How Personalized Learning can Help Disabled Students Reach CCSS

“Students with disabilities… must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers.”

    -Common Core Standards

The Common Core aims to create a “culture of high expectations” for disabled students. Although disabled students cannot be expected to be on the same grade-level as their nondisabled peers, they can reach their potential as learners if they have the proper tools.

That’s why the Common Core requires three things that will help disabled students achieve higher English and math standards:

-Supports and related services designed to meet unique student needs and enable their access to general education curriculum

-An Individualized Education Program with annual goals that will help them be grade-level

-Prepared and qualified teachers and aids that provide high-quality, evidence-based, individualized instruction and support.

So, who are we talking about when we say “disabled student?”

The term “disabled student” covers dozens of different limitations (as seen in the graph above from The National Center for Education Statistics) with only one similarity- they all have something that keeps them from benefitting from general education programs.

At Positive Learning, we also believe that personalized learning is the future for all students, especially underserved students. It provides students the flexibility that they need to learn, to be assessed, and to reach standards at the same time.

What are the pros of PL for special education students?

Many educators agree that personalized learning can help disabled students because it inspires a love of learning in all students. It awakens a sense of responsibility, ownership, and purpose. Students, especially some disabled students, can’t be expected to direct their own learning, but if they feel like they are involved in the learning process, they will be more motivated to participate and give their best.

Personalized learning, especially when facilitated by devices, can also help reduce special education stigmas. According to The Pacer Center, many parents do not want to admit to their students being disabled because of the social and academic consequences that follow. Disabled students are often separated from their nondisabled peers in special education classrooms, creating a clear divide between the disabled and not. Pl can help students better interact with their classmates as they participate in similar, yet specifically tailored, activities.

Going beyond the emotional and personal benefits, PL is the only way that disabled students can receive instruction tailored to their specific disabilities. PL also gives students who think differently multiple ways to show what they have learned. When students share what they learn they teach others, they solidify their own learning, and they receive recognition for their efforts.

What are the general concerns about PL in special education programs?

Educators and administrators agree that PL programs are not perfect; many schools are just beginning to test the waters. But, many educators worry that personalized learning is not a realistic solution because some students are not capable of increased independence or responsibility. That’s true. The educator needs to decide how much initiative a disabled students needs to take so he or she can develop decision-making skills, self-confidence, and problem-solving abilities. If they are never given the chance, they can’t develop necessary life skills that will suddenly become crucial after graduation.

Many also say that personalized learning creates more paperwork, more data, and more time away from day-to-day classroom activities. Special education teachers are used to a constant overload of paperwork; it makes sense that they don’t want more! It’s true that personalized learning involves teachers frequently evaluating student performance and adjusting lesson plans on a needs-basis. However, if a teacher chooses to use an online program, the data is presented already analyzed, and the student is assigned more resources that can target their weaknesses. Technology can take away a lot of the burdens that would otherwise be placed on teachers’ shoulders.

But, this leads some educators to believe that personalized learning relies too much on technology. Granted, technology, to some extent, is required in the classroom. It records scores, tracks progress, and keeps educators connected. How much technology is integrated into the classroom, however, should be left to the individual teacher. If a student would benefit from a certain activity or a little bit more independence, online activities can be a great option. If a certain student struggles with a concept, he could complete an activity meant to reinforce that subject while remaining supervised and assisted by a teacher or aid.

The takeaway

Thirty-eight states are already implementing  personalized learning into their education policies. They are having success as students learn at their own pace in a structured and challenging environment. In order for disabled students to reach their potential and Common Core standards, students need the innovative techniques that personalized learning and inspired educators can provide.