As school leaders plan for in-person classes, remote learning or a combination of both for this school year, it will be important to incorporate inclusive practices to strengthen students’ academic and social growth.
Being mindful about the academic and social needs of students with disabilities in inclusive settings can help students be more engaged with learning, says Paula Kluth, a consultant who works with teachers and families on inclusive practices. It can also benefit all students by creating a supportive and connected school community.
“As this year moves on and we see more evolving, I think it will be critical to put belonging at the center of all we do,” Kluth says.
Prioritizing inclusive practices has been a challenge for school systems as they abruptly switched to remote learning this spring due to the coronavirus outbreak. Some students’ learning plans were disrupted significantly because they could not access remote learning programs, needed more supports than could be provided, or could not access certain therapies. Additionally, because of social distancing, many children lost out on social time with friends.
“Kids on the autism spectrum, for instance, are struggling mightily with changes in schedules, a lack of familiar activities and people, and support,” Kluth says.
Consider implementing these practices to create inclusive communities:
- Make curriculum considerations for all students. Every student needs accessible and appropriately challenging lessons. It is vital that all learners are considered in curriculum and instructional decisions and that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum, Kluth says. Some students with disabilities may need modifications—supported by teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals—to access the curriculum. If that support or modification is delayed, a teacher can suggest the student watch a related video to build her understanding of the topic until the modified lesson is available, for example.
- Use a universal design for learning framework. UDL practices provide a flexible learning environment that can benefit a variety of learners by providing multiple ways to access learning and demonstrate knowledge. “The extended school closures have helped educators understand that the universal design of instruction is powerful; so much about how we teach has now changed,” Kluth says. “Teachers are mastering tools they may not have known about previously and they are seeing that changing things up is often necessary for student success.”
- Involve families. Let parents know inclusive practices are a priority in your district. Ask parents about their child’s needs and talk about strategies to support their child’s participation in the classroom. Have therapists and counselors available for virtual consultations if parents would like to take advantage of those services, Kluth says. “Connections with families will continue to be the key to success,” she said.
- Match students with supportive peers. If you are planning in-person classes but need to limit the number of students in the classroom, try to make sure all students have at least one or two supportive peers in their class, Kluth says. Try assigning work that keeps them linked. For example, you might have students complete some assignments in pairs or groups or ask them to comment on one another’s work on FlipGrid.
Administrators and teachers can also help create a sense of community and connection outside of the school day, Kluth adds, by encouraging service learning projects, literature circles, and other opportunities to safely be with peers.
Kara Arundel covers special education for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.