Be Human When Providing Accommodations For Your Students
by Dan Henderson, That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching
Accommodations are usually tied to identified children with an IEP or 504 plan.
Many students need the accommodations or they will not be able to prove mastery of a skill. Yet we see roadblocks for some children being able to access the curriculum according to the rigid nature of our laws. Have we thoroughly questioned why we are restricting accommodations? It could be the missing piece for students to show mastery.
Our biases against accommodations make us believe that in order to be fair in a classroom of students everyone has to be given the same set of tools. Yet if we took away the individualistic mandates to measure success and instead looked at the class as a society working towards a common goal, do accommodations seem unfair? Do you really care the individuals in a company made your car, sofa, or TV. You rarely think about how someone mastered the art of the products you purchase. Did someone on the assembly line have one arm? Did someone use a calculator while someone else did not?
If a student can find a way to access knowledge does it really matter how as long as they can ultimately produce results?
When we see some of our students struggle we should not despair. The first action should be to create accommodations we think the student could benefit from. They may not be able to use these accommodations on a standardized tests. However, you can compare your class assessments with accommodations to the standardized tests without accommodations. Then you will know if the accommodations made a significant difference and could fight for those accommodations down the road.
Teachers usually have a running list of students who could benefit from accommodations. There are no rules against giving accommodations in your classroom for the end of module assessments or on a day-to-day basis. My argument is that you should informally use accommodations in your classroom to see if it improves student performance. The student will understand how they learn best and what is the harm in that knowledge? If the accommodations do not improve student growth it could be an early indicate of a learning deficit or a flaw in your lessons.
How can you test if accommodations are making a difference?
- Start with a baseline assessment. Use data from a baseline exit ticket or unit test to have as a reference point.
- Use the same assessment a week or two later with your new accommodations. The accommodations could be math problems read aloud to students or extended time on the test. The important part is the accommodations give the students chance to access their knowledge of how to master a problem.
- Compare the data and, if necessary, build for a future case to warrant testing for a disability.
Why Accommodations Matter: A Story
Why do accommodations matter? Here is a story from my classroom.
The ultimate goal of an accommodation is for the student to build up measures of self-sufficiency. Creating the courage to say, ” I can master this concept, I just need this accommodation to show you I can be successful.” Later on in life, a student will be evaluated by whether or not they can complete a task. If we focus on purely how they achieve their goals, we are putting an emphasis on fairness instead of an end product–which is why I had one student become very vocal about his needs. Without instituting accommodations, he would still be failing.
Ben was a struggling reader who was always a year or more behind in his reading level. Always on the border of special education he was given extra support by his teachers, but continued to make errors. I was scared his apathy would be a driving force. Math was his biggest area of concern. Ben could manipulate numbers, but had trouble understanding the comprehension of the problems if they were not read to him out loud. I decided to use two accommodations for Ben. First, I would read all the math problems out loud. Second, I gave him a problem solving checklist so that he could reference how to set up his math problems. I gave him a test without the the accommodations before I had this idea and this was the response.
“I will never be good in math.” He threw his pencil on his desk and folded his hands tightly burying his head deep in his cotton sleeves. Ben was distraught. He would not complete his test. He sensed failure. I gave him a stress ball to calm down, but he threw the ball deep in his desk. As much as I wanted to push back in conversation, I told him to go see the counselor. After returning looking somber the clock stroked three and the end of the day was approaching. I instructed everyone to complete page fourth-three through fourth-five in their workbook for homework. Ben hastily shoved his journal in his book bag and went home cross.
The next day we started our mathematics rotation by checking our homework. Everyone got out their homework journal except Ben.
“Ben where is your workbook?” I inquired.
“I don’t know,” he said, looking at the floor try desperately to not make eye contact.
“Well Ben, you know the rules. We will have to print you off a copy to complete your homework during your lunch.”
Ben shrugged and I thought he would have learned his lesson. Then the next morning I saw Ben’s mother dragging him by the arm. In his other hand? The workbook. As she marched him closer I noticed the book seemed dirty, almost if it was caked in brown mud.
With angry eyes, mom shouted in my direction still dragging Ben.
“Do you have a good reason my son would bury his math book in the backyard?”
I dropped my jaw and started to shake my head towards Ben. I was not going to take the blame for this calculated risk. Many puns intended. Was the hole he shoveled diligently up to HOA standards? I had to think fast or I would hear would hear excuses from my students that they actually buried their homework.
“Ben, when I sent you to the counselor the other day to talk about your frustration in math. Did you talk about solutions to your math frustrations with the counselor.”
“Yes,” he said worryingly.
“Did any of those involve burying your homework in the backyard.” A rhetorical question, but powerful nonetheless.
Mom wastes no time. “Well did he tell you to bury your workbook in the back yard?”
“No,” Ben said in a whisper.
“Don’t get me wrong Mr. Henderson, I am mad at my son burying his problems and not coming to us for support. However, I wonder if you could be doing something more to support my child. I will leave it in your hands to make a change.”
With that mom stormed off to work and left Ben sulking on the bench outside of school before the day started. As teachers, we can always improve and always do more. Some teachers give to the point of burnout. Some get angry and others give up. Then the teacher looks inwards to be humble and focus on finding solutions. Maybe this conflict was good. I knew Ben needed more to be successful, but he made a literal hole a cry for help. I needed to make Ben a priority. The bureaucracy of school failed Ben, and I needed to help him.
The next week I told Ben we were going to alter how he took his tests. During his tests, I would read the questions in his math problems aloud. Being an English language learner he had trouble with the decoding some of the words. By reading them out loud I gave him an opportunity to access his knowledge and just focus on the processes involving math. Additionally, I gave him a problem-solving checklist to review how to set up his operations. Ben could at least start a problem with less frustration.
After the test with the new accommodations, Ben had a grin and was sitting upright in his chair. I showed Ben his old math test and compared it with his new math test. Ben had improved by 25% and his grin turned into rows of purely whites. I started to wonder why we do not give more accommodations to all children and why we think it is unfair. These broad questions could not all be answered during my math block so I turned my attention back on Ben.
“Do you feel more confident in your math today?”
“Confident enough to not bury my homework,” he responded. Students around me paused to see my reaction, and when I laughed the whole room laughed.
If you enjoyed this story, check out Dan’s new book, That’s Special A Survival Guide To Teaching
Be Human When Providing Accommodations For Your Students