Online education is becoming increasingly popular among secondary students for a variety of reasons. For many of these students, a key factor is that they appreciate the flexibility that online education offers in terms of being able to work on their own schedule and at their own pace. It’s not surprising then, that we’re seeing growth in the number of students with learning disabilities enrolled in online programs, including Edmentum’s own EdOptions Academy, as they offer the flexibility necessary to meet these students’ individualized needs. So, how can we as online educators make sure we’re offering this growing student population the support they require? Here are three tips to keep in mind that I’ve found during my time as an EdOptions Academy online teacher:
Tip #1: Address the IEP
Often, when I ‘meet’ parents and students for the first time, parents will remind me that their child had a 504 / IEP plan in place at their previous school. Understandably, they’re concerned about whether their child will continue to receive the supports or modifications.
At EdOptions Academy, we work alongside an IEP already in existence to ensure we’re not missing a beat when it comes to plans already in place. We provide access to all modifications for each student’s teachers to create a seamless experience. In addition, we have a guidance counselor on staff that works with schools, students, and their IEPs to make sure all needs are being met. Communicating this work and how modifications will be provided to parents from the outset is key to a smooth transition into online learning for students with learning disabilities.
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Tip #2: Organize assignment questions clearly
The right modifications make all the difference for students working under IEPs. And often, these modifications come in the form of simply re-organizing a question. Organization is beneficial for us all—whether it’s your email inbox, files on your computer, or a messy closet at home, aren’t you always amazed at how much better you feel when something gets cleaned up and neatly arranged? The same can be true of assignment questions can be the same way, especially for students with learning disabilities. My strategy is to re-organize questions to make sure students can ‘see’ all of the prompts they’re being asked to respond to. For example, consider this question found on a biology assignment:
What measurement should you record in your laboratory report for the mass of the beaker and saltwater solution? Why? Assuming the balance is calibrated correctly, what is the smallest mass that it could accurately measure? What are some reasonable explanations for why the value displayed on the balance fluctuated between 252.150 grams and 252.151 grams?
Students with visual processing challenges tend to find these types of questions particularly difficult because all the questions run together. The question can be re-organized, and becomes:
- According to the picture, what will you record as the mass of the beaker?
- According to the picture, what will you record as the mass of the saltwater solution?
- Assuming the balance is calibrated correctly, what is the smallest mass that it could accurately measure?
- Explain why you think the value displayed on the balance kept changing between 252.150 grams and 252.151 grams.
Even for students who don’t have visual processing challenges, re-organizing this question makes it much more clear what is actually being asked. This becomes even more helpful for students who do have learning disabilities.
Tip #3. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Given the choice between complicated and simple, the vast majority of us will pick the latter. And it’s good common sense to apply when working on assignments for students with learning disabilities, many of whom have difficulty processing large amounts of information. I try to eliminate any information found in their assignments that isn’t necessary for them to answer the questions at hand, and emphasize that information which is most relevant. For example, this paragraph is found in a Chemistry activity:
Carbon has 4 bonding electrons in its valence, or outermost, shell. Similar to other non-metals, carbon needs 8 electrons to satisfy its valence shell. Carbon, therefore, forms 4 bonds with other atoms (each bond consisting of one of carbon's electrons and one of the bonding atom's electrons). Every valence electron participates in bonding. Thus, a carbon atom's bonds will be distributed evenly over the atom's surface. These bonds form a tetrahedron (a polyhedron with four faces, which are triangles).
Modified, it becomes:
- Remember that the outermost electrons are called valence electrons, and these are the electrons involved in forming bonds with other atoms to form compounds.
- Carbon has 4 valence electrons.
- Carbon, therefore, forms 4 bonds with other atoms.
Restated, this information provides the student with what they need to know to successfully complete their assignment in a clear and concise manner. It has been re-organized so the student can more easily read the information, and emphasis has been placed on the information that’s particularly critical for them to understand and retain.
These are just a couple of ideas to help you better support your students with learning disabilities and give them an optimal chance for success in your class. Are there strategies or techniques that you have found to be especially effective for students with learning disabilities in an online environment? Please share them with us in the comments section below!
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