LAWRENCE – The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new world of challenges for education. But a new study from the University of Kansas shows that the voices and experiences of students who are already among the most marginalized can help lead the way in making the strengths of young people the center of education.
Students with disabilities already faced a disproportionate amount of inequity in the U.S. education system before the pandemic. The researchers interviewed students from this population about their experiences during the pandemic and found that the students relied on their own strengths, resilience and self-determination. The findings not only underscore the importance of helping young people build resilience and ownership over their education and future, but they can also inform return to education in person, particularly highlighting the importance student self-determination and action.
âWe are increasingly seeking lifelong self-determination, especially for younger students, including those in middle and high school. We wanted to assess their experiences of self-determination and how they overcame the barriers they encountered with school, home and social environments during the pandemic to determine how self-determination and resilience intersect, âsaid Sheida Raley, professor. Special education research assistant at KU and the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities, one of the co-authors of the study.
The researchers interviewed more than 20 students aged 11 to 17 with various disabilities for the study. It was published in the Journal of Education for Students at Risk and led by Jessica Toste of the University of Texas, working with Raley and Karrie Shogren, director of the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities at KU; Jessica Gabriela Coelho of the University of Texas at Austin; and Samantha Gross Towes of California State University Northridge.
The researchers found that participants’ reactions to the pandemic experience fell into three broad themes: adaptability, heightened social awareness, and identity with disability.
âThese young people bring to the table strengths that are not always recognized in special education services and supports. Understanding and enabling young people to express how they are using these strengths during the pandemic can tell us how to best support all students and leverage student strengths and self-determination as we return to more and more in-person classes. Shogren said. âThe students told us how they were able to adapt, problem-solve, adjust their goals, and leverage support during the pandemic. This highlights the importance of leveraging students who, during the transition, while providing supports that meet their identified needs and anxieties about the pandemic and its consequences.
While the study participants experienced difficulties with distance learning, quarantine, and social distancing, they also showed how they rely on their personal resilience and self-determination to overcome challenges. Students highlighted how they used their abilities and skills associated with self-determination to be in closer contact with their teachers to ask questions, receive technical support and complete homework. This increased interaction improved their relationships with their teachers, although students often reported missing in-person social interactions with teachers and their classmates. However, they have always found ways to interact with their peers virtually through social media, video chats, and other methods, the authors noted. Respondents also indicated an increase in self-awareness, as evidenced by an increased willingness to talk with teachers about their individual learning needs.
âThe students have shown that they can learn self-advocacy skills that they maybe didn’t have to use before the pandemic, when they saw their teachers regularly,â Raley said.
Students also demonstrated an increase in disability awareness and supports needed to achieve their learning goals. They discussed the feeling of being empowered to discuss exactly what supports they are receiving, when they had encouraging teachers and learning opportunities. Respondents also indicated that they understood the mental health effects of the pandemic and the resulting isolation, but noted that their families became more involved in their support network during distance learning. In some cases, families became much more involved in their children’s schoolwork, others indicated that they had more interaction with their siblings and their respective education, since they had previously attended schools separated.
As for their personal experiences during the pandemic, students generally responded that they had learned patience, which also helped them learn to adapt when life changes. The experience also opened their eyes to social issues, both nationally and internationally, including public health and disability issues. Students also developed skills of upregulating emotions, especially in cases where they might become frustrated or upset.
The results show not only how resilient young people with disabilities can be, but also how they used their abilities and skills associated with self-determination, such as problem-solving and self-advocacy, to pursue their goals in life. school and after graduation during the pandemic. The results are consistent with research showing students who experience the Self-determined learning model show better academic results.
âThese results tell us again how important it is for students to set their own goals,â said Shogren. âIf we can integrate this into our program, young people can overcome any challenges they face, even challenges like the pandemic.
The educational and personal experiences of the students participating in the study also support the approach of giving young people ownership of learning, as opposed to setting mandates or telling them what is expected of them and how they will achieve this without directly engaging them in identification. and set goals for their learning goals.
âWe need to let the students lead the conversation and tell us what support they need to navigate new learning models,â said Raley. “It can benefit all students, as well as teachers, to identify the support students need to progress toward their goals that are important to them in life and learning.”
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