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NCLD and Understood Develop Free Distance Learning Toolkit

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At Understood and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, we have been working to understand the challenges that distance learning has presented to students who learn differently.

In response, we have developed a practical resource to help educators more effectively support students with learning differences, and in turn all learners, during distance learning. Today, we are eager to share that resource with you and the world at large in our new  “Distance learning toolkit: Key practices to support students who learn differently.”

This toolkit revisits the key teacher mindsets and teaching practices we identified in our 2019 research, “Forward together: Helping educators unlock the power of students who learn differently,” which AACTE supported as an advisory member of the report. We returned to those mindsets and practices and asked experts: Are these effective methods of instruction just as effective in distance learning? And if so, how can educators apply them? The toolkit answers these questions and more. Below are a few key insights.

Key Findings and Messages

  • Evidence-based teacher practices—like explicit instruction, Universal Design for Learning, and collaboration with families—can be a lifeline during distance learning, especially when teaching students who learn differently. But these practices look different in a virtual environment and teachers have to learn new strategies and skills to implement them effectively. This toolkit helps teachers understand both the why and how of eight key teacher practices that positively impact outcomes for students who learn differently.
  • Three teacher mindsets are critical. We also confirmed the importance of three teacher mindsets from our original research—positive orientation toward inclusion, strong sense of self-efficacy, and growth mindset. The toolkit can help teachers reflect on and shift their mindsets so they feel better prepared to help all kids thrive.
  • It is more important than ever for teachers to have time for self-reflection, planning, and professional learning. Distance learning has required even experienced teachers to learn how to use new tools and strategies for engaging students. A growth mindset—one of the key teacher mindsets identified in our research—can help teachers continually improve their practice to teach all students. To do this effectively, though, teachers will need more time and resources. 

The toolkit includes an easy-to-navigate guide to help educators identify a few high-leverage practices to implement, and features built-in activities for reflection and growth. For educator preparation faculty, these resources can be employed in your own classrooms as well as delivered to your candidates to employ in their clinical experiences. We hope that you find the resource useful and encourage you to share it widely with your colleagues! 

Trynia Kaufman is senior manager of editorial research at Understood and Meghan Whittaker is director of policy and advocacy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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