The COVID-19 pandemic significantly has impacted human lives across the world. It has affected individuals economically, physically, socially, emotionally, and educationally. The pandemic impacted K-12 education through common occurrences such as school closure, remote learning, social distancing at school and on the school bus, losing family members, and losing caregivers, either through sickness or for financial reasons, etc.
Most children have had their routines interrupted. The children that seem to be most impacted by the disruption are students with special education needs. An achievement gap is among the most significant challenges these students face due to the pandemic. Samantha Cole, a special education teacher and behavior therapist, says “Due to a decrease in special education services resulting from the pandemic, there has been a great regression in the level of performance of most students with special needs. Most students with special needs require one-on-one support. On a regular basis, when students return from the summer holidays, most times, there is a gap in their learning experience. The pandemic has caused a far greater gap, one that will take quite a while to be corrected.”
Other challenges resulting from the pandemic include social-emotional challenges and stressors. Studies have shown that mental health impacts academic achievement and that stress affects the chemical and physical structure of the brain, which eventually affects cognitive skills such as attention, concentration, memory, and creativity. Apryl Tuzo, a learning support teacher at the Bermuda Institute, reported that “School closures, even when temporary, carry high social, emotional, and economic challenges. The disruptions they cause touch people across communities, but their impact is particularly most severe for disadvantaged boys and girls and their families.”
In helping these children to cope with the challenges resulting from the pandemic, there are a few strategies that one can use:
Develop relationships. Due to the challenges of the pandemic, students sometimes become fearful, anxious, or even uncertain about the future. This experience can be disruptive to the routine and can build such a barrier that it can limit the ability to learn. Teachers can be a source of strength and support against the adverse effects of trauma by helping to establish a safe and supportive environment for learning. They can help students to be resilient, to learn to face their fears confidently, and to face the future positively. This can be done through chapel programs, Bible lessons, extracurricular activities, and other strategies that center around relationship building.
Have frequent assessments. Formative assessments can be done by gathering evidence about what students know and can do for the purpose of aligning instruction to improve learning and monitoring student progress. The teacher needs to constantly assess students and be cognizant of each student’s level of learning. This should be done to gauge how much extra support the student will need, how much time should be spent reviewing previous lessons, and what new topics can be covered. By this, the teacher would be able to track performance and identify any learning gap that might exist.
Provide differentiated instruction. Students come into the classroom with different experiences and skill sets. In the differentiated classroom, the teacher can attend to the needs of students, either through individual instruction or a small group setting. This can be done through content (what students should learn), through process (how students go about making sense of ideas and information), or through product (how students demonstrate what they have learned). Additionally, some strategies of differentiating are conferencing with students online, or having whole class sessions, small group sessions, and individual student sessions via phone, Google Meet, Zoom conferencing, and live-streamed lessons.
For the vast majority of schools, the abrupt transition to online learning left little time to plan a strategy that could adequately meet every student’s needs. However, whether online or face-to-face, a fundamental method to use is “knowing your student.” To know your student is to understand their learning style, culture, home environment, and their ethnicity. This provides an opportunity for the teacher to comprehend why the student behaves the way he or she does and provides an avenue for a bonding teacher-student relationship.
Through these strategies, teachers can work to maximize learning outcomes. When teachers understand students’ needs and scaffold them through the learning process, learning gaps will be bridged, students will be more satisfied with their achievement, and there will be greater proficiency in the teaching/learning experience.