Serving Students with Disabilities in Remote Learning

 Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary school principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership

New Challenges Due to Remote Learning

We must keep in mind that remote learning is new to everyone. Not only are our students who receive instruction in regular education struggling with this new platform, but also our students with IEPs are having a challenging time.

Learning from home, while their teacher is miles away, is something new for all of those involved in the education system. Even our most experienced teachers are having a difficult time “connecting” with their students as fluently as before COVID hit our nation. Suddenly, with very little notice, our educational world turned upside down for teachers, students, families, and administrators. As the virtual world has been pushed upon all of us, all of our communities are left with challenges when it comes to education.

The entire process begins with communication. Communicating in a way that we have never done before is so extremely valuable. Reaching out to families and students on a regular basis, if not daily, walking students through challenges that are not only educational-related but also technology-related, or socially and emotionally helping students stay connected, are daily routines of our teachers. Finding out what works for our families while still following our education schedules and routines is extremely valuable as we navigate the virtual world together. Educators are now entering our students’ homes and becoming part of their day as they work diligently from a virtual platform within a very different environment than a classroom.

Strategies for Teaching Students with Disabilities

It is imperative that our students are well aware of what the virtual school days expectations are and what the schedule may look like. Surprises with the change of a schedule should be avoided as our students with disabilities heavily rely on consistency. Sticking to our schedules that are in place as well as reviewing virtual responsibilities for all of our students will give our learners a clear idea as to what the expectations are and what is ahead of them. Truly, this isn’t much different than any other school rule, except now we are doing this from a different platform in hopes that our students are attentive and following along within their homes.

We must be sure, while in the virtual world, our students continue to receive all of the supports that they would receive if they were in an actual classroom. This includes any related services as well as any support from any other adults in the building. The school guidance counselor also plays a huge role for our students, as they may need sessions with the counselor based off of education looking so much different for everyone this year than in years past.

Transitioning to a virtual platform and being home as opposed to being in school can be a big enough change for our students that they truly need the school guidance counselor’s support. Putting this support in place could be a strategic idea to prevent any feelings of anxiety or behavior outburst from occurring. Knowing that there is someone that the students can check in with can alleviate any stressors that the student may be dealing with.

Even though we are in a virtual world, we must not overlook the importance of rigor. Along with academic rigor comes engagement. Keeping our students engaged with activities that they can share with the rest of the class, as well as continue to keep active participation among all students, will prevent boredom. The last thing any educator wants is for our students to not be focused on the material that is being delivered.

Engagement will require much more than direct instruction and lecturing. We are asking our students to learn from home, in front of their computer, without their teacher physically there. This is something that they have never had to do before, and as different as this is for them, educators must think out of the box on how our students, at any age, are tuned in and learning just as they would if they were in the brick and mortar school. This by far is not an easy task, but is something that all teachers and students in the United States have encountered over the last year.

Creating activities that students can work on together in breakout sessions is a way to continue communication and peer interaction among students. Our students miss their peers, and the daily face-to-face interaction with them. Putting ourselves in our students’ places for a moment and thinking about the friends that they no longer are playing with, whether it outside at recess or on a team sport, they are missing this daily interaction with peers their own age.

This is a tremendous loss for our students, and as teachers we must get creative to still keep these friendships very much in place for our students. Assigning a writing assignment virtually that students can send to one another, very similar to having a pen pal, can be a virtual activity that a teacher assigns throughout the duration of learning in this platform. Reassigning whom they will write to will make their “circle” even bigger as to what peers they are having interactions with. Teachers can create this writing activity and monitor the “conversations” between the students. This will encourage friendships to still last as well as reinforce the students writing skills.

Every encounter with our students virtually is unique and new challenges come up daily. Parents, teachers, and students could never have predicted that this is where we would all be a year later. Handling each situation in an individualized way, as well as being patient, understanding and extremely flexible, are key components that will aide every educator throughout this challenging platform. Who knows, the more we fine tune this experience and the longer that we are forced to teach through our computers, educators may find that this too is a very valuable learning experience and one that we all certainly will grow from.

Teaching is all about growing and changing with the times. This last year has truly been a challenge, but throughout the process teachers are doing their very best to assist our students in this platform. After all, our students are worth it!

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