A Closer Look at Evidence Based Distance Learning

On August 4, 2020, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) hosted a live-streamed webinar about resources and practices to support the continuity of learning during COVID-19 for children with disabilities.  This webinar shared a variety of strategies and resources that are useful to both educators and parents navigating distance learning.

Each of the panelists offered different resources and strategies from various sources, but there was a common theme present among the strategies: evidence-based practices.  Students with disabilities are more likely to have experienced regression as a result of the recent school closures.  Because of this, it is especially important that school districts provide evidence-based instruction, regardless of whether this instruction is delivered via distance learning.  

Furthermore, it is important that school districts take steps to ensure that their students are benefitting from online instruction.  School districts should ensure that students have access to technology and the internet so that they can participate in online instruction and should check in with students who are not attending online instruction.  It is also important that school districts collaborate with parents to provide online learning opportunities.

For students who will continue distance-learning in the fall, parents should rely on routine to create a safe, predictable, and supportive environment that will increase student success.

Regardless of whether local school districts will remain closed for the fall, parents and educators may benefit from resources that assist with at-home learning.  Each of the following resources was described in the webinar.

The CEEDAR Center provides many resources for families and educators, including a Family Guide to At-Home Learning that describes practical strategies for high level learning and behavioral support.  The CEEDAR Center and the University of Virginia encourage the use of High-Leverage Practices to help with implementation of online instruction and have produced a series of videos that explain these practices.

The National Center on Improving Literacy offers a variety of resources to families, including toolkits for implementing literacy practices, lesson plans, e-books and audio books for children, and an “Ask an Expert” feature that contains answers to literacy-related questions.

The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations has created and compiled extensive resources to support families in helping children cope with the challenges of the current pandemic.  These resources include tips and guides for helping children understand safety practices during the pandemic, explaining the school-closures to children, and managing stress and behavior.

The Michigan Department of Education offers COVID-19 online instructional resources that cover a wide variety of topics including early childhood, literacy, math, and special education.

The National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) offers various resources regarding the implementation of intensive intervention and data-based individualization in learning.  Among these resources are online learning modules to introduce intensive intervention and support distance-based learning.

Medically-vulnerable children with complex disabilities have had an especially difficult time accessing distance learning due to inabilities to directly interact with the technology, lack of engagement in lessons, and varying health status.  In response to these challenges, teachers and caregivers have collaborated to find innovative ways to provide supports and services to this population during COVID-19.  One particularly helpful model has been the use of individualized learning sessions by teaching assistants with participation by the child’s caregivers.  Some of the tools used to support this work include Project Core, which helps families navigate everyday routines while helping students learn symbolic communication skills, and Tar Heel Reader, which has a shared reader version, allowing educators to create interactive shared reading lessons.

For school districts that are reopening, the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS), in collaboration with the State Implementation and Scaling-Up of Evidence-Based Practices (SISEP) Center, the National Center on Improving Literacy, and Lead for Literacy, has produced a guide for returning to school during and after a crisis.  This guide outlines a multi-tiered systems of support framework to restart schools with effective, efficient, and relevant support for students, families, and educators.  It emphasizes a focus on basic practices to enhance social, emotional, and behavioral growth. 

For more information regarding these resources as well as specific teaching strategies, you can watch the webinar here.

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