engaged students

The Story: An Easy Reading Assignment

“Good morning, class. What did the cell say when another one stepped on its toes?” Mr. Smith scanned the room with a smirk, hoping to catch the eye of an interested child who would take the bait. “Mitosis!” he shouted with a laugh as he hopped around on one foot. The students laughed like when their dad told one of his favorite bad-dad jokes. “Okay, enough of the fun; let’s get to work! As you can see from the topic I’ve written on the board, today, we will discuss Mitosis – a type of cell division. Pull out your textbooks and take a minute to read the section, Cell Division: Mitosis, that starts on page 115. This section will get you ready for our class conversation.”

Most students opened their books and got busy reading, except Danny, who has mastered the art of looking like he’s reading while daydreaming, occasionally turning a page as he observes someone close by turning theirs. Sometimes, if he’s very interested in the subject, he might look at the pictures in the book and try to read the captions under them, but his Biology book is written at a reading level far beyond his ability, so it’s just easier to pretend.

As he notices the class finishing the passage, Mr. Smith begins the conversation with a few questions about the topic. Several students become engaged in answering questions, but Danny has nothing to add to the conversation. Because most of the conversation is based on information the class read about, Danny isn’t only not involved, but he’s completely lost on the topic.

The Context: A Solution to Increase Rigor

Mr. Smith doesn’t fully understand accommodations. As was shared in “High Expectations: Discover the Power of Around,” he thinks they make things easier for the student. But, what Mr. Smith is missing is that accommodations don’t make instruction, assignments, tests, and other things “easier”; they make them accessible. When he pretended to read and sat quietly, disengaged in the conversation, what Danny did was easy. Had Mr. Smith used an accommodation, such as C1: provide alternative text/books with similar content, skills, and strategies but at a more accessible reading level, Danny would have been able to independently read the content and become engaged in the classroom conversation. The accommodation would make the assignment accessible, not easier. It was easy for Danny to pretend to read. The content becomes rigorous when it is accessible, opening the door for him to become engaged in the assignment!

The Point: Accommodations Make Tasks Accessible Not Easier

When thinking about the impact of an accommodation, we should always consider what it does for the child’s meaningful engagement in their education, not what it does to the assignment. Did Danny read an article that was written on an easier reading level? Yes. But did the article Danny read increase the rigor of the assignment for him? Yes!

By making assignments accessible, accommodations increase the rigor of a child’s education; they do not make it easier. Consider our Fall ’23 Newsletter – Accessible Vs Easy to explore this idea further.

The Story Revisited: An Accessible Reading Assignment

Most of the students opened their books and got busy reading, except Danny, who knew there was an accessible way that he could explore Mitosis. He opened his computer to Diffit (an artificial intelligence site where you enter a topic and create a reading passage written on a selected reading level), typed the topic of the day, “Mitosis – a type of cell division,” and began reading the passage independently.

As he notices the class finishing the passage, Mr. Smith begins the conversation with a few questions about the topic. Several of the students become engaged in answering questions, including Danny. As a child who has always loved fly fishing, nature, and other biology-related topics, he’s excited to develop a deeper understanding of living things. The fact that he has read something different from his class allows him to share his understanding using different words, which, in turn, deepens the conversation for the class.

Be Action Driven: Things To Do

  1. Eliminate the word “easy” and replace it with “accessible” in accommodations-related
  2. Remember that engagement comes through the use of just-right accommodations. Explore more about this in our Summer ‘23 Newsletter – The Importance of Just-Right.
  3. Dive into Accomods to explore ways you might adapt future assignments to make them accessible to a child. Don’t have an account? Learn more here.