Supporting kids with special needs works best when both regular education and special education staff work together. That’s why it is helpful for all teachers to understand how they can modify and accommodate for students in their classrooms. For newer teachers, learning that you need to modify work for kids of various levels can be a bit overwhelming. Even teacher who are highly experienced might struggle with how much to modify. It’s really a balance because you are constantly trying to find out what is “just tough enough” to push your students, with it still being at an appropriate level that can help them grow. Too easy and the work doesn’t really challenge them. Too difficult and kids might shut down, causing them to not learn anything at all. It’s okay (and actually good) to fine-tune your level of modifications over time.
Most importantly, if a child requires a modification according to their IEP, the teacher needs to provide it. The IEP is a legal document and those modifications and accommodations were agreed upon the child’s planning team. Some modifications are specifically listed, such as having a word bank or being able to use a calculator. Other times, modifications are left up to the discretion of the teacher. If there is something you are unsure about in the child’s list of modifications, talk to the special education teacher and get further clarification.
Here is a quick reference list for some ideas to pull from when you need to modify for a child’s assessment, homework, or other assignment:
Reduce the Workload:
- Assign even or odd problems only – This is a great strategy for homework. It’s simple and quick for the teacher, but still gives the child similar practice to everyone else.
- Select specific problems and omit extra ones
- Give 1 essay question instead of 3 or 4
- Give choice – Let the student select 10 problems to do or let them pick whether to do the front or back of a worksheet. This will help with motivation, too, since the child sees they have a choice in the assignment.
- Put fewer problems on each page – This will be less visually distracting.
- For matching, reduce the number of items to match or break them in half
- Reduce the number of multiple choices – There will be less to select from. For example, if everyone else has a quiz with 4 possible multiple choice answers, your student might only have 2 or 3 options to choose from.
- Eliminate true or false questions – These questions can be extremely tricky, especially for kids with language-based disorders.
Modify the Content:
- Give a similar but different assignment with lower grade level material in area of weakness (math, reading, or writing) – For example: if the topic is computing with fractions, the student might be drawing fraction pictures. This will also help you target the “most important” concepts for the child to learn at the time.
- Provide an alternative assignment – This can be a research project, hands-on project, lab experiment, or making a poster to show understanding of a topic.
- Align student interest to the content – For example, you might focus on reading strategies while learning about trains.
- Give a word bank for fill in the blank or when writing an essay
- Allow students to type or orally report their responses
- Give a specific list for steps to complete a task
- Provide concept cards with an assignment
- Allow the student to use their book or notes
- Provide specific examples
- Highlight tricky or key words in questions
- Allow extra time
- Allow student to work in quieter setting
- Allow calculators
- Allow for brainstorming prior to the assignment
- Have adult read assignment to student
Learning to modify can be hard work at first. It’s best to give it a try even if you are not entirely sure it’s the right modification. Remember that you can always tweak your modifications as the year goes on. Most likely, you will need to continually reassess modifications and supports, since your students will be growing and making progress. And when in doubt, work with your special education staff to ask for feedback, support, and ideas.
If you are a special education teacher in need of a toolkit, consider the Special Education Teacher Binder. It is a huge compilation of special education resources. Materials focus on IEPs and team meetings, progress monitoring of academics and behavior, classroom materials, building a classroom community, planning, lessons, organization, and other forms to help make the life of a special education teacher a little bit easier.