4 Opportunities in Blended Special Education

I participated in a webinar, “Getting Smarter About SPED: 5 Blended Learning Decisions & Implications,” with our friends from PresenceLearning today.

The subject was blended learning and special education. Developing or adapting school models that blend the best of online and face-to-face learning holds real promise. There are four reasons I’m excited about this topic:

  1. The opportunity to better address special needs with touch and assistive technologies and new apps;

  2. The emerging opportunity to create an individual learning plan for every student building on the lessons (good and bad) from special education IEPs;

  3. Distributed workforce strategies to better match specialists and special needs; and

  4. Creating more personalized learning environments that better address the needs of all students and resulting in lower identification and faster exits of special needs students.

Clay Whitehead, of PresenceLearning, the online related services provider, facilitated the webinar. I was joined by Robin Wise, Blended Regions Special Service Manager at K12, and Maria Carr, Special Education Coordinator for IEM.

We discuss the 5 critical decisions that schools and districts need to make (as outlined in the recently released, new & improved Blended Learning Implementation Guide) while considering special needs students:

  • Goals: personalized learning for all students can increase chances for inclusion and more dynamic (and possibly shorter duration) IEPs for special needs students.

  • Model: lab rotation models can provide more time with specialists (see feature on Rocky Mount Prep) while class rotation models may provide inclusion and fewer transitions between rooms.

  • Platform & content: I recommended the use of an engaging and adaptive learning products (e.g., Rocketship uses i-Ready, Dreambox, and ST Math) for all students at least 120 minutes a week. Norman Basch said, “A great digital offering for autism spectrum students is The Social Express, an animated, interactive education curriculum that teaches children how to think about and manage social situations.” While there are are other promising apps for kids on the spectrum, there remains great impact opportunity to develop a special needs app fund.

  • Devices: we discussed the pros and cons of tablets and laptops. While I’m a fan of the production benefits of laptops, touch technology appears very promising for many special needs students.  Marie noted that special needs students need whatever kind of access is called for in their IEP (which reminds me of a quote from Riverside’s David Haglund, “Bring what you have, we’ll make sure you get what you need.”)

  • Staffing & development: The potential to work in teams with on-demand support will improve working conditions for teachers and make most blended schools more responsive to all students, especially those with special needs.

All of these decisions warrant consideration of children with special needs–just one of the many reasons that system heads need to lead community conversation about the shift to blended learning.

A listener asked what practices and features of blended learning might best motivate students to persevere and complete their blended learning courses?  I suggested that culture is the most important–a fortified environment of high expectations and strong supports.  Game-based learning has the potential to boost persistence.  Instructional flexibility that provides accommodations for all students is key–and blended environments often afford more opportunities for customization.

Robin shared the story of how she is seeing special education students who used to do anything to avoid going to the cafeteria for lunch because they had no one to sit with since they spent so much time in separate classrooms. Come lunch time they just couldn’t find any friends they could relate to. Those same students are now going to lunch with everyone without the social anxiety. Blended Learning models have allowed special needs to students to be present and fully connected to the classroom community throughout the day, instead of spending large amounts of time removed from their classmates.
PresenceLearning, Dreambox, Mind Research Institute and Curriculum Associates are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Valerie Chernek

Hi Tom! Super "Splendid" article! Wanted to share this blog from Bookshare Mentor Teacher, Jennifer Appleton, a Reading Teacher of kids with special needs and print disabilities. It's all about how she "blends" reading curriculum with digital accessible books, technologies and sensory activities. http://bookshareblog.wpengine.com/2013/09/blendedlearning-bookshare/

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