Special Education

The Pandemic Changed How We Teach Students With Learning Differences

By Marina Whiteleather — June 27, 2022 2 min read
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It’s been over two years since the pandemic started, and educators have had no shortage of lessons on how to adapt their instruction to better meet their students’ needs.

Last week, Education Week hosted an online chat on our official Twitter account to unpack how the pandemic has changed how educators teach and support students with learning differences. Educators nationwide were invited to participate and share their experiences and advice with their fellow K-12 peers.

Here are the questions posed during the hour-long discussion and how educators responded.

What are some strategies you learned for improving students’ executive functioning skills during the pandemic?

Here’s how some teachers tackled the challenge of keeping students with learning differences engaged in their online lessons.

“During virtual instruction, Ss [students] built skills in self-monitoring & scheduling due to online courses & work overlapping. This fed into our return to in-person; they already had at-home work spots set-up with all needed supplies, which made their HW & studying easier.”

- Miss G.

In an Education Week Opinion blog post, Larry Ferlazzo rounded up advice from teachers on how to support students with learning differences as they returned to in-person classroom instruction. Some tips included:

💬Be explicit and make liberal use of cues and prompts.
🏆Rewards and behavior contracts may help them adjust back to learning in a classroom.
🤸‍♀️Use movement breaks to help students stay on task.

How did you support students dealing with the massive changes to school throughout the pandemic? Are there any successful strategies that you continued to use this year?

Consistency and communication were key, according to teachers who responded in the chat.

“That’s really useful, to keep the tools and routines for consistency.”

- Virna R.

“Provided open lines of communication so students could always reach out.”

- Elsa M.

What are the biggest communication challenges between general and special education teachers? What are some strategies to improve their communications?

Respondents spoke to the importance of aligning on a shared mission and terminology to foster better collaboration between the two groups.

“Effective communication between gen ed & sped faculty members begins with establishing a shared vision of purposeful collaboration among team members. Leaders have a responsibility to establish a tone of partnership and affirm these practices to support Ss growth.”

- Chrys W.

“Most miscommunication/misunderstanding comes from different terminology. Each fall, our SPED dept. sends an email w/ the words/phrases that’ll be used in our interactions & we do the same. We also make sure to CC each other on any family correspondence. #teamwork”

- Miss G.

What are some tips for improving students with learning differences’ social skills?

During the chat, we directed participants to strategies shared in Larry Ferlazzo’s blog post, 20 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences This Year (Opinion).

🗣Try teacher modeling and role-plays.
🔀Review taking turns.
🤝Cultivate peer-to-peer connections.

“Pairing Ss of different levels together will allow for modeling/discovering during the activity. During whole class instruction, ensure Ss repeat/mirror your words or behaviors. Allow for readers’ theater or role play when possible!

- Miss G.

To learn more about the unique challenges special education teachers faced during the pandemic, check out this piece: 3 Reasons Why Being a Special Education Teacher Is Harder During the Pandemic.

Coverage of students with diverse learning needs is supported in part by a grant from the Oak Foundation, at www.oakfnd.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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