This question drives me absolutely crazy. I’ve been on a soapbox about accommodations lately. Let me tell you why – EVERY TEACHER who works with your students should know their accommodations. No one should ever have to ask what accommodation students have.
Let’s talk allllll about accommodations.
Changing the How, Not the What.
Before we get started, let’s review what an accommodation is and what it is not. An accommodation is a change that promotes equity by removing barriers that prevent students with disabilities from learning, demonstrating their knowledge or accessing the same things general education students do/have/get. It’s a work-around the disability. It does not change what the student is learning. It does not change the expectations of learning. It does not change or reduce the requirements of the task. To sum it up, accommodations don’t change the what, they change the how.
Types of Accommodations to Consider
There are thousands of accommodations for students with disabilities. Some are for general instruction and some are for specific times such as assessments. Most accommodations, no matter what they are for, break down to a few categories:
- accommodations to setting
- accommodations for time
- accommodations for response
- accommodations for presentation
Each of these accommodations help students in different ways.
Accommodations, if chosen correctly, help students better access general education.
They shouldn’t be ignored, either. Accommodations are part of providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and are one of the most important parts of a child’s IEP.
There is No One-Size-Fits-All
Accommodations are supposed to be personalized, just like the IEP. They can be anything from providing visuals to using a pencil grip. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to accommodations. Accommodations should be decided by the IEP TEAM. Not just one teacher. Not just one parent. Not just one related service provider. The TEAM. When the IEP team looks over what accommodations should be included in an IEP, here are some things to consider:
- What accommodations will increase independence for the student
- What accommodations will increase student learning
- What accommodations provide the student better access to the general education classroom and curriculum?
Some accommodations work for some, while for causing difficulty for others. For example a timer can keep some students on task while causing anxiety for others. Wiggle seats can increase focus for some students while causing a distraction for others. The right accommodations are found with trial and error.
The Problem With Accommodation Lists
Many teachers refer to an accommodation list. There are hundreds online. I have a love/hate relationships with accommodation lists. I’m all for looking them over for new ideas, but whatever you do PLEASE do not get stuck only using what the accommodation list gives you. Accommodations aren’t something that should be chosen on a whim. Rather, they should be personalized and carefully chosen, benefiting the specific student you are writing them for.
The Forgotten Pieces to Accommodations
Two things are inevitably forgotten when it comes to accommodations. 1. Sharing with teachers who share your student (I’m talking music, art, PE, guided reading, etc!) 2. Tracking accommodations to make sure they are working. Let’s look at both of those.
First, ‘your’ students are not just ‘your’ students. They belong to the school and have a variety of teachers who are important for that child’s education. Every teacher that has a student of yours in class should have a copy of their accommodations.
If you are rolling your eyes telling me that’s a waste of time and no one follows the accommodations you give, try changing your approach. Most teachers who do share accommodations do so at the beginning of the year when teachers are knee-deep in paperwork. They often share the accommodations by slipping a piece of paper in a mailbox and never check in with that teacher again. Time goes on and things get rough for the student. When asked about the accommodations the teacher says “what accommodations?” UGH! I hear you. I’ve been there. We get frustrated because we shared the accommodations but they weren’t followed. Time to change the plan! You see, we set a precedent for others we work with about what is important by what we focus on. By dropping off accommodations and never checking in again, we aren’t showing other teachers how important accommodations are. Try this instead: Within the first few weeks of school share those accommodations, then put a reminder on your calendar to follow up at least once a quarter. You can obviously do more if you need, but you at least have 4 quick points to check in to see if the teacher has questions about accommodations, consult about how the student is doing, and see if other accommodations are needed.
Secondly, you should be tracking what accommodations are successful for the students and which ones are not working. I know, I know. You probably hate me for telling you to take more data. But I’m telling you, once you have the right accommodations in place, your students will be more independent and functional in every area of school. Having the right accommodations reduces the likelihood of you getting a phone call saying your student is struggling. Win-win, right? So take some time and gather some data on what is working and what isn’t with accommodations. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be cute, but hard data changes the conversation from opinion to facts. When talking about student success and areas needing improvement, you want facts. Schedule some observation time where you can see the accommodations in action and see what’s working and what isn’t. The chart I use is below.
Accommodations can make or break a student’s success at school (and in the real world! Accommodations aren’t just for school!). Taking time to work as a team to determine the right accommodations, share them, help implement them, and evaluate if they are working is well worth your time as an educator.