There has never been another time globally that has had such an instant impact on the way we deliver learning as Covid-19. During this unprecedented time, both teachers and students have had to try to adapt to working remotely in an effective way.
While some students – especially teenagers – may welcome a break from routine, we can all acknowledge that separation from friends and the discipline of the school environment may put strain on relationships at home. It can also lead to amusing admissions: I heard one parent say that his son refused to have his father supervise his learning, as he did not have the appropriate qualifications!
However, for parents of children with special or additional needs, educating and engaging their children may feel like an insurmountable challenge. Trying to convince, for example, a child with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to sit down and focus on work for any significant time can be a daily battle. Parents of children with Dyslexia may not have the understanding of phonics that they would need to help with grading reading and spelling tasks.
The flipside of this is that home schooling for some children may have provided an environment that really plays to their strengths. One parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder spoke positively about the gains made learning at home: “My son is less tired by not having to think of all the extras like finding rooms, packing bags, following a timetable, rushing lunch, etc. He is enjoying the way work is set now as home is quieter and calmer for him.”
Another parent of a child who has ADHD said her daughter walks around the room listening to audiobooks with headphones on and doesn’t need to sit still to learn – something which might not be possible at school. A 10-year-old with Dyspraxia has learned to use the dictation software built into his Dad’s computer and has been recording stories of home life.
All of these cases show that a shift from the traditional classroom setting shows that some children are able to adapt their approach to maximise their learning when at home.
The tools that parents and educators have been using could open the way for many children – both with and without additional needs – to learn differently. Many of the approaches that have worked well for neurodiverse learners are good methods of learning for all.
Tools such as Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, have in-built software that allows learners to highlight key words, explain their meaning, reduce text crowding and make reading easier. This type of technology is not just beneficial for learners with Dyslexia or those who find reading a challenge, but can be used by any learner who is encountering large blocks of academic text online for the first time. Apple offers in-built speech to text tools that enable students to record their ideas orally, where typing or writing may have been much harder for them.
A quick check for readability of content can mean teachers can assess the degree of difficulty learners will have in accessing information from a text; using tools such as Rewordify can be an easy way to simplify text; grammar checkers can help some students learn and correct errors in their work.
Gaining confidence in existing technology can increase access to learning for a wide range of learners including those with English as a second language, those with Dyslexia and other related reading or comprehension difficulties.
Positive actions resulting from the pandemic have led to publishers and other media making available a wide number of resources in a range of formats, including podcasts and audiobooks, which can aid learners who have better listening skills but weaker visual memory.
Learners can access innovative and immersive educational opportunities by going on virtual tours of famous places including museums and art galleries from around the world. Many zoos have also had their webcams switched on for students to observe their animals 24/7.
Teachers can easily turn these virtual experiences into creative writing activities, presentations, reflective journals and many more activities that learners can develop in innovative, engaging ways to demonstrate their learning. Again, this is not just a way for us to differentiate learning by outcome for neurodiverse learners, but to offer the same opportunities for everyone.
Cambridge International has also provided many resources to help support you and your learners at this time. These resources are free and are designed to help you deliver the same excellent educational outcomes whilst we teach and learn remotely.
Learning from experience
We should reflect and share what we have learnt during this strange and challenging time. When we return to school, we should take the time to listen to our students’ experiences of what tools and approaches worked best for them so that we can utilise this in our teaching practices. Many of the successful approaches that have worked well for neurodiverse learners are often good ways we can consider inclusive education for all.
As Archibald MacLeish said:“There’s only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.” As some commentators are already saying, how could we ‘build back better’?