Instructional adaptations for students with diverse needs

Country Studied: USA

Area of Focus: Language, Reading, Spelling/ Writing, Assistive Technology, Multi sensory

The New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards and related curriculum frameworks are the focus of curriculum and instruction for all pupils. This population includes students with disabilities. In order to provide pupils with disabilities meaningful access to curriculum and instruction based on the content standards, adaptations may be required. The adaptations are not intended to compromise the content standards. Instead, adaptations provide students with disabilities the opportunity to maximize their strengths and compensate for their learning differences.

Because students with disabilities are expected to participate in the general education curriculum, their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) must reflect the core content standards and the local school district’s general education curriculum.
Within the context of the World Languages Framework scenarios, adaptation is defined as:

Any adjustment or modification to the general education program enabling students with disabilities to:

  • Participate in and benefit from learning activities and experiences based on the core curriculum content standards; and
  • Demonstrate understanding and application of the content standards.

Historically, many students with disabilities were prejudged to be incapable of acquiring and applying the skills necessary for demonstrating proficiency in a second language and, therefore, were not included in world language programs. Today, the emphasis has changed. To deny these students that opportunity violates the equity rights and regulations and the intent of the Core Curriculum Content Standards.

It is, therefore, necessary that students with disabilities receive instruction in world languages to be able to communicate at a basic literacy level and to demonstrate an understanding of the interrelationship between language and culture for at least one world language in addition to English.

The learning scenarios in that Framework are student-centered and interactive and use interdisciplinary strategies. The scenario activities embody best-practice instruction for all students but may require adaptations to facilitate instruction for students with disabilities. Certain adaptations struc-ture students’ learning in a more explicit, systematic way. Other adaptations provide alternative means for students to acquire or demonstrate their knowledge in order to maximize their learning style and compensate for their learning needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.) amendments of 1997 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantee students with disabilities the right to general education program adaptations, as specified in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans. The intent of these acts is to provide these students access to the general education program and general education curriculum.

Students with disabilities may require instructional presentations that will enable them to acquire, comprehend, recall, and apply world language content. In addition, instructional presentation adaptations can enhance a student’s attention and ability to focus on instruction.

The primary purpose of these adaptations is to provide special education students with teacher-initiated and teacher-directed interventions that prepare students for learning and engage students in the learning process.

The adaptations fall into four categories:

  • Instructional preparation: structure and organize information
  • Instructional prompt: foster understanding of new concepts and processes
  • Instructional application: promote student self-reflection and self-management regarding task demands, goal attainment, and performance accuracy

Instructional monitoring: provide ongoing evaluation of student learning

The described practice is a teaching principle embedded in the overall educational programme.

Students with disabilities demonstrate a broad range of learning, cognitive, communication, physical, sensory, and social/emotional differences that may necessitate adaptations to the general education program. Each pupil manifests his or her learning abilities, learning style, and learning preferences in a unique way. Consequently, the type of adaptations needed and the program in which the adaptations will be implemented are determined individually within the IEP or 504 planning processes.

 An increasing number of students with mild, moderate, and severe disabilities are receiving daily instruction from the base of general education classrooms in their neighborhood schools. The practice of educating children with and without disabilities together in heterogenous classrooms is referred to as inclusive schooling. This practice, although relatively new, has become a critical element in special and general education reform. The basic philosophy behind inclusion is that all children can learn together, and the multiplicity of learning styles found in diverse groups of children is valued. Instructional practices in inclusive classrooms reflect the beliefs that individual differences can be accommodated and learning outcomes will vary based upon each child’s educational priorities.

Term “student. with disabilities” is used to refer to school age children with moderate to severe disabilities. This population includes students with intellectual disabilities, dual sensory impairments, and multiple physical disabilities. The general process described here for adapting curriculum can be applied to students with a range of learning needs.

In a general sense adaptation can be defined as:

Any adjustments or modifications in the environment, instruction or materials used for learning that enhances the person’s performance or allows at least partial participation in an activity.

The purpose of an adaptation is to assist the individual to compensate for intellectual, physical, or behavioral challenges. In addition, an adaptation allows the individual to use his/her current skill repertoire while promoting the acquisition of new skills.

Adaptations have been used for many years in the education of students with disabilities across school, community, recreational and vocational environments.

Traditionally, adaptations have been divided into five categories:

  1. utilizing materials and devices,
  2. adapting skill sequences,
  3. providing personal assistance,
  4. adapting rules, and
  5. adapting the physical environment.

Modifications that relate specifically to use in general education environments are referred to as curricular adaptations. The purpose and definition of curricular adaptations fit the general guidelines offered; however, they also serve the important function of preventing a mismatch between the student’s skills and the general education lesson content. When considering curricular adaptations, the traditional categories are a bit narrow and need to be expanded to reflect the unique instructional conditions of general education.

Objectives:

  • Utilizing materials and devices:
    Adaptations found in this category can be considered portable objects, equipment or materials that enhance an individual’s performance. These items can be teacher-made or purchased commercially.
  • Adapting skill sequences:
    Adapting a skill sequence means that the steps of a task are somehow changed, simplified or rearranged.
  • Utilizing personal assistance:
    Any verbal, physical, or supervisory support offered by another person defines this category.
  • Adapting rules:
    This adaptation requires a modification in the usual patterns, practices, or customs of a particular environment.
  • Adapting the environment:
    The adaptations in this category reflect adjustments that have been made in the physical surroundings or conditions. The most common examples include accommodations that are made for individuals with physical disabilities, such as sloped curb cuts, ramps, and cabinets or sinks that allow wheelchair access.

Curricular adaptations can make the difference between a student merely being present in the classroom and being actively involved in daily school life. When collaboratively engineered, curricular adaptations can minimize the differences between students with differing abilities. Successful modifications individualize the lesson content and help create a match between the student’s learning style and the instructor’s teaching style.

Therefore, most adaptations employed in the general education classroom address either the way instruction is arranged and delivered or the way the student takes part in an activity. In many ways these two factors are interrelated since the way instruction is delivered directly affects how the student is expected to respond and participate. If a student with disabilities is unable to participate in a general education activity as it has been originally planned, changes may need to be made in one or more of the following instructional conditions:

  • instructional groupings or arrangements
  • teaching format
  • environmental conditions
  • curricular goals & learning outcomes
  • instructional materials
  • level or type of personal assistance

A change in one or more of these instructional components is considered a curricular adaptation. If adjustments in these six areas still do not allow the student to participate in an educationally relevant way, then a seventh option may be employed; that is, to design an alternative activity for the student with disabilities and a small group of peers.

Students with disabilities may require specific adaptations for classroom organization in order to facilitate active involvement in scenario activities. The primary purpose of classroom organization adaptations is to maximize student attention, participation, independence, mobility and comfort; to promote peer and adult communication and interaction; and to provide accessibility to information, materials and equipment.

Instructional Groups

  • Cooperative learning groups
  • Peer partners and buddy systems
  • Teams
  • Cross-age tutors
  • International pen pal pairs

Instructional Support

  • Assist physically
  • Clarify
  • Prompt—cue
  • Gesture—signal
  • Interpret
  • Reinforce
  • Highlight
  • Organize
  • Focus
  • Use native speaker as model

Environmental Conditions

  • Physical room arrangement
  • Work space
  • Material accessibility
  • Lighting
  • Noise level
  • Learning stations/lab stations
  • Labeling equipment, stations, and seat assignments
  • Seating arrangements and seat assignments
  • Portable units
  • Music-target culture or classical
  • Immersion—visual/tactile/auditory

Adaptive Equipment and Materials

  • Speech synthesizer
  • Communication board
  • Close-captioned video-TV/decoder
  • Audiotaped material
  • Braille
  • Enlarged print
  • Low-vision equipment (e.g., clocks)
  • Talking watch and calculator
  • Lap board
  • Personal computers
  • Internet access
  • “Talking Globe”
  • Maps
  • Puppets, models

Change the teaching format:

Tied closely to instructional arrangements is the teaching format. Teachers may use one or a combination of the following techniques to impart information to students and engage them in learning:

(1) Lecture and Demonstration: This traditional teaching format is one of the most frequently used models. Also referred to as the expository mode of teaching, the instructor provides an explanation of a concept or topic then supports verbal information with an illustration or model. A lecture/demonstration format is often followed by students participating in a class discussion, or engaging in independent practice of the concepts covered by the teacher.

(2) Whole-Class Inquiry or Discussion: After exposure to verbal written information, students are engaged in a question and answer exchange. Students are called upon or volunteer answers. Class members are encouraged to ask additional questions or elaborate on the topic.

(3) Games, Simulations, Role Playing, Presentations, and Activity -Based Lessons: Activities are arranged that reinforce or extend the lesson content and encourage students to apply the information that has been previously taught or discussed. This type of lesson format is characterized by students (a) being actively engaged, (b) participating in the planning process, and (c) learning by discovery.

(4) Experiential Lessons: This type of lesson format uses real life activities to apply or enhance skills. Activities can take place in the classroom or non-school environments. Experiential lessons can be as short as one class period, employed over a number of weeks, or occur on a regularly scheduled basis throughout the year.

The value of activity-based and experiential lessons is becoming more evident as the school population becomes more and more diverse. These teaching formats offer options to assign different roles to students, delegate tasks that are matched to the student’s ability level and knowledge base, individualize the presentation of information and differentiate the materials more effectively than in lecture/demonstration or whole class inquiry format.

The process to design curricular adaptations required can be divided into six basic steps:

  1. Establish a student-centered planning team that utilizes a collaborative team approach.
  2. Gather information about the student’s abilities in school, at home and in the community.
  3. Gather information about general education environments where the student will be spending time.
  4. Observe the student in the general education settings.
  5. Select or create adaptations that address the student’s learning needs.
  6. Arrange efficient methods of communication and planning between team members.