Modifications and accommodations are crucial to ensuring a better match between students and their environment. Rather than compelling students to fit into the status quo, we need to adjust the environment so that special needs students can experience success. In my experience, this is a part of the IEP process where we examine the student’s needs first, not simply “run through” a predetermined list of modifications. Having just completed an annual IEP, I am reminded that we need students’ perspectives when identifying modifications and accommodations. We must not be content with platitudes such as, “It’s not a perfect world,” or “Everything is just fine.”
How do we acquire students’ perspectives? View the classroom and school environment with their eyes and their hearts. Sometimes students are able to describe those times of the day when they feel lost, stupid, or scared. They may not understand what to do when it’s time for writing. They may not remember to turn in homework assignments. They may be in trouble because they’re the last kid in line for every specials class. They may try to hide at recess. Therefore, they may need individualized graphic organizers and support for spelling, written/graphic check-in procedures, prior notice of transitions, and adult intervention to support social interactions at recess.
When students are unable to articulate their distress, special educators and parents must meet with classroom personnel before developing an IEP to discuss problem situations which are highly predictable. Teachers may have already indicated that the student rarely completes assignments on time or often “cheats” during tests. If we know that our student regularly melts down in PE and lunch, let’s ask what factors are contributing to his failure, not “Why can’t he try harder?” or “What’s wrong with him?” Let’s assume that our student can do better if we provide appropriate support. Does he struggle in large, noisy spaces? Would rehearsal and role-playing, assigned seating, ear plugs, written/graphic schedules, or alternative activities make a difference?
Let’s view the teaching environment as a flexible tool, not a rigid mold into which our special needs kids must fit. Modifications allow us to reshape their school world so that these diverse learners experience success.