IRIS, Page 8: Adapt Instruction

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What should Ms. Begay find out about her students before planning her curriculum units and lessons?

Page 8: Adapt Instruction

Now that Ms. Begay understands the learning process, she can better meet the needs of her students through instructional adaptations. Teachers often find it necessary to adapt their instruction for students with disabilities who are taught in the general education classroom if those students are to have full access to the general education curriculum. Adapting instruction can be defined as making changes to instruction in order to allow students equal access to the curriculum and to give them the opportunity to process and demonstrate what has been taught. Instructional adaptations can include both accommodations and modifications.

Accommodations include services or support related to a student’s disability that help her or him to fully access the subject matter and accurately demonstrate such knowledge without fundamental alterations to the standard or expectation of the assignment or test. An example of an accommodation might be the use of audiovisual supplements (e.g., video, overheads) in a lecture to accommodate students with auditory processing difficulties.

Modifications also include services or support related to a student’s disability in order to help a student access the subject matter and demonstrate knowledge, but in this case the services and supports do fundamentally alter the standard or expectation of the assignment or test. An example of a modification might see an instructor shortening a written assignment from five paragraphs to two because of the time needed to complete the assignment.

When you begin to consider which adaptations to make, it is important to consider students’ strengths and weaknesses.

Guidelines for Adapting Instruction

Adapting instruction supports learners with special needs. Teachers should consider several principles when making accommodations or modifications, including the importance of:

  • Maximizing individual student independence: The less he or she needs to rely on adults, the better.
  • Maximizing student participation in all class activities along with peers: Partial participation in every activity is much better than none, and the greater participation in each, the better.
  • Maximizing student skill development: Our job is to teach skills and understanding.
  • Minimizing the use of temporary solutions (Band-Aids): These do provide some support but they do not work toward attainment of the first three principles.

Teachers can begin to achieve these principles by analyzing five elements of their classroom to determine what adaptations need to be made to accommodate the needs of the student. These five elements are:

Examples of each element

Category Example
  • Allow both oral and written exams
  • Include both group and individual work
  • Make rules simpler
  • Post implicit rules
  • Read aloud from text together
  • Include class discussions with lectures
  • Assign note-takers during lectures
  • Use models to demonstrate concepts
  • Allow spellcheckers
  • Provide graphic organizers
  • Provide audiotapes of textbooks
  • Consider seating arrangements
  • Arrange furniture to accommodate students
  • Eliminate distractions (noise, distracting window views)

Once the teacher has analyzed these five classroom elements, he or she can begin to make the adaptations necessary to meet the needs of the students. This process can be time-consuming and complicated. Click on each icon below to learn about making classroom adaptations.

Adaptations may be necessary in the classroom to ensure the success of all students, especially those with disabilities. Click on each of the items in the list below for examples of adaptations required by students with various needs:

Arrange furniture with wide aisles – If you have a student who uses a wheelchair, find out the chair’s width and turning radius and create spaces between rows, furniture, and centers that are wide enough for the student to move comfortably.

Lesson plans address access to centers, stations, and other locations – As you plan your lessons, think about how students will get to the learning centers, work stations, or other locations in or out of the classroom so that any student’s mobility issues can be worked out prior to the activity. This may mean altering certain groupings, rotations through centers that go in a certain direction or in a certain order, or other design decisions.

Check equipment for accessibility – Investigate the equipment and materials in every center, station, and classroom work area to make certain that items are within reach and are operable by every student.

Use area district and state resources – Most school districts, and every state, will have resource personnel and materials, information, and other supports that will inform you about mobility issues and offer strategies and tips for shaping accessible environments. Ask your principal, special education department head or director, or the statewide parent clearinghouse in your state for contact information for those resources.

Add blocks (duct tape) – Use solid wood blocks to raise a table or other movable surface high enough to accommodate a student’s wheelchair or other assistive device. Affix the blocks to the table legs with enough duct tape to create a stable work surface.

Elevate seating – Sufficiently large but fairly hard cushions, wooden blocks affixed to the legs with duct tape (as above), or rollers attached to seat legs are just three ways that you might add height to a student’s seat.

Peer buddy – One way to help a student gain access to an out-of-reach item is to pair her or him with a peer buddy who can help relay or secure items.

Oral responses instead of writing (tape recorder) – Some students may need to respond orally (possibly into a tape recorder) at a desk or language/ listening center due difficulties in reaching a writing surface. If the recorder also presents challenges, a peer, paraeducator, or teacher can assist with its operation.

Portable lap desk – Many students who use wheelchairs or who don’t fit into a standard desk might prefer to use of a portable lap desk (tray) that fits inside of or over chair arms and is readily accessible for desk work.

Tape strips dispenser – Difficulty reaching and using a standard tape dispenser or tape roll might be alleviated by replacing it with a dispenser roll that is already cut into strips.

Velcro – Replacing items on hard-to-reach or uneven surfaces might be assisted by “matching” strips of Velcro on the surface and the item.

Peer buddy or class distributor – Peers, either individually or assigned as materials distributors, can help a student get or hang on to needed materials.

Placing materials in a convenient location – Lesson planning should address students’ special needs; one element of these might involve being careful to place materials in an easy-to-reach location for a specific student (Note: This is not usually a long-term strategy).

Boxtop for holding loose papers – Consider creating some type of “jig” that helps students to do their work; placing a boxtop inside, under, or temporarily on top of one’s desk or other work station is one strategy that some students might find helpful.

Carpenter’s apron – Students who have trouble organizing or holding on to multiple items needed for school work might benefit from a carpenter’s apron (fitted to size, of course) that allows easy storage and access to everything one might need for the period or day.

Giant pencil holder – Some students can more successfully hold pencils that are wrapped with a substance (usually rubber) that provides a means of better gripping the pencil.

Scissors with spring – Scissors fixed with a spring between the two handles so that they open automatically may allow easier cutting for some students.

Cords attached to desk – Items that tend to fall off the work surface are more easily retrieved if they’re attached to that surface by a cord.

Identify quiet area – a quiet classroom, closet, or hall space might help a student to escape excessive noise and stimulation.

Special jobs that don’t cause stress – Identifying and assigning low-stress jobs to students with low energy allows them to more fully participate in classroom life.

Couch – a couch, whether in the classroom or elsewhere, may offer the relaxation and comfort needed by a student at a particular time during the day.

Precut materials – Previously cut materials might help a student to participate in an activity without wearing down.

Buddy system – Assigning or asking peers to assist those who need help during any stage of an activity or the day might help a student with challenges to more fully participate. However, any buddy system must also include expectations and supports for students with disabilities to also contribute.

More at-home extensions – Students who cannot complete all their classwork might be able to do so at home, where they might have more time to spread out the workload.

Nap – As their energy levels depletes, many students benefit greatly from short naps (one or more) spread throughout the day.

Rest periods – As with naps, these may need to be built into the day for particular students.

Lesson planning accounts for strong periods – One way to accommodate students with chronic fatigue is to schedule their most challenging subjects during periods when they have the most energy.

Pillows or bean bag chair – Like a couch, these furnishings offer needed comfort or relaxation at certain times of the day, even during a class activity.

Tape record lessons when student is absent – Anticipating that a student is likely to have unexpected and numerous absences allows the team to identify supports so that she or he still passes; one of these might be to occasionally tape-record a lesson that involve extensive or complicated content or directions. The teacher, a peer, or another might be responsible to make sure this happens.

Note: Many of the strategies suggested for chronic fatigue issues might also work here.

Monitor lessons for activity levels and time durations – When planning lessons, teachers should be sure to consider students’ endurance capacities and adjust high-to-low activity demands accordingly (e.g., a cooperative learning activity that lasts 15 minutes, followed by individual seat work for 25 minutes).

Alternatives to high energy activities – Lesson plans should offer alternatives to high energy demands when needed by certain students, for instance asking the class to walk quickly to the library but suggesting that the student with limited endurance start out a few minutes earlier and take his or her time with a favorite peer, stopping along the way to carry out a strategic request. Another example might be to assign a computer version of a task (involving only keyboard and mouse, while seated) while others in the class create a large papier mache model from scratch.

Vary activity levels – Take care that no one level of activity (from high to low) is left out or sustained too long. All students need variation!

Assess field trip demands and problem-solve with the family (or student) – When planning off-site activities, you should discuss the potential demands with the student or family to ensure that you have considered and agreed upon good solutions for all likely issues. These might be the distance from Point A to Point B (thus signaling a need for appropriate transportation or assistance) or time demands (signaling a need for a possible rest period and site).

Place materials where student must reach for them – this action is intended to build the student’s arm strength.

Computer and piano keyboards – The strategic placement of commonly used classroom materials might help to develop a student’s dexterity and arm, wrist, and hand strength.

Energy patrol – Peers who check in on and prompt fine and gross motor (small and large muscles) movement might motivate students to move in ways that adults typically cannot.

Partially constructed work – Teachers or others can create assignments in order to motivate activity in specific motor areas so that the tasks in question seem less overwhelming.

Seating arrangements – Adding to the distance between the student’s desk and the teacher’s area, or between the student’s desk and a frequently used work station or learning center, might serve to prompt more movement.

Occupational therapist help – Ancillary services staff offer essential supports that often can be integrated into the daily classroom routine. Consult with your O.T. to see how he or she can help the student to expand his or her motor skills within a functional context. Of course, physical therapists may also provide very direct support to improve the student’s motor skills.

Clay – Whether creating an art object or simply molding the material into different shapes, students usually enjoy working with clay. Such activity may assist in strengthening fine motor strength and agility.

Times planned with choice of movement – Activities throughout the day might include a period with choices for movement, such as:

Times planned with choice of movement – Activities throughout the day might include a period with choices for movement, such as:

  • Running around the basketball court or track or gym
  • Taking materials to the office
  • Stretching or easy exercises at the desk
  • Jumping up and down
  • Playing sports
  • Physical education period

Choices like these give you with a chance to assess students’ interests and to give them the opportunity to develop a life skill (e.g., making appropriate choices).
Transitions incorporate movement – Transition periods (typically five minutes) between subjects, activities, or periods offer students the chance to both physically and mentally adjust to a new experience. Particularly when students have been sitting for a long period, movement will be extremely helpful to plan as part of the transition. Some transitions, like clean-up from an art activity, already involve movement. Other examples that students might do include:

  • Stretching or certain arm movements while students are lined up to go elsewhere
  • Songs that involve physical movements
  • “Simon Says” games
  • Favorite animal imitations

More kinesthetic activities in lessons – All students benefit from increased kinesthetic involvement in activities. One way to get students moving might be as simple as asking them to stand up, squat, and bend as they complete part of an activity. More to the point, integrating kinesthetic elements into otherwise stationary tasks creates another modality to enhance learning. Examples include:

  • Working together to create a map or diorama across a table
  • Drawing, painting, cutting, coloring, and tracing
  • Responding physically (e.g., hand or arm signals, holding up response cards or flags, jumping up, stamping feet) instead of, or along with, verbal responses

Pass out materials – Assigning students to pass out materials might give those who really need it the opportunity to move.

Block out excessive distractions – There are any number of creative ways to help students to block out noise and visual distractions. Spreading open a manila folder at one’s desk, creating a larger carrel to sit behind, using headphones, facing the wall, and sitting out in the hall to concentrate are just a few of the creative ways to eliminate distractions.

Remove excess materials or utensils – Most students with attention challenges will perform better if only the essential items for the task at hand are in front of them. Otherwise, extra items like scissors, miscellaneous papers, or markers may be more interesting than the target activity.

Prompt students privately to stay on task – You and the student might have a private system to help the student to focus on assigned work, such as a hand signal, a question, a mark on a chart, or a card placed on her or his desk.

Teach a self-monitoring strategy – A students’ attention will always be better managed if he or she takes responsibility for staying focused. Typical self-monitoring strategies that you could help the student learn include:

  • A chart at the desk which she or he marks every time you (or a device) signals (e.g., checkmark for being on task, an “X” for not; coloring in the block for that period; drawing a happy face in the designated block)
  • Moving a small item (e.g., paper clips, buttons) from one collection or location to another at certain time intervals
  • Using headphones to listen to a pre-recorded tape of silence or music that has signal tones at specified intervals and then marking one’s status (on- or off-task) when the tones occur

Explain order/ meaning of sequence of items/ steps – Making meaning accessible to struggling learners will help most students to better process information. In addition, knowing the order of steps in a sequence gives students a heads-up so they have a little more control over the situation and are more likely to respond appropriately.

Color-coding or numbering – Color-coding is a great tool for organizing information conceptually (e.g., grouping or showing different categories). In addition, numbering allows the learner to clearly understand the sequence of events or items or to know that each item is distinct.

Graphic organizers – Graphic organizers are diagrams that help describe, compare, or contrast concepts or ideas. These tools enhance learning by laying out the ideas in more concrete and understandable ways. A web is one example of a graphic organizer that allows depiction of a core idea and all of its sub-ideas.

Colored transparency overlay – Many students have difficulty accurately interpreting visual print, and some have found that certain colors of transparent overlays help “calm” the print so that it is easier to read.

Students draw selves – Making information more concrete can help aid understanding in general, so drawing one’s silhouette as a framework for plugging in target information can help “bring it home.”

Verbal with visual – Learning is always enhanced when more than one modality is involved, so transmitting verbal information alongside visual information is one way to create to aid understanding. An example might be to play an audiotape of a poem (preferably read by the author) to accompany the printed version. Another might be to orally explain the functions of the eye while simultaneously displaying the labels and functions of various parts in print.

Arrows – Even these simple symbols can visually communicate a great deal about order, direction, importance, or the other important facets of given items.

Symbols – Symbols (e.g., “+” for addition or together, “S” for subject) can shorten visual information, making it much more accessible to some learners.

Explain order/ meaning of sequence of items/ steps – Making meaning accessible to struggling learners will help most students to better process information. In addition, knowing the order of steps in a sequence gives students a heads-up so they have a little more control over the situation and are more likely to respond appropriately.

Color-coding or numbering – Color-coding is a great tool for organizing information conceptually (e.g., grouping or showing different categories). In addition, numbering allows the learner to clearly understand the sequence of events or items or to know that each item is distinct.

Graphic organizers – Graphic organizers are diagrams that help describe, compare, or contrast concepts or ideas. These tools enhance learning by laying out the ideas in more concrete and understandable ways. A web is one example of a graphic organizer that allows depiction of a core idea and all of its sub-ideas.

Colored transparency overlay – Many students have difficulty accurately interpreting visual print, and some have found that certain colors of transparent overlays help “calm” the print so that it is easier to read.

Students draw selves – Making information more concrete can help aid understanding in general, so drawing one’s silhouette as a framework for plugging in target information can help “bring it home.”

Verbal with visual – Learning is always enhanced when more than one modality is involved, so transmitting verbal information alongside visual information is one way to create to aid understanding. An example might be to play an audiotape of a poem (preferably read by the author) to accompany the printed version. Another might be to orally explain the functions of the eye while simultaneously displaying the labels and functions of various parts in print.

Arrows – Even these simple symbols can visually communicate a great deal about order, direction, importance, or the other important facets of given items.

Symbols – Symbols (e.g., “+” for addition or together, “S” for subject) can shorten visual information, making it much more accessible to some learners.

Vocabulary strategy – Directly teaching students a proven method for remembering new, difficult vocabulary words can make a huge difference. Detailed explanations of these can be found in methods textbooks.

Mnemonic devices – Mnemonic devices are tools or procedures that aid memory and include such techniques as acronyms for remembering lists, songs for remembering steps or ideas (e.g., the “Alphabet Song”), or visual imagery to recall sequence of events in a story.

Chunking – Students will remember more easily if the sets or lists of items are short (3–7 entries) and if they are related in some meaningful way.

Lots of environmental print – Labels placed around a classroom or building can provide sufficient scaffolding (i.e., essential supports that are gradually faded) so that eventually the names are incorporated into long-term memory.

Prepared lists and instructions – To help students with significant memory issues to be successful, try providing them with lists of key terms or sets of written directions for them to refer to as needed.

Multiple modalities – Memory is aided when more than one modality is engaged, for example when visual and fine motor modalities are both engaged during typing lessons, or visual and auditory during reading lessons. Since students in a classroom likely have different modality strengths, a good rule of thumb is always to engage two or more modalities (visual, auditory, tactile or touch, kinesthetic or muscle movement, taste, smell) during instruction.

Check for understanding – Students who are in the habit of responding to questions designed to quickly check their understanding of a given point or lesson will tend to put more effort into learning and remembering new information.

Smaller steps – Students whose memory issues prevent them from remembering a large number of steps might perform better when they have fewer steps to complete.

Communication board – Students with significant speech challenges can communicate with peers and adults through the use of a simple visual or electronic communication board, such as might typically be part of the IEP accommodations identified to increase the student’s access to the educational program.

Cards to indicate objects, ideas, or actions – Many students prefer to use individual cards (organized, perhaps, on a large ring or in a small notebook, box, or Rolodex) as a way to communicate when speech is not fully effective. These might include both the word and a drawing to represent the idea.

Teaching wait time – Some students need more time to process and formulate a response. Teaching the entire class to allow enough time provides the student the chance to be part of the discussion and affords the teacher the chance to assess growth.

Options – Providing appropriate choices for responding is one way to build the learners’ capacity for self-determination and self-regulation. A few examples of speech options include response cards, hand or facial gestures, or the use of a keyboard.

Use visual supports – Pictures, symbols, graphic organizers of ideas, manipulatives, and real objects are all ways in which to aid communication.

Practice for fluency – Students with speech challenges typically participate in speech therapy. Regardless of whether this service exists or not, practicing the problematic speech sounds is essential for improvement. Planning opportunities for such practice (into a tape recorder, with a peer, at home) will create helpful structure to ensure it happens.

Student serves as recorder – This assignment helps students to participate in a discussion without having to speak much. It can be employed in any setting, from cooperative learning groups to whole class activities.

Class routine – Many teachers have daily routines that involve repeating certain phrases. These may provide important practice for students with speech issues.

SLP support – Speech therapy is the most common support to improve spoken communication.

Sentence parts to sequence – Cards or strips of paper that feature individual words or phrases of a sentence can help a student to generate a complete sentence from scratch.

Modeling and requiring complete and varied sentences – Teachers’ modeling complete and varied sentences might help students to gain greater clarity about what a sentence is and how to produce a grammatical one. The additional structure of requiring students to speak and write in complete and varied sentences improves their verbal skills.

Word walls or banks – Education-methods texts include numerous descriptions of these collections of words and how they might be created as a “scaffold” for essential learning for language, reading, and writing. Both the creation process (putting words on the wall or in a file box as they are learned) and their general accessibility helps students to develop language skills and find particular words when they need them.

Predictable routines for classroom discourse – Routine events like morning circles with calendar discussions, sing-alongs, and round-robin recitations, among many others, give students with language challenges advance notice and help them to be better prepared to participate.

Listening center – Listening to appropriate language models (whether difficult vocabulary words, reading passages, or other content) helps individual students to work privately on their language development.

Reading aloud – Listening to varied and complete sentences and passages builds students’ language skills.

Modeling by fluent speakers – Like the items above, modeling emphasizes the importance of insuring that students with expression challenges are able to regularly listen to models who are fluent (which is not always true with peers). These models might be in class, on the radio, on TV or video, or through other structured venues.

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