Seeing the exponential growth of personalized learning across the nation, NCLD set out to bring the voice of students with disabilities and their families into the discussion and determine how personalized learning systems can meet their needs. NCLD initiated a process to help educators, families, and policymakers understand these systems and to identify strategies for educators and leaders at all levels to better meet the needs of and appropriately include students with disabilities in personalized learning.
Over the course of a year, NCLD gathered top special education and personalized learning experts from across the country – including educators, advocates, researchers, state and district leaders, school leaders, and parents of children with disabilities – and engaged them in discussions to learn and explore ways to ensure that personalized learning systems integrate and benefit students with disabilities. NCLD also conducted one-on-one expert interviews and participated in site visits to schools using personalized learning.
We surveyed more than 1,000 parents to find out what they thought of personalized learning. Most had not heard much about it, but almost every parent wanted to learn more! Here’s how parents can learn about personalized learning in their own community and get involved to make sure these systems meet the needs to students with disabilities.
Find out if your school has any personalized learning initiatives and how they might impact your child’s education.
- Find out what your school calls its personalized learning initiative and how long it has been in place.
- Ask your principal who in your school is responsible for implementing personalized learning initiatives.
If your school is implementing personalized learning, ask how it meets the needs of students with disabilities.
- Ask your principal or special education director how your school and district incorporate practices that support students with disabilities.
- Join with other interested parents and meet with your special education director and the personalized learning team to discuss how they can collaborate.
Take advantage of the new ways parents can engage in personalized learning if your district is implementing it.
- If your school uses online systems, portals or apps to collect and monitor student work, you can track your child’s progress and ensure that high expectations are part of the everyday learning experience.
- Many personalized learning systems produce valuable data. Ask your child’s teacher if data from your child’s schoolwork might be useful in making sure your child is receiving the right supports.
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General educators, special educators and specialized instructional support personnel play critical roles in personalized learning systems—roles that are always changing and expanding. Educators track competencies, set goals and support students along their individual journeys.
Educators need stronger supports and improved training in:
- Effective instructional practices for students with disabilities
- Executive functioning skills and challenges
- Using data to inform instructional strategies and choices
- Explicit instruction of self-advocacy skills
Collaborate with colleagues and experts in your school.
- Share expertise and find strategies to support students with disabilities.
Proactively engage and connect with parents.
- Engage with parents as partners by setting aside time to communicate about personalized learning in your classroom and receive feedback. Explain to parents what personalized learning means for their child and how all students’ needs will be met. Incorporate personalized learning highlights into your regular school-to-home communications.
Create opportunities to support and foster self-advocacy and decision-making skills in students.
- Build on the self-awareness that students gain from personalized learning to foster self-advocacy skills. Use explicit instruction and activites that will help students develop these skills in a safe, supportive environment.
Optimize technology and ensure accessibility for all students, adapted and tailored
to meet their individual needs.
- Ask your district for opportunities to receive professional development training on the use of technology to enhance learning for students with disabilities.
Provide opportunities for all students to learn through UDL.
- For students with disabilities to succeed in a personalized learning environment, educators must provide students with multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge. UDL is a framework that can help educators to implement this.
Monitor progress and provide interventions to keep students on track to meet their goals.
- MTSS is one framework that can be used to monitor, respond to, and make decisions about students’ needs. This is one way educators can ensure students with disabilities get supports they need to stay on track and move at their own pace.
Where learner profiles are used, be sure they inform a student’s IEP and guide learning.
- The IEP team should use the learner profile to inform the process of creating and updating the IEP each year. IEP teams should incorporate a strengths-based and student driven approach to instruction and learning, modeling it on successful learner profile components where appropriate.
As one of the biggest drivers of successful personalized learning systems, school and district leaders have an important role to play in ensuring that all students benefit from personalized learning.
Whichever type of personalized learning you choose to pursue in your school or district, be sure you have a clear vision and definition to guide your work. And consider how personalized learning aligns with other important frameworks in your school(s).
Early on, consider how your personalized learning system will meet the needs of the full range of students with disabilities.
- When planning, include members of the school or district who have expertise in working with students with disabilities. At the district level, the special education director should be deeply involved in planning and implementation. At the school, special educators and specialized instructional support personnel should be included.
Learn from others through collaboration and the creation of professional learning communities.
- It’s likely that someone else in your state has been exploring personalized learning. Reach out to learn about their work, ideas, challenges and successes.
Help parents understand how personalized learning can help students with disabilities succeed.
- Make parents part of your personalized learning implementation. Create opportunities for families (students and parents) to ask questions and provide input as you roll out personalized learning in your school or district.
Design competency-based systems in a way that allows for continued progress monitoring.
- MTSS is one way to track student progress and provide increasing levels of support and interventions for students with disabilities and those who may fall behind their peers.
Evaluate the roles of special educators and specialized instructional support personnel.
- Special educators and specialized instructional support personnel can add value to all school staff by sharing their expertise and serving as coaches for general educators.
- Make sure their time and expertise are dispersed throughout a school or district in a way that maximizes results for students.
Provide continuous, needs-based support to help educators meet the needs of students with disabilities. All educators should receive training in:
- Executive functioning and how challenges with these skills may impact students with disabilities; and
- The effective use of technology for students with disabilities.
Adopt hiring practices that prioritize the skills you’ll need.
- Seek individuals who can implement personalized learning, familiarity with technology and experience working with students with disabilities.
Align existing UDL and MTSS frameworks with the school’s personalized learning system.
- Make sure educators understand how these systems can work with personalized learning to provide effective instruction and supports for students with disabilities
Make sure personalized learning initiatives are sustainable.
- Districts can choose one dedicated staff member to develop a deep understanding of federal and state funding, seek alternative and innovative funding, and train and support others on the topic.
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Personalized learning imagines a classroom where all students receive a customized learning experience that enables them to thrive. To achieve this, the existing framework in schools must become more flexible in certain areas so that personalized learning systems can truly enhance the learning experience of all students. Federal, state, and local education leaders can work collaboratively with policymakers to eliminate barriers and design a system where personalized learning can flourish and positively impact all students, including those with disabilities.
Use existing state and federal funds to support personalized learning initiatives.
- Districts should designate staff who can develop a deep understanding of how federal and state funds can be used to support personalized learning, and train and support other members of the school community on those topics.
- States and the federal government should offer innovative pilots for districts to fund new systems and expand existing systems of personalized learning that fully meet the needs of students with disabilities.
Enhance teacher preparation to meet the demands of personalized learning systems.
- Teacher preparation programs can provide candidates with additional hands-on experience with students with disabilities and help candidates gain skills in collaboration with colleagues to meet student needs.
- Teacher preparation programs can partner with local districts to provide students with year-long residencies or student teaching programs to gain classroom experience using personalized learning in the education of students with disabilities.
Incentivize continuing education and professional development.
- States can offer “badges” or “micro-credentialing” as a way to incentivize educators to seek higher-level training and reach more advanced competencies related to personalized learning for students with disabilities
Strategies to ensure that all students benefit from personalized learning include:
- Schools can ensure that students have access to appropriate accommodations for all assessments.
- States can develop procurement guidelines to encourage design and creation of software, hardware and technology that can serve all students.
- Federal policymakers can increase investments in research on personalized learning and its implications for students with disabilities.
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