The million-dollar question that I am constantly being asked is, “How do you meet grade level standards when your students are functioning so many grade levels below?”

One of the many challenges of being a special education teacher (out of the thousands) that I have faced over the years is adapting standards while meeting the intense needs of my kiddos. How do you meet all of the indicators of a lesson such as “asking & answering questions to peers” when your students are nonverbal? Whether you teach in a state that implements common core standards or not, there is still a push of grade level expectations that we want to keep in mind as we plan! I feel like I have finally figured out a way to modify a grade level lesson while still achieving the grade level standard and meeting the individual needs of my students! Throughout the week, I teach a lesson that involves every aspect my students need to work on from basic literacy skills to fine motor.

In a nutshell:

  • Standards are chosen based on my school’s grade level’s scope and sequence that is created over the summer
  • I find out what grades are learning about those months to keep themes in sync (quick conversation or email will do!)
  • I plan a month at a time
  • I keep holidays, seasons and monthly themes in mind
  • I incorporate activities that meet their individual IEP goals

Monthly Planning

Monthly Planning has been key! I like to see the whole month laid out so that I make sure everything is included from standards to the monthly theme and seasons! I write the weekly standard I want to target under the date and find an appropriate book or two that matches the standard. I am extremely fortunate to have access to Reading A to Z in my county however if this is not something you have, you just may need to do some more digging. Many of my ideas have come from the literacy units on The Autism Helper!

“I Can” statements and Learning Targets

Just like in the general education classrooms, I also use “I Can” statements. To keep it simple, I created a general board of standards and simply circle the one for the week. We practice reading them and I reference the schedule of activities that will help us meet that standard.

Modifying and adapting!

By now you may be thinking, “That’s great and all but my kiddo is working on basic matching skills and has limited language”. That’s ok! But do not stay in this mindset for too long or you will never feel like your kiddo is ready for a grade level standard! Grab an organizer that fits the lesson and modify and add structure! Let’s take a first grade language-arts standard as an example (RL.1.3-Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details).

  1. Pick out an appropriate story and organizers:
  1. Think about your kiddos needs:

Do they need to work on identical matching? Fine-motor skills? Language? Colors? Basic literacy skills? Not even sure where to truly start? Check out this post on ABLLS !

  1. Adapt!

For this specific group of kiddos, I have some who can independently cut, paste, and follow directions with verbal prompts and others who are working on identical matching skills. I use Boardmaker Online to create pre-made picture choices and adjust prompting level based on each student. I complete some organizers with pictures and those kiddos practice matching the characters, setting, and events while others can follow along and complete with verbal prompting!

Just like any other lesson I would teach, we reference the book for details, teach core language words such as: same, different, who, what, where, when, not. We touch the title, find the page numbers, match pictures of the frog with the frog, and practice cutting and pasting. I point to “who” on the core board when talking about characters and use the same literacy language I would use for any student! For non-verbal students, hand each other “What happened” cards to practice asking and answering questions. Expose, expose, expose! Towards the end of the week we will make a snack or a fine motor craft that matches the story!

  1. Keep it age appropriate!

Even if you are working with 8th graders who are functioning around a kindergarten level, you still want to keep it appropriate. It may be tempting to use a cute, easy kindergarten text but bump it up! While the actual text complexity may be difficult, students can still work on matching characters with real photos and sequencing events with rich text!

While you are teaching a modified grade level standard, your assistants could run a group of leveled language arts curriculum. Next time I will be talking about how to incorporate those awesome TAH leveled curriculums into your weekly literacy and math rotations! Happy adapting, you’ve got this!

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