Education Accessibility for Students with Disabilities During COVID-19 Crisis
With Schools Across the Nation Closed Indefinitely, Family Members are Now Transitioning into Full-Time Teachers for their Child
With at least 41.7 million school students now impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Parents, caregiving, and babysitters now have a new “almost” full time job, at-home teachers.
As these families across the United States prepare and adjust to the at-home learning model, many parents ask how they can prepare to support and continue their child’s learning. Supportively, the education community has provided numerous resources and tools to help. Unfortunately many of these resources and tools don’t represent the ‘ALL’ learner. So how do we support a parent who is transitioning to a teacher role with a child/student with a neurological difference?
“Balancing parenting roles while helping your child learn at home can be difficult. Focus on emphasizing your child’s strengths as you go can serve as an anchor for you both,” said Todd Lash, Advisory Board Member for CSforALL’s Accessibility Pledge. “The way we behave and respond to challenges can be impactful as well. This is the time to model how to productively deal with struggle from a strengths-based approach, and talking with your child explicitly about that process can go a long way in helping them learn, now and in the future.”
Many of these students now being educated at home are custom to receive extra support in their daily school routine. To continue learning environments that are the most beneficial for students with learning disabilities, we as a CS Community need to share and support the families and students in their at-home transition. At CSforALL, we believe that the “ALL” needs to include these students, not just in CS Ed, but in ALL Education. Below are some general tips and suggestions for these home educators.
Students with different learning needs don’t just need the answer.
Often the misconception when supporting students with disabilities is giving them the answer, making it easier and faster for both parties. But they really need encouragement, scaffolding, and our help to break tasks and assignments into smaller pieces that feel more achievable. Consider the following strategies and resources:
- One recommendation from We Are Teachers is to give students “talk time”, ask your child to explain the problem, setup, or even just one piece of it to help them process the problem.
- Instructional coach Ms. Houser recommends using read alouds (read the problem or directions out loud) and sentence starters (I know ___ because ___). Both of these strategies ask students to verbalize their thinking which can reduce the“where to start” anxiety. These strategies are super helpful in STEM (and CS) since many problems are multi-step.
You can even watch a quick video on scaffolding in early childhood from Head Start. Together these strategies can help a “stuck” student persist, make incremental progress, and even get to a solution without you needing to provide the answer. For older children, being explicit about the strategies you are using can help them use that strategy in the future. For example, “We are going to talk our way through this problem to help us slow down our thinking and see the next step.” (By the way — talking through a problem isn’t just for students — professional computer scientists use this all the time and many even keep rubber ducks on their desk for this purpose)
Be prepared for self-paced environments to not work for your child.
Self paced environments are not always created with universal design for learning principles in mind. Here are some ways you can support them while they navigate digital learning spaces (Adopted from Greer, Rowland, and Smith, 2014):
- Find capacity for direct instruction — Can you Skype with a teacher or support staff to get past a block? Can you step away from the platform and teach the concept before students return to the self-paced environment?
- Accommodate text — many students with individualized education plans (IEPs) have a testing modification where directions are read to them. Are there ways for the computer to use ‘text to speech’ tools to read directions to students?
- Employ a “use, modify, create” paradigm — computer scientists often learn a new algorithm or programming language by using something that was already created to see how it works, making small modifications to existing code (like Scratch re-mixing) to build confidence in what they can do, before jumping into full blown creation.
Overall, one of the first options to support your learner is to reach out to their teacher and brainstorm ideas. At this point in the year, the teacher may already have a toolbox of strategies that work with your learner. In this new at-home transition, it may feel isolating and overwhelming, but there are highly qualified educators and resources that can support and help your learners during this time, feel comfortable reaching out!
While these resources are not specific to computer science education, they are useful for all school subjects matters, including CS. Feel free to share in the comments below or use the hashtag #AccessCSforALL to join a conversation about supporting ALL student learning in the era of social distancing.
- Teaching ALL Computational Thinking through Inclusion and Collaboration
- Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities
- University of Washington Center, Access CSforALL
- Tech Kids Unlimited offers Sunday Workshops and virtual Parent Talk with a social worker with experience in educational coaching
CSforALL thanks the corporations and foundations that support strategic initiatives aligned with our vision to support local change, serve students with rigor and equity, and build the CS education movement. The ongoing work of integrating accessibility into the CSforALL movement is supported by Northrop Grumman Corporation through financial donations to CSforALL.