Strategies for Students with Learning Differences

Extra support“I made sure to meet with my students that have IEPs every single day to work together on a specific thing and take them through it step by step. To give them that extra support and time with me.”

While online learning presents some challenges for diverse learners, it can also provide opportunities for individualized instruction. When teachers design online learning experiences, they should plan strategically for students with special needs including students who struggle with reading, writing, and attention or behavior challenges. Universal Design for Learning, differentiated instruction, and co-teaching are practices districts and schools can use to ensure that all students thrive.

African Teen Girl Using Laptop Computer Browsing Internet Sitting On Couch At Home. Free Space

teachers and admin reported one-on-one conferencing as one of the most effective approaches for students with IEPs
teachers and admin reported small group instruction/reteaching as one of the most effective approaches for students with IEPs
teachers and admin reported a variety of supports such as audio books, visuals, videos, and music as one of the most effective approaches for students with IEPs
teachers and admin reported co-teaching as one of the most effective approaches for students with IEPs

Guiding Questions

  • What practices do we need to roll out district-wide to increase active learning and engagement for students with learning differences?
  • What remote-learning strategies work best for students with special needs?

Professional Development Connections

  • Even experienced teachers will likely need professional development on differentiation and accessibility in the online learning environment.
  • Invest in professional development for Integrated Co-Teachers (a general education and a special education teacher who jointly provide instruction to a class that has students with and without disabilities) to plan and teach together in remote or hybrid contexts.
Use these selected strategies and resources
High-leverage Strategies Aligned Resources

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Collaborate with teachers across subject areas to make sure units and lessons are planned using UDL to ensure learning is accessible to all.

Find UDL supports in the Planning and Instructional Design section .

Differentiated Instruction

Remote and hybrid learning offers opportunities to individualize lessons to meet the needs of diverse learners. This “may be the single most important instructional move right now,” suggests Lisa Westman in an article in the May 2020 ASCD Journal.

This webinar (Keep Michigan Learning) shows a variety of differentiation strategies in action (21 minutes).

Looking at Student Work Protocol for Remote Learning (New Visions for Public Schools) is a ready-to-go tool for co-teachers to use twice a week to identify and respond to the needs of special education students through differentiated instruction.

Targeted Planning

Support teachers in considering specific planning that supports students with learning differences, knowing that they have been a vulnerable population before and during the move to remote learning.

Use this planning protocol to support targeted planning for diverse learners. (Diverse Learners Cooperative)

Strategic Co-Teaching Models

Teachers using a co-teaching model are still learning themselves how to fully maximize support for students during remote learning. But many are noting that smaller group size has beneficial effects and are trying out strategies on Zoom or other video platforms with break-out rooms such as:

  • Station Teaching—where students are divided into two small groups and each teacher teaches their content to one group and then they switch groups.
  • Alternative Teaching—where one teacher takes responsibility for the large group while the other works with a smaller group of students that need specialized attention.

(CT State Education Resource Center)

Use this Strategically Choosing Co-teaching Models article (New Visions for Public Schools) to help you choose a co-teaching model. It will give you a range of examples of what different co-teaching models looks like in action, so that you can choose something appropriate for your current mode of learning.

View this Co-Teaching in a Virtual Environment webinar (30 minutes, April 2020) to help with the key components to consider when planning co-teaching roles and responsibilities for both synchronous instruction (two adults are co-teaching together in a live classroom environment, doing live small group instruction, or providing 1:1 support) and asynchronous instruction (planning together for students’ independent work).