing impairment, dyslexia or delayed language development. If they face these challenges, it will be evident in both L1 and L2. So it is important for us to carefully understand and evaluate a student’s complete language and life experience when one is struggling with learning English and provide extra support for that student when needed. As we work with our students, we must also be aware that students who are newcomers to our area, or students who did not choose to be in English classes, go through an adjustment period. During this time, they may actually exhibit behaviours that are similar to those found in a student with a learning disorder, such as distractibility, lack of focus and concentration in learning, rejection of and a distance from the new language and community. Given time and plenty of encouraging support from us, and their classmates, students with special needs will be able to learn English.

This is the new normal for now. While we can’t smooth out the ocean of challenges altogether to provide an ideal learning experience in a pandemic, we can figure out ways to ride out the waves together, so we are providing the best educational experience for the students we possibly can. The only way we will get through this is together.

ELT Experts – Sensations English

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