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Tools for making adaptations during unit planning

When planning minor or significant changes to a planned unit, the teacher might start by considering strategies that have proven to be effective in teaching students with diverse learning needs. The following questions might be helpful in designing a unit to meet the needs of all students:

  • Should the presentation of the teaching materials include use of visual, auditory, tactile and/or kinesthetic modalities (multisensory approach)?
  • Should the instructional groupings be changed to create cooperative groupings, peer partners or cross-age tutors?
  • Should the unit be developed as an integrated curriculum?
  • Can the unit be connected to the student’s personal and cultural experiences?
  • Can some lessons be presented using thematic units, semantic webs, venn diagrams or other means of connecting and illustrating concepts?
  • Should some lessons be presented as an interactive experience involving the student’s active participation, such as, a reciprocal teaching interaction?

Minor adaptations

If accommodations are still needed to meet some students’ needs, the teacher will have to consider what kinds of changes must be made. Least intrusive adaptations (minor changes) should be considered first. Teachers might ask these questions to make further adaptations:

  • Are changes needed in the format and length of the lesson?
  • Must adjustments be made in the time completing the lesson?
  • Should the level of difficulty be adjusted?
  • Should the classroom be arranged to meet specific students’ needs, such as preferential seating, study carrels or other physical arrangements to reduce distractions?
  • What additional support is needed for the student? (Support can involve peer tutoring, paraprofessional assistance and assistance by other teachers or ancillary staff).
  • Can assignments be adapted, or should alternative assignments be made, in order to allow a student to participate successfully?
  • Should the teacher or teacher assistant preview and review the lesson for a student requiring additional support?

Major adaptations

More intrusive adaptations (major changes) might be required for students with significant disabilities. With these students, teachers might adapt the general education curriculum to promote functional life skills. Modified or alternative standards in areas such as career/vocational or functional community skills might be needed for some students with significant disabilities. The teacher should ask the following questions when selecting and/or modifying standards of the general education curriculum for students with significant disabilities:

  • Is the content of the standard relevant to the knowledge and skills the student needs for current and future daily living and community adjustment?
  • If an alternative standard is selected, does it set high expectations for the student?
  • Have parents participated in selecting content standards that relate to the student’s post-school outcomes?

The teacher must decide what materials are best suited for students with disabilities. Considerations may include:

  • Textbooks covering the same content but at a lower degree of reading difficulty
  • Use of manipulatives to demonstrate content
  • Use of advance organizers to facilitate reading comprehension
  • Use of computer-based instruction or assistive technology

Assessment adaptations

Assessment is an important aspect of the process of standards-based instruction. Teachers must know how to determine if students have mastered the content set forth in the standards. A few preliminary questions might help in the selection of appropriate assessment tools:

  • Can the same assessment procedures be used for students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers?
  • Should minor changes be made in assessment procedures to accommodate the individual needs of students with disabilities, such as oral responses, time extensions or reduced number of times?
  • Are alternative assessments necessary for students with disabilities who are unable to participate in the regular assessment process, even with accommodations? Performance-based assessments, such as demonstrations, projects and illustrations, are alternative ways of assessing mastery.