Accessibility Builds Engagement

Accessibility Builds Engagement

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.
The Dangers of Not Selecting Just-Right Adaptations

The Dangers of Not Selecting Just-Right Adaptations

Student with special needs gets frustrated.

The Story: Different Levels of Support

Billy walks into his 5th-grade math class after being greeted by his teacher, Mr. Ware. Mr. Ware has been teaching for three years, and his students love his enthusiastic, fun-loving approach to learning. Billy agrees that Mr. Ware is pretty cool, but due to his learning disability, he struggles in math, and Mr. Ware provides too little support. Despite his learning disability, Billy enjoys math class and pays close attention during instruction. However, when it’s time to complete individual assignments, Billy gets frustrated easily and shuts down. He frequently complains of headaches and asks to go to the nurse, puts his head down, saying he’s tired, and he often refuses to attempt assignments without support. Billy becomes disengaged because he knows he can’t complete the assignments.

Billy walks into his 5th-grade language arts class where Mrs. Stevens is busily preparing everything she needs for class, including several modified assignments she provides to Billy and other students. Billy is a child with an identified disability, but only in mathematics, so these modified assignments in language arts aren’t necessary. Billy doesn’t really know the difference, so he never complains or says anything to his parents about it. Besides, it makes language arts easier for him, which means he doesn’t need to work hard in class. In fact, he can pretty much sleep through class and still get good grades. Billy becomes disengaged because the modified assignments are too easy, so he doesn’t need to pay attention in class to complete them.

Billy walks into his 5th-grade science class where Mrs. Garcia is chatting with the school’s principal. As the bell rings, Mrs. Garcia instructs the class to resume their work on the simple machines lab assignment they started the previous day. Billy quickly gets to work on the assignment with his lab peers. Several of the tasks involve completing math problems related to finding how much a simple machine reduces the amount of effort required to complete a task. During this step, Mrs. Garcia has provided Billy with a written, step-by-step process of how to solve math problems. This adaptation is just-right and encourages Billy’s engagement, because the assignment is both accessible and appropriately challenging.

The Context: Not Too Much, Not Too Little…Just-Right

Finding a just-right level of support is key to engaging the child in class, instruction, and assessment in meaningful ways. Providing too much or too little support causes disengagement that looks different depending on the child. Too much support can cause a feeling of dependency on others, which leads them to become unwilling to attempt tasks on their own, feeling like they need the help of someone else to complete the task. Too little support can cause disengagement that results in passive actions, from the child putting their head down or failing to complete an assignment to aggressive actions that endanger the welfare of the child and their peers.  In both cases, too much or too little support leads the child to disengage from class, instruction, and assessment.  It’s important to remember that support can be provided in various ways, not only through individual accommodations and modifications. As we work to ensure a just-right level of support, we must consider the presence of these other forms as well!

The Point: Just-Right Support Results in Engagement

A just-right level of support is necessary to engage the child in class, instruction, and assessment in meaningful ways. In its absence, the child becomes disengaged. This looks different for every child ranging from passive participation and failure to complete assignments to aggressive behavior.

Be Action Driven: Things To Do

  1. Learn more about how to select “just-right” adaptations check out our “Tools for Effective Inclusion” asynchronous course.
  2. Be sure to sign up to receive our future newsletters!  Scroll to the bottom of our homepage to sign up.  It’s free!  See previous newsletters where “just-right” is a common theme.
  3. Dive in to Accomods to consider ways you might support a child around their needs.  Don’t have an account?  Learn more here.
Essential IEP Team Member Skills

Essential IEP Team Member Skills

IEP team working together.

Collaboration within an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team is vital for the success of students with special needs. When general educators, special educators, school and district leaders, and parents join forces, the impact on special education students can be truly transformative. Research consistently highlights that students with disabilities in schools with collaborative IEP teams outperform similar students in schools without a collaborative culture. Additionally, studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education prove that students who have actively involved parents and receive special education services exhibit improved academic achievement, behavior, and motivation. To create the most high-functioning IEP teams that impact student achievement, read on for essential skills that general educators, special educators, administrators, and parents need to best serve their students.

Essential Skills for General Educators Serving Students with Special Needs

General educators play a pivotal role in inclusive classrooms, where students with special needs thrive alongside their peers. To effectively support these students, teachers need to develop a range of essential skills that promote their academic, social, and emotional growth. These same essential skills apply to homeschooling parents as well.

  1. Recognizing and identifying the presence of student needs. General education teachers should possess the ability to recognize when a student is facing challenges or experiencing barriers to their learning. This involves keen observation, active listening, and seeking support from specialized professionals, such as special education teachers or special service providers, when needed.
  2. Identify ways to improve the student’s skills (through process). Based on students’ current performance, general educators must meet students where they are and adjust instruction to fill academic gaps. An essential skill for general education teachers is the ability to adapt and modify instructional strategies to meet the individual needs of students with special needs. By employing differentiated instruction techniques, teachers can ensure that students are actively engaged in the learning process and are making growth.
  3. Identify “just-right” adaptations to support the child around their needs. General education teachers should be skilled in selecting and implementing appropriate adaptations that support students with special needs. These adaptations can include visual aids, assistive technology, modified assignments, or accommodations that address specific challenges or barriers a student may encounter and can access the curriculum effectively. For those needing guidance, our easy-to-use tool, Accomods, provides IEP teams with access to hundreds of detailed accommodations and modifications.
  4. Collect simple data that prove effectiveness. General educators must collect ongoing data to monitor student progress, evaluate the effectiveness of instructional strategies and adaptations, and make data-informed decisions. By systematically collecting data, teachers can identify areas of growth, adjust interventions, and provide targeted support to students with special needs. Check out our Accomods Adaptation Data Form to streamline data collection.

Top Skills for School or District Leaders to Lead Special Education Teams

In fostering an inclusive educational environment, the role of school and district leaders is instrumental. Leaders provide the necessary support and resources to enable IEP teams to effectively support students with special needs. By developing specific skills and implementing supportive structures, leaders can ensure that IEP teams operate cohesively and are equipped to meet the unique needs of each student.

  1. Foster a barrier-moving, inclusive mindset in your school or district. School and district leaders set the tone for ensuring an inclusive mindset among staff members. By promoting a culture that values and embraces diversity, leaders create an environment where teachers can identify when a child is experiencing a barrier that hinders their meaningful engagement in class, instruction, and assessment. This mindset shift is fundamental to creating inclusive practices system-wide.
  2. Develop effective classroom practices and acceleration programs designed to build student skills in the areas where they are weak. Leaders need to provide guidance and support to teachers in developing effective classroom practices that meet the diverse needs of students with special needs. This includes providing professional development opportunities focused on evidence-based instructional strategies, differentiated instruction, and the use of appropriate accommodations and modifications.
  3. Support teachers by empowering them with the ability to find, select, and implement adaptations that support students around the needs they demonstrate in their setting. Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all approach, leaders should encourage individualized support based on teachers’ practices and the unique needs of their students. This allows for adaptations that are practical, effective, and aligned with the instructional approaches used in the classroom.
  4. Support commonsense data collection that occurs as naturally as possible. By promoting simple yet meaningful data collection methods, leaders enable teachers to track student progress and gather evidence of the effectiveness of adaptations and instructional strategies. This data analysis informs evidence-based decision-making and helps identify areas where additional support may be required.

Skills for Parents to Cultivate to Support a Child with Special Needs

Parents play a vital role in their child’s education and serve as key members of the IEP team. They are, after all, their child’s first teacher. By focusing on the below skills, parents can effectively advocate for their child’s needs and actively contribute to their success.

  1. Work with your child to identify specific skills that cause a barrier to their participation in class, instruction, and assessment. Parents should collaborate with their child to identify the specific skills that hinder their meaningful participation in class, instruction, and assessment. By understanding these challenges, parents can better support their child’s development and communicate these needs to the IEP team.
  2. Ensure your child’s participation in skill-building activities. This should involve practicing relevant skills at home, engaging in targeted interventions, or providing additional support outside of the school environment. By reinforcing these skills outside of the classroom, parents can help their child make exponentially more progress.
  3. Understand and support the effective use of “just-right” adaptations. Parents should become knowledgeable about the functions and benefits of adaptations. By advocating for appropriate adaptations, parents can ensure their child’s learning environment is optimized.
  4. Seek feedback from your child and share information with IEP teammates on the effectiveness of adaptations. Parents should actively seek feedback from their child regarding the effectiveness of adaptations. This input provides valuable insights into the impact of adaptations on their child’s learning experience. Sharing this feedback with the IEP team fosters collaborative decision-making and allows for continuous improvement of support strategies.

Action Driven Education Is Here to Empower Your IEP Team

The collaboration and collective skills of IEP team members are vital for supporting students with special needs on their educational journey. General education teachers, school and district leaders, and parents all play crucial roles in creating an inclusive and supportive environment where these students can thrive.

At Action Driven Education, we recognize the importance of a high-functioning IEP team and are committed to providing the necessary resources and expertise to enhance collaboration and effectiveness. With a range of services, including highly rated professional development, our on-demand Tools for Effective Inclusion online course, and our first-of-its-kind tool Accomods to enhance inclusive education, our team of experts is ready to guide and assist you in your journey to better support students with special needs. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of your students.

Selecting “Just-Right” Adaptations

Selecting “Just-Right” Adaptations

Learn how to select the right adaptions for students in K-12.

Three Pieces of Student Information From Their IEP

IEPs begin with a focus on three essential pieces of information related to the child. This information provides the foundation for identifying a “just-right” adaptation. IEP teams are tasked with determining the child’s:

  1. Needs
  2. Strengths
  3. Present levels of academic and functional performance

Using this Information to Select a “Just-Right” Adaptation

It’s not a coincidence that this information is the exact information needed to select that “just-right” adaptation. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Select adaptations that align to a child’s need: A just-right adaptation is directly connected to a specific student need. Certain adaptations work well for a sensory processing need while others are connected to a reading fluency need. Some adaptations work well for multiple needs, so if the child has multiple needs and all align to an adaptation, that adaptation may be perfect! Accomods’ builder method is designed to help you find this just-right adaptation!
  2. Select adaptations that are empowered by the child’s strengths: It’s human nature to use our strengths as leverage against our needs. Think about the last time you needed to complete a task that was difficult for you. What did you do? Chances are you used your strengths to overcome it! Similarly, you should consider student strengths to select appropriate adaptations. If the child enjoys social situations, consider adaptations that leverage their social skills against their needs. Is the child good with technology? Then consider ways technology can be used as an adaptation to empower the child.
  3. Select adaptations that match the child’s degree of need: The present levels from a child’s IEP tell you how intensive an adaptation needs to be. This is the data that we use to determine what we call the degree of need. Data helps you pick a just-right adaptation by ensuring the appropriate amount of support is provided. Recall that the function of an adaptation is to make the curriculum accessible by supporting the child around their need NOT to make learning, assignments, and tests easier. When an adaptation is too intensive it makes learning activities easy and that’s not the goal! Alternatively, if an adaptation isn’t intensive enough, the child will begin to demonstrate frustration and become disengaged. By selecting just-right adaptations that match the child’s degree of need you’re ensuring engagement!

Let Action Driven Education make it simple to help you find, select and implement that perfect, just-right, adaption with Accomods and our popular Tools for Effective Inclusion course!


Be Action Driven: Things To Do

  1. Learn more about how to select “just-right” adaptations check out our Tools for Effective Inclusion asynchronous course.
  2. See previous newsletters where “just-right” is a common theme. Be sure to sign up to receive our future newsletters! (form is in our website footer)
  3. Jump in to Accomods to consider ways you might support a child around their needs. Don’t have an account? Learn more here.
High Expectations: Discover the Power of “Around”

High Expectations: Discover the Power of “Around”

Discover the power of "around" in using accomodations.

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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. Dive in to Accomods to consider ways you might support a child around their needs. Don’t have an account? Learn more here.
Getting to the Why of Student Defiance

Getting to the Why of Student Defiance

Learn how to teach defiant students.

The Story: The Defiant Student

“Get to work Sophie,” Mr. Clarke says as he circulates his classroom, noticing that Sophie once again has her head on the desk. “No,” Sophie quietly mumbles in response. “Sophie, last time you refused to work, I had to write you up as being defiant. You don’t want that to happen again, do you?” Sophie nonchalantly shrugs her shoulders. Ignoring the shrug, Mr. Clarke replies, “come on, let’s get to work,” as he walks away. Sophie stares quietly at the wall until the bell rings.

Later in the day, Mr. Clarke approaches his seventh-grade colleague, Ms. Miller. “Do you have problems in math class with Sophie refusing to do her work?” Ms. Miller replies, “Sometimes. I’ve noticed that she completes assignments without issues if they are simple calculation problems. But if it requires any amount of struggle, she often refuses to do it.” Mr. Clarke responds by saying, “I’m not that lucky in science. She just says ‘no’ to almost everything in my class. She’s one of the most defiant students I’ve ever worked with!”

The Context: Significant Learning Delays

Sophie is being defiant, no doubt about it. However, the question is, why is she being defiant? Statistics show that children with special needs are nearly twice as likely to experience a suspension or expulsion than their nondisabled peers. This number becomes even more staggering when you recognize that there’s a law actively working to prevent this suspension for a child with a disability! Furthermore, research aside, active teachers and administrators know that children with special needs are far more likely to display this type of defiance, sometimes despite our best efforts to prevent it!

What’s going on here? While capturing the complexity in a summary is difficult, Sophie is identified as a child with special needs. Recent standardized test scores showing significant delays in several key areas, including Working Memory (% Rank=1 WISC-V), Sentence Composition (% Rank=0.5 WIAT-III), and Math Problem-Solving (% Rank=0.3 WIAT-III), begin to paint a picture of the problem. Additionally, as a 7th grader, she’s also deeply involved in the social aspects of her development, making the presence of her disability a major variable in her willingness to participate in class. Given her challenges in working memory and writing and her math problem-solving need, she’s likely to need more support than her peers to succeed on tasks that require her to use skills in these areas.

Sophie’s defiance, while legitimately defiant, is the direct result of her need, which means that her teachers aren’t likely to fix it through punishment or pleading. They will have to explore the cause of her defiance and address it using the effective through-and-around method that makes special education work. She’s not a “defiant child.” She’s defiant when she perceives that she lacks the skills necessary to complete a task, and this defiance is magnified when she feels the eyes of her peers staring at her.

The Point: A Two-Tier Solution

Sophie’s teachers should develop a two-tiered solution to her defiance.

First, the team should consider adaptations that empower her around her need in each class. It is important to highlight that these accommodations should be aligned with her needs (working memory, writing, and mathematics problem-solving) not focused on the byproduct of her need – defiance. By selecting appropriate accommodations, Sophie’s team will effectively change her perception that she can’t complete a given task and give her confidence, increasing her willingness to participate.

Secondly, the team needs to plan ways to improve Sophie’s skills. She’s demonstrated four areas of need her team should address. Instruction should be planned to actively improve the following:

  1. Sophie should be taught strategies to improve her working memory.
  2. Sophie should participate in intensive instruction designed to improve her writing skills.
  3. Sophie should be taught various strategies of mathematics problem-solving.
  4. Sophie should be taught appropriate ways to ask for help that doesn’t include refusal/defiance.

The Story Continues: Addressing Student Needs

Upon reflection, Mr. Clarke realized that the assignment Sophie refused to complete required a tremendous amount of writing. He arranged to meet with Sophie and her learning support teacher to discuss ways he could support her in his class, including adaptations to upcoming writing assignments. Sophie will be taught to use graphic organizers to capture and organize her thoughts before writing and will be encouraged to use them on upcoming assignments. Mr. Clarke recognized that several other students in his class also struggle with writing, so he’s excited to welcome Sophie’s learning support teacher as a co-teacher in his class. This partnership will strategically highlight the importance of writing as a learning tool in social studies by allowing students to review and apply their writing skills in authentic ways. It will also provide additional instruction to those who need to continue to improve their writing skills.

As a result of this instruction and support, Sophie gains confidence and begins participating in more activities. She even finds other students in the class that also struggle with writing. This creates authentic social opportunities for Sophie to bond with her peers. Over time, as her skills improve and she experiences effective support, her defiant behaviors are eliminated.


Be Action Driven

  1. Learn more about how to select appropriate adaptations in our “Tools for Effective Inclusion” course.
  2. Check out what the US Dept of Education has to say about Manifestation Determinations.