Covid Has Given Us The ‘Go Button’ To Make Learning More Accessible
The 2019-2020 school year ushered teachers into a new era in education. Outdated teaching and learning practices, long due for an overhaul, were pushed to the side as stakeholders embraced new ways to facilitate virtual instruction.
School leaders recognized that teaching had to look, sound, and be different. Therefore, they gave teachers a metaphorical ‘go button’ to find and adopt 21st-century appropriate instructional approaches that could reach their student audience wherever they were learning.
This ‘go button,’ a figure of speech for getting instant approval to do what is best in the situation, gave teachers and students agency to take risks in implementing new edtech tools, collaboration strategies, and streamlined processes for housing, completing and turning in assignments. Covid-19 restrictions have opened the door for teachers to take instructional practices to the next level – to refine archaic approaches and make learning accessible for all students.
While teachers had unconventional freedom, schools explored many dynamic teaching strategies and resources.
In this current educational climate, educators can’t afford to go back to recycling the same lesson plans and materials year after year.
Instead, they must do what is suitable for students and be empowered to press their ‘go button’ to serve their kids best.
Just Say Go: Making Learning More Accessible
Accessible learning refers to education where all learners can “acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services,” regardless of their ability level (Joint Letter US Department of Justice and US Department of Education, June 29, 2010). With the advent of distance learning-friendly tech tools, teaching and learning are more accessible than ever.
Let’s press ‘GO’ this year to continue making choices that benefit our students. Read below for five ways educators can influence student outcomes this year!
Press Go for 100% of Students 100% of the Time
Make School-Issued Tech Access A Must
To give students equitable footing, they will need consistent access to reliable technology and internet connection. Every student has to have a computer or laptop and continuous internet service both at home and at school to close the tech access gap throughout the nation effectively. Unfortunately, many students lack access to this necessary technology, further increasing disparities between communities.
In low socioeconomic status districts where families do not have the financial budget to purchase both the technology as well as the unforgiving monthly payments for high-speed internet, here are some ways to PRESS GO on behalf of students:
● Push for school or community-funded laptops for every student, or allow students to take school tech home
● Find initiatives to support families in acquiring hotspots or coupons for monthly internet access
Optimize Reading Features
Reading online is a very different experience from reading on paper. With the ability to engage with a variety of fonts, text sizes, background and contrast colors, as well as translation and read-aloud supports, such as those embedded throughout the Glose reading platform, technology inherently makes reading more manageable and more accessible for students.
ESL students and students with learning disabilities, vision impairment, and even those recovering from traumatic brain injuries can utilize these features with class readings, completing assignments, or working on research to augment their learning experience. Stakeholders can PRESS GO when they:
● Choose edtech tools that have specialized built-in features to make reading more enjoyable for all
● Walk all students through how, why, and when to use each feature to make reading more accessible
Rethink Paper, Notebooks, Folders, and Portfolios
Interestingly enough, it has taken Covid to make paper a thing of the past. Paper worksheets, notebooks, and folders are unsanitary nuisances in the classroom.
They are easy to misplace and can therefore negatively impact student grades, and they also take away valuable shelf and backpack space. Teachers had to use online tools to organize all of these materials when teaching remotely, but now see the benefit for long-term use!
Housing class lessons, assignments, projects, folders, and portfolios online keeps students’ materials organized, reducing their chance of getting misplaced. In addition, students can access materials wherever they are by providing a central hub for obtaining and turning in resources. PRESS GO to:
● Consistently use a Learning Management System to house and grade all student assignments
● Teach students to use online folders to organize portfolios of their best work throughout the year
Flex Out of Unnecessary Deadlines
Every year, deadlines have caused many students to have nervous breakdowns. Even the word ‘deadline’ has a stressful mix of meanings! An assignment shouldn’t be due just because the class period was over; instead, students should turn in assignments when the teacher needs to assess the work. When teachers open up their classrooms by employing flexible timelines for turning in assignments, they invest in student agency.
Rethinking due dates gives students agency and control over their work, which creates buy-in and accountability. This practice also teaches students responsibility for meeting requirements, preparing them for the workforce’s expectations.
PRESS GO to rethink the scheduling of turning in assignments:
● Set weekly due dates for assignments and share the reason behind their timing
● Provide students ample time and supports throughout the week to work on assignments and meet each due date
Make Meetings Virtual
Video Conferencing tools are adapted to meet the needs of teachers and students. Several features have come about to support learning in a remote setting: virtual whiteboards, chat sections, breakout rooms, and customization of backgrounds maximizes time spent during meetings and collaborative activities.
Many students and families will rely on this technology to stay involved in school events this upcoming year.
Virtual meetings can be a boon for families that struggle to take off of work to participate in school events. In addition, students who can’t attend extracurricular activities outside of the school day, students with lengthy absences, or those wanting to collaborate in different classrooms or grade levels within the school building can also benefit from virtual gatherings.
PRESS GO to make meetings accessible:
● Employ video conference option during every after- or before- school club or extracurricular
● Facilitate parent-teacher conferences through both in-person and virtual formats
Education in the pandemic teaching and learning era saw educators pressing their proverbial ‘go button’ and doing what’s best for their kids. Teachers became innovators by seeking tech tools to attract and maintain student attendance and participation with remote lessons. Teachers will continue to redefine what education looks like as they continue to use their influence to make learning more accessible.
“What is Accessibility?” National Center on Accessible Educational Materials, CAST. https://aem.cast.org/get-started/defining-accessibility
Integrating Learner Agency
Learner agency happens when students take active command of their learning through deliberate participation in their classroom communities.
Meaningful Engagement With Texts Through Close Reading
Through close reading, written works are examined multiple times for deeper understanding as learners naturally progress into higher levels of knowledge and cognitive processing.
Building Literacy-Rich Environments
Literacy-rich environments focus on students being actively and meaningfully engaged in reading, writing, speaking, and listening with consideration of both digital and written formats.