Launch Into Learning

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A Guide to Reopening Your Classroom for Students with Special Needs

Illustration of students on rocketship.

This past year was challenging for educators and students alike. Students lost meaningful connections to friends and teachers that they had before the pandemic. Teachers and parents worried about students’ social-emotional well-being and academic progress. And while virtual learning was especially challenging for special education students and underserved communities, teachers found new and innovative ways to provide effective virtual instruction. 

With schools reopening for in-person learning in the fall, students are excited. How can educators leverage this excitement and lessons from the pandemic for back to school? Launch into learning with these guides to support students with special needs. 

 

Lessons from the pandemic (and how to leverage them) 

Student learning from home using laptop.

 

The pandemic opened the door to new ways of learning for students with special needs. Teachers and students experimented with new tools, technologies, and strategies to teach and learn in distance and blended learning environments. What worked? What didn’t? What will they continue to use when they return to the classroom in the fall?

We asked teachers and AT specialists who support students with special needs these questions, and this is what they told us:

  1. Continue to use a mix of tech and traditional resources for instructional delivery
  2. Use less video conferencing technology like Google Meet and Zoom since students will return to the regular classroom
  3. Include more blended and independent learning supported by video to reinforce homework assignments
  4. Emphasize both remedial and accelerated instruction as determined by student assessments at the beginning of the school year

Get more tips from teachers and specialists.

 

Success Starts with the Right Accommodations for Learning 

Young student reading on a tablet.

 

Students can benefit from multiple pathways to learning. This is especially true for students with special needs who have difficulty reading printed text. Providing them with ebooks in formats like audio, large print, and braille can give them equal access to the same books as their peers, build confidence, and help to accelerate their learning.

 

How Text-to-Speech Makes Reading Easier

Not all ebooks are created equal, however. Look for features that allow you to customize the reading experience for different learning styles. For students who struggle to decode, text-to-speech narration turns every ebook into an audiobook. Listening to books removes the cognitive load of decoding so that students can focus on comprehension and learning. For blind and visually impaired students, digital braille or the ability to enlarge font sizes make books more accessible. And for students with mobility issues who may not be able to hold books or turn pages, the ability to read and navigate books with tools like switches and eye gazers can make a world of difference and help to accelerate learning.

Supporting Resources:

Text-to-speech vs Human Audio
Reading Tools to the Rescue – Learn about the various reading tools that support TTS
How Audio Support Unlocks Doors to Reading

Finding the Right Reading Tool that Supports Text-to-Speech

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to reading, and students need to match the most appropriate reading tool to their own individual needs. Some students may find it easier to use a Chromebook for decoding words, while others prefer a tablet to listen to the book in audio. While there are many different devices, some of the more popular reading devices that support TTS include:

  • Computers
  • Chromebooks
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Braille notetaker
  • DAISY audio player
  • AAC device
Selecting a Reading App

Some Assistive Technology devices work without the need to install a third party app. However, other devices like smartphones and tablets need apps to support reading on the device. There are many free and paid apps available that offer various reading and listen options.

Bookshare's Reading Tool Wizard helps you find an app that works with a device in as little as 60 seconds.

Supporting Resources

Reading Tools for Computers
Reading Tools for Mobile
Assisitive Technology Reading Devices
So Many Ways to Read – Find a tool to read books

 

Where to Find Books

Laptop with books on screen with one coming out of the screen.

 

There are many different sources to find books to keep students with reading barriers engaged and help accelerate their learning. Many have a range of offerings including: 

  • Free or paid access 
  • TTS, human-narrated audiobooks, or a combination of both
  • Thousands to millions of books 

To help you make sense of the options that would work best for your students, read Ebooks Everywhere! How to Make Sense of the Options.

Supporting Resources:
 

Supporting Underserved Communities 

Children lined up in the classroom.

 

Students with special needs in communities of color, low income, Native American, and rural areas have faced persistent reading gaps compared to their peers. The pandemic has accentuated these reading gaps. Learning equity, especially when it comes to reading, is imperative for students in underserved communities. When looking for reading solutions, consider these factors:

  • Effectiveness – identify tools that have been proven to work for students like yours, are easy to use, and are vouched for by teachers, students, and parents.
  • Cost – find effective AND affordable tools that fit within tight school and family budgets. Fortunately, many effective tools are free!
  • Culturally relevant books – feeling connected is important and finding books that relate to your students will make learning more engaging
  • Offline access – students may not have constant on-demand access to Internet and devices. Make sure tools can be accessed on a variety of platforms and can work offline.
  • Extra support – See if libraries and computer labs can be open before or after school to allow students to access technology for learning

Learn more about supporting underserved communities.

 

An All-in-One Reading Solution  

Bookshare® is a FREE online library of over million books that makes reading easier. With Bookshare, students who struggle with reading can access books in alternative formats and customize their reading experience to suit their individual learning style. Bookshare supports almost any reading device and students can read their books offline when an Internet connection is not available.  

 

Other Online Sources for Educators