In many situations a learning challenge is not immediately observable because there’s no outward signs; many students with deficits are overlooked. At times, these students are seen by parents, teachers and administrators as “not trying hard enough” or “being lazy.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Kids with attention issues and learning disabilities don’t need to try harder, they need accommodations to help them thrive in the school environment. It’s important that parents and educational professionals understand the implications of learning disabilities and prepare to support and teach students with deficits.
Accommodations and Modifications:
Accommodations are changes and alterations in the way tasks are presented allowing children with learning deficits or attention issues to complete the same assignments as other students in the classroom. Accommodations do not alter the content of the work but do provide the necessary adjustments needed to help students succeed and may include physical and environmental changes. Accommodations and modifications need to be in place in order to provide kids the same academic and career opportunities that are equivalent to those provided for their peers that do not have learning challenges. Accommodating students with unique learning circumstances is a necessary step for them to succeed in school and life.
A modification is a change in the course, test preparation, scheduling, expectations and or other attributes which provide access for a student with a deficit or disability to participate in a class or test, and does fundamentally alter or lower the standard expectation of the course, standard or test. Modifications involve structural and cognitive change in the level of the material. Utilizing specialized curriculum written at a lower level of understanding, adapting or simplifying materials, lowering the reading level or simplifying the vocabulary in handouts are examples of modifications.
Learning Disabilities and Limitations:
Most often, students are diagnosed with learning disabilities and attention issues by a neuropsychologist who is trained in administering and interpreting psycho-educational assessments. The results are used to understand how individuals receive, process, retain and communicate information. Some learning disabilities are difficult to diagnose and determine their impact because the functions cannot always be directly observed. Educational professionals and academic therapists use the diagnosis from the neuropsychologist to identify and implement the necessary accommodations to help students succeed in the classroom.
Examples of accommodations and modifications:
Pacing: Extending or adjusting the allotted time for testing or the completion of assignments; omitting assignments that require timed situations. Giving frequent breaks, varying an activity or removing distractions to help the students remain focused.
Learning Environment: Adjusting the classroom environment to help a student have an optimal learning experience. Preferential seating, defining limits, reducing and minimizing distractions or leaving the classroom for academic assignments.
Teaching Style and Presentation of Material: Utilizing a specific approach to teaching a concept (visual, auditory, tactile). For some students individual or small group instruction may be needed. Taping lectures, accessing assignments and lecture notes on Canvas, utilizing graphic organizers, and auditory or visual cues may be beneficial to help improve retention and working memory.
Materials, Equipment and Technology: Allowing students to listen to audio of book texts, highlighting important information, note taking assistance, typing assignments rather than handwriting work, using braille text, or having access to any special equipment that will enhance learning and retention.
Grading: Opportunities to correct homework and test questions until proficiency is met. Giving credit for effort, class participation or special projects.
Assignments: Adjusting the length or format of an assignment or a test (matching, multiple choice, fill-in- blank and limit essay questions for specific students). Sharing directions in small groups or one-on-one, giving visual cues or prompts when needed. Avoid penalizing for spelling errors or grammatical errors on everyday assignments and essay answers.
Follow up and reinforcement: Using positive and concrete reinforcement, checking in often with students for understanding and review. Peer-tutoring, and having students repeat instructions back for clarification. Providing study guides, weekly progress report for student and parents, reinforcing long-term assignment guidelines and deadlines, and teaching study skills.
Adapting Tests: Reviewing assignment and test instructions one-on one, shortening the length of tests and assignments, changing the format of tests (fill-in the blank, multiple choice etc.), permitting oral answers, scribing test answers for some students, permitting open book/notes for exams, permitting testing in an environment free of distractions.
For grading purposes there are a few basic rules that educators should apply for students with learning deficits. These rules include:
All students are entitled to a grade that is reflective of his or her abilities. Students with learning challenges should receive grades and credit in the same manner as other students when they complete assignments and tests.
All students with disabilities are entitled to grades that reflect the level of work they can complete.
Any accommodations should be reflected in the 504 Plan or IEP assessment and need to be directly related to the student’s disability.
It is important to clearly define the accommodations and modifications needed to help a student with attention issues and learning challenges to feel empowered, capable and to succeed in school. The 504 Plan or IEP should clearly identify the way a student will be assessed, graded and the specific changes that need to be made in the classroom. Successful teaching, learning and grading will be determined by how the educational professionals and academic therapists understand and implement any accommodations or modifications. When the child’s parents, teachers and therapists work as a team the benefits are positive, and child receives equal opportunities to succeed in his or her academic environment.
About the author
Academic Language Therapist, Multi-book Author, National Speaker
Vikki empowers people! She is an Academic Language Therapist, multi-book author and a national speaker. Vikki grew up in Salt Lake City, met her husband at the University of Utah, and has owned several companies across the United States. In 2010, Vikki and her husband moved back to Utah from Doylestown, Pennsylvania and she founded Vikki Carrel & Company, a speaking and training organization. Read more about the Author