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Accommodations vs. Modifications: Your Guide to Inclusive Classrooms (and Why It Matters!)


Have you ever wondered about the difference between accommodations and modifications in special education? Perhaps you've heard the terms thrown around in IEP meetings, or maybe you're a teacher who needs to support students with diverse learning needs in your classroom. Fear not! Let's break down these essential concepts, share practical strategies, and even delve into the real-life challenges of making it all work.

What's the Difference between Accommodations and Modifications?

Think of it this way:

Accommodations and modifications

Accommodations: These are changes in *how* a student learns the material. The content and expectations stay the same, but we adjust the path to get there. Think of it like using a GPS to reach a destination: it doesn't change WHERE you're going, but it helps you navigate the route.

Modifications: These are changes to *what* a student is expected to learn. It's like choosing a different coffee shop when your usual one is closed. You still get your coffee fix, but the destination itself has changed.

4 Common Accommodations (The "How")

Accommodations aren't about lowering expectations, they're about providing a smoother path to success! Let's explore four common ways we can adjust the how of learning to unlock each student's full potential. Think of these as tools in your teacher toolbox to make learning accessible for all.


1. Presentation: How information is delivered (e.g., audiobooks, visual aids). This is all about how information is given to the student. Instead of relying solely on reading, we can offer audiobooks, visual aids like charts and diagrams, or even hands-on demonstrations to make learning more accessible.
2. Response: How the student shows their learning (e.g., oral answers, typing). Not everyone shows their knowledge in the same way. Accommodations for response give students alternative ways to demonstrate what they've learned, such as providing oral answers, allowing them to type instead of write, or even using a scribe.
3. Timing & Scheduling: Adjusting the pace of learning (e.g., extended time, breaks). Sometimes, students need a different pace or schedule than the rest of the class. We can give them extra time on tests, schedule frequent breaks, or allow them to take tests at a different time.
4. Setting: Adapting the learning environment (e.g., quiet corner, preferential seating). The learning environment itself can be adjusted to meet student needs. This might mean offering a quiet corner for focused work, preferential seating away from distractions, or even allowing movement breaks throughout the day.

4 Common Modifications (The "What")

Modifications are like tailoring a lesson plan to fit each student's unique needs. They change the “what” of learning, adjusting the content or expectations to ensure every student can succeed. Think of it like creating different versions of a recipe – same dish, but maybe with less spice for some, and extra veggies for others. Here are four key ways we can modify learning experiences:

1. Content: Simplifying or changing the material (e.g., shorter texts, modified curriculum). This is about adjusting the material itself to make it more accessible. Instead of reading a complex chapter book, a student might read a simplified version that covers the same key concepts.
2. Quantity: Adjusting the amount of work (e.g., fewer problems, shorter assignments). This involves reducing the amount of work required. Instead of completing a full worksheet, a student might only need to answer five problems that focus on the core concept.
3. Performance: Changing how knowledge is demonstrated (e.g., projects instead of essays). Instead of a traditional test, we might allow students to show what they know in different ways. A student could create a presentation, build a model, or explain their understanding verbally instead of writing an essay.
4. Level of Support: Providing varying levels of assistance (e.g., pre-teaching vocabulary). We all need help sometimes! Modifications can include varying levels of support from adults or peers.  This could mean pre-teaching key vocabulary before a lesson, offering visual cues during an activity, or providing one-on-one tutoring to help a student grasp a difficult concept.

Get the freebie!

This user-friendly LRE rubric supports IEP teams in making informed placement recommendations, ensuring students receive the necessary supports in the Least Restrictive Environment.

5 Tips for Success in Inclusive Classrooms

Alright, now that we've got a handle on the what of accommodations and modifications, let's dive into the how. How do we actually make this happen in the classroom, in a way that benefits all students and doesn't leave us running around like chickens with our heads cut off? (No offense to any chickens listening!) Here are 5 tried-and-true tips to make accommodations and modifications seamless, effective, and empowering for everyone involved.

1. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Collaborate with the general education teacher and other team members. Share the student's IEP goals, discuss what works, and brainstorm new ideas. Successful inclusion starts with collaboration. Don't be afraid to reach out to anyone involved and schedule regular check-ins. Share the student's IEP goals, discuss what's working (and what's not), and brainstorm new ways to support the student together. Remember, two heads (or more!) are better than one!

2. Be Discreet, Be Inclusive: Embed modifications so they benefit ALL students. Think graphic organizers, flexible seating, multi-sensory activities. When implementing modifications, aim to seamlessly blend them into the general education environment. This can help the student feel less singled out and may even benefit other learners who have different learning styles. Think about offering choices that ALL students can benefit from, like flexible seating options, visual aids like graphic organizers, or hands-on activities that engage multiple senses.

3. Highlight Strengths, Build Confidence: Let those IEP kiddos shine! Focus on what they CAN do. Remember, every student has unique abilities and talents. Look for opportunities to showcase their strengths in the general education setting. Maybe they excel at hands-on activities, have a knack for storytelling, or possess a keen eye for detail. By focusing on what they CAN do, you not only foster a more positive learning environment for all, but you empower the student to see themselves as a valuable contributor to the class.

4. Empower Your Students: Involve them in decisions about their accommodations. Let them have some control over their learning! Involve students in decisions about their accommodations. Let them have some control over their learning! As students grow, it's important to shift from doing things for them to doing things with them. Involve them in conversations about their needs, preferences, and learning styles. Let them choose which accommodations they find most helpful and encourage them to take ownership of their IEP process. Not only will this boost their self-confidence and independence, but it will also ensure that the supports we provide are truly effective.

5. Monitor and Adapt: Things change! Stay flexible, track progress, and adjust your approach as needed. Here's the truth, friends: No plan is perfect, and every student is constantly evolving! What worked yesterday might not work today. That's why it's crucial to stay flexible, track progress, and adjust your approach as needed. IEPs are meant to be living documents, changing alongside the child. Embrace those changes, gather data, and fine-tune your modifications as you go. Remember, our goal is to empower students to become independent learners, so be ready to pull back those supports as their skills grow.

Remember: The goal is to find the sweet spot between challenge and support, where every student can shine!

Want More? Listen or watch our full podcast episode for real-life examples, tips, and a fun analogy about coffee shops. (And yes, we even discuss my dog and some unruly chickens!). And don't the previous episode on how to organize your data and materials! It helps with all those accommodations and modifications, too!

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