As K–12 teachers seek to create classrooms where all students have an equal opportunity to learn, they must be mindful of physical and digital elements that could potentially be a barrier for students with special learning needs.
The physical layout of a space can make all the difference for a successful learning experience. After all, when we walk into a room, we immediately have a sense of the experience we might have in the space.
Schools everywhere are transforming their classrooms into modern learning environments. As they do, the following tips can help to optimize the environment for all students.
Declutter for a More Focus-Friendly Learning Environment
One way to increase the accessibility of classrooms is to remove any unnecessary distractions. Recent research shows excessive visual stimuli can be detrimental to students’ ability to focus and retain information.
Many traditional classrooms are filled with colorful bulletin boards and brightly designed posters. While aesthetically pleasing, these may be a distraction to some students, such as those with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
This doesn’t mean classroom walls have to be bare, of course, but educators should be mindful of the overall effect.
This less-is-more approach might sound like it would make a room less inviting, but the opposite can be true. Blank canvases, chalkboard walls and other surfaces could invite students to draw pictures that relate to the day’s activities.
For English language learners, labels that include a picture of an object next to the appropriate words in both English and the students’ native language can support language acquisition.
Seating arrangements also matter. Classrooms filled with rows of desks can be difficult to navigate for students with mobility issues, and they can impede collaboration. Adjustable seating and sit-stand desks are a great alternative that can be used by all students, while still allowing everyone to easily move about the room.
Tap Tech Tools to Create a Learner-Friendly Digital Environment
Just as educators should be mindful of distractions in a physical space, they should also pay attention to the quality of digital classroom environments and assignments.
If a presentation, assignment or class website is overloaded with clip art, unreadable fonts and other bells and whistles, students may find the information less accessible.
Educators must consider additions to assignments to ensure they are accessible for all students. If an online worksheet includes embedded links, for example, these should carry alternative text for students who use a screen reader.
Many familiar classroom tools offer guidance on accessible online assignments. Classrooms using Microsoft Teams can peruse Microsoft’s accessibility blog, which outlines best practices for using the education suite to make lesson plans more inclusive.
Teachers can also find tips online, such as CDW•G K–12 Education Strategist David Andrade’s blog, “Educational Technology Guy.”
There’s no doubt modern learning environments are advancing education. The only question is how to ensure these spaces help move all students forward, regardless of their needs.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.