The Story: A Teacher with High Expectations
Mr. Smith started his career as a field biologist before discovering his passion for education. Now, after 25 years as a teacher, he systematically graduates students into the biological science fields in staggering numbers. There’s just something about how he teaches that captivates children and leads them to follow his path into the field. Danny knows this, and, as a child who has always loved fishing and the outdoors, he’s excited to take Biology this year!
Mr. Smith accredits his success to the fact that he holds high expectations for his students. However, he also frequently refuses accommodations because he says they make things easier for the students. As the year gets started, it becomes clear that Danny is going to struggle in Biology. It’s not that he can’t understand the content. This fact is evident during classroom instruction and conversations. Danny asks high level questions and regularly challenges the thinking of the class. However, Danny’s reading and writing needs are preventing him from reaching his fullest potential because he is not doing so well on independent assignments where Mr. Smith expects the students to read content for class.
Danny’s learning support teacher, Mr. Johnson, notices that his grades are slipping in Biology. He’s worked with Mr. Smith for several years and has always admired his instructional techniques, but he knows his standards and the fact that Mr. Smith has always resisted accommodations. However, Mr. Johnson has a new idea that he’s hoping will change Mr. Smith’s practices, the idea that adaptations enable a child to reach high expectations by empowering them “around” their needs. Given Danny’s obvious interest in Biology, this conversation may just change Mr. Johnson’s thinking.
The Context: A New Way to Consider Adaptations
Teachers and parents frequently misunderstand the function of an accommodation, which is the root cause of this type of resistance. Frequently you’ll hear statements like “accommodations make assignments easier,” or their use “isn’t fair to the other students.”
It’s obvious that these misunderstandings are at the root of Mr. Smith’s resistance. Danny’s struggles with reading and writing, and when he’s required to use these skills in Biology, create a barrier to his ability to access the curriculum or to demonstrate what he’s learned. This barrier is making it difficult for Danny to learn Biology. By helping Mr. Smith to understand the function of an accommodation – to support Danny “around” his need – he will make Biology accessible to Danny.
For example, let’s say that Mr. Smith begins using L27-Provide Text in Audio Format, which would permit Danny to listen to reading assignments. By allowing Danny to listen to a reading passage, Mr. Smith is not making Biology easier. Biology – the content – doesn’t change. What he is doing by using the accommodation is making Biology accessible to Danny! And by making it possible for Danny to listen to a reading passage, he’s not being unfair to Danny’s classmates. The opposite is actually true; he’s providing every student, including Danny, with a fair opportunity to learn Biology.
The Point: “Around” Makes Education Accessible
It’s important for teachers to realize that accommodations have a simple function: they make the general education classroom accessible by empowering a child around their needs.
The Story Continues: A Change in Mindset
Mr. Johnson stops by his colleague’s classroom one morning. “I have a question for you, George. Do you think Danny could become one of your graduates that works in a biology related field?” “Absolutely,” replies Mr. Smith. “It’s just that Danny can’t read very well, so he isn’t learning as much as he could,” Mr. Smith added. Mr. Johnson looks down with a short pause before responding, “What if I knew a way to minimize how much Danny’s reading challenges impact his ability to learn Biology? Would you be interested?” “Of course,” Mr. Smith replies, “Danny seems to love Biology and he asks some incredible questions during our class conversations. If he wasn’t held back by his reading problem, I bet he would really stand out in the class.”
Mr. Johnson shares how accommodations hold the power to empower Danny around his needs, essentially eliminating their impact as he works to learn and demonstrate his learning on assignments, tests, and quizzes. The pair discuss adaptations that will fit nicely into Mr. Smith’s classroom, including his practices and the types of assignments he gives.
Be Action Driven: Things To Do
- Learn more about how “around” works with the second tier of special education (through) in our recent newsletter: “Two Tiers to Success: Through and Around.”
- Consider the importance of accommodations and modifications from a parent’s perspective by reading what the Center for Parent Information and Resources has to share.
- Dive in to Accomods to consider ways you might support a child around their needs. Don’t have an account? Learn more here.