What should teachers know about accommodations for students with disabilities?
Page 2: Practices Confused with Accommodations
Teachers use a number of instructional practices to improve their students’ learning. It is not unusual for several of these—specifically, modifications, instructional strategies, and interventions—to be confused with accommodations. In the sections below, we’ll describe each of these practices and explain what characteristics set them apart from accommodations.
Modifications are adaptations that change what students learn and are used with students who require more support or adjustments than accommodations can provide. Whereas accommodations level the playing field, modifications change the playing field. Unlike accommodations, modifications:
- Do change the expectations for learning
- Do reduce the requirements of the task
The table below lists some modifications that could be used to address the barriers presented by students’ disabilities. Note that in each instance, the modification actually changes or modifies the expectations or requirements of the task.
|Reading printed text
|Specific learning disability
|Read a lower-level book
|Fewer homework questions
|Writing out responses (due to inability to hold a pencil)
Though often confused, the terms accommodations and modifications are not interchangeable. Listen as Margaret McLaughlin further elaborates on the distinction (time: 3:03).
Margaret J. McLaughlin, PhD
Associate Dean and Professor, Special Education
University of Maryland, College Park
Instructional Strategy or Intervention
In addition to providing accommodations and modifications, teachers often help struggling students by implementing an instructional intervention or strategy, both of which involve teaching the students to work through a series of steps to improve in an area of deficit or to remediate a certain set of skills. Unlike accommodations, strategies or interventions do not specifically address the barriers presented by a student’s disability; rather, they address a skill or knowledge deficit experienced by students with or without disabilities. To further complicate matters, accommodations can be used in conjunction with interventions. The table below lists a few areas in which students often struggle. Example instructional interventions or strategies are contrasted with examples of accommodations that might be used to help students be successful in class.
|Area of Deficit
|Example Instructional Intervention or Strategy
|Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR)
|Mnemonic device (e.g., Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally)
|Self-monitoring of behavior
Each of the following scenarios introduces a student with a disability and identifies his or her related challenge. For each student, the teacher implements several types of supports. Determine whether each support is an accommodation, modification, or strategy/intervention.
Danica, a student with a learning disability (LD), struggles with writing. Her teacher assigns the following class project: research a planet using a minimum of three sources and then write a five-paragraph essay about that planet. Because Danica produces few complete sentences and ideas when given a writing task, her teacher implements several types of support to help her complete the assignment.
The teacher reminds Danica to use TREE (Topic sentence, Reason, Explanation, Ending), a mnemonic device students can use to organize their ideas.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionTREE is a strategy that outlines the steps for writing an essay. The teacher highlights key information in the research materials that Danica collects.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionBy highlighting key information in Danica’s materials, the teacher helps her to identify main ideas; however, this does not change the learning expectation, which is to write a five-paragraph essay. The teacher shortens the writing assignment to one paragraph containing three facts.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionShortening the writing assignment is a modification because it alters the learning expectation.
Brody, a 6th-grade student with ADHD, has difficulty organizing his time. His social studies teacher assigns a long-term project that involves researching the history of their town. The assignment includes the following requirements: visit the local library to complete a demographic information sheet, interview three people who have lived in the town since childhood, and create a presentation using that information. Because the teacher knows that Brody has difficulty completing long-term assignments by the due date, she implements several types of support to help him to do so.
The teacher breaks the assignment into smaller pieces or “chunks” the materials (e.g., week 1—visit the local library to complete demographic information sheet; weeks 2 and 3— interview three people who have lived in the town since childhood).AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionBreaking the assignment into smaller pieces is an accommodation because it does not change the learning expectation for the student. The teacher helps Brody to better schedule and monitor his time.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionTeaching the student to schedule and monitor his time is a time-management strategy. The teacher allows Brody to complete a series of worksheets on the history of the town instead of the project.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionCompleting a series of worksheets on the history of the town is an alternate assignment that changes the expectations for learning and the requirements of the task.
Aliyah, a middle school student with muscular dystrophy, often experiences physical fatigue. She is a highly motivated student and excels academically. Her language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies teachers typically assign homework that requires access to textbooks. Because her teachers realize that carrying heavy textbooks home each night is difficult for Aliyah, they implement several types of support to help her complete her assignments.
The teachers provide access to online textbooks.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionProviding access to online textbooks is an accommodation because it does not change what the student is required to do; it simply removes the barrier—lack of physical strength— which results in her inability to carry textbooks. The teachers assign a different assignment that does not require the textbooks.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionProviding a different assignment that does not require the textbook is a modification because it changes the expectations for learning. The teachers allow Aliyah to keep a set of textbooks at home.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionAllowing her to keep a set of textbooks at home is an accommodation because it does not change what the student is required to do; it simply removes the barrier—lack of physical strength—which results in her inability to carry textbooks.
Ahmed, a high school student with an intellectual disability, reads at a 2nd-grade level. Because he has difficulty with decoding words, he is not able to read fluently enough to comprehend the grade-level text. His special education teacher has noticed that he typically understands and remembers the information that she presents orally. For this reason, his teacher implements several types of support to help him succeed in the classroom.
The teacher allows Ahmed to use text-to-speech software for grade-level materials, which allows the text to be read to him.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionText-to-speech software is an accommodation because it allows the student to access the content but does not change the learning expectation. In this case, the learning expectation is comprehension, not decoding. The teacher explicitly teaches phonics to improve Ahmed’s decoding skills.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionExplicitly teaching phonics is a strategy to improve a student’s decoding skills. The teacher gives Ahmed a lower-level reader that provides fewer facts and details but aligns with the grade-level content.AccommodationModificationStrategy/interventionProviding a lower-level reader is a modification because it changes the expectations for learning.