Academic Modifications for Students with Learning Disabilities: Questions and Considerations for Planning
By Therese Hogan, Ed.D. Dominican University, LDA of IL Professional Advisory Board
When planning for academic instruction and necessary instructional modifications for a student with learning disabilities in a regular education classroom.
The match between the learning characteristics of the student and the demands of the classroom setting is the key consideration. In addressing the process of designing effective adaptations, Uduari-Solner (1995) states, "Formulating and understanding the purpose of the adaptations in relationship to the learning needs of the students is an essential step in the design and selection process" (p.111). Information about the student needs to be accompanied by information on the instructional setting for successful planning. As the general educator and special educator plan adaptations, each has essential information to share as they seek to obtain a view of the student as a learner, a view of the classroom and a view of how that student might function academically within the classroom.
The View of the Student
Designing and selecting appropriate modifications for the student with learning disabilities requires looking not only at the student's academic levels, but more importantly at how the student learns. When one listens to the questions from both general and special educators, the focus is often not what to teach the student, but how to teach the student. This is not to say that what to teach the student is not important, for identifying skills and achievement needs within subject areas and the curriculum is an essential step. However, failing to consider how to teach the student in light of his or her learning characteristics and strengths and weaknesses would be a critical omission in the planning process.
The first part of the "view" is of the student as a learner. Questions to ask when planning instruction or adaptation in light of a student's learning characteristics may include:
How does this student take in information?
Consider attending skills, is s/he an auditory, visual or haptic learner?, Is he stronger input words, pictures or symbols?
How does this student tell us what she knows?
Is s/he a writer, talker or actor/creator? How do his/her fine motor and visual-motor skills impact his/her performance
How does this student process information?
Memory factors, discrimination skills, organizational factors, pace of processing/responding, integration of information, problem solving.
What are his/her work habit?
Armed with this information, the general and special educators have some sense of what to expect with respect to reaction to various teaching methods, instructional tasks, assignments, and classroom demands. It is a beginning picture of how a student learns. This information may be used to determine how the student might respond to instruction, to identify effective instructional approaches and need areas.
When designing or selecting adaptations, one also needs to consider the student's academic skills. Questions to ask with respect to the student's academic skills need to go beyond discussion of achievement levels. These considerations may include, but should not be limited to the following:
READING - Compare word identification and vocabulary, compare word attack and sight word skills; compare listening comprehension and reading comprehension, consider impact on textbook reading skills.
MATH - Consider basic fact knowledge, consider impact of memory skills, consider concepts versus calculation skills.
WRITTEN LANGUAGE - Consider ideas versus fluency and volume, consider mechanics versus ideas, consider organization skills, and consider impact of fine motor skills/deficits.
Consideration of the student characteristics is only part of the picture. Various factors within the classroom in which the student is placed need to be considered as well. One needs to consider the specific instructional aspects of the teacher's style, the curriculum and the subject area and classroom demands. One also needs to consider classroom functioning skills that are common to many classrooms and many classroom tasks/assignments.
Initially, one needs to consider the instructional factors and task demands of the specific classroom. Questions to consider with respect to the classroom instruction may include the following:
What are the common forms of instruction? Lecture, discussion, cooperative learning, role playing, text reading, etc.
What materials are used for instruction (most common)?
What is the general nature the assignments/tasks expected from the students in the class?
Amount of reading expected, amount of writing expected, frequency and nature of testing, class participation expected, regular ongoing assignments journals, book reports, etc.), major assignments (term papers, projects, etc.), homework (amount, frequency, type).
In addition to specific characteristics of the classroom, based on the teaching style, subject demands, and assignments, one needs to consider the classroom functioning skills.
These skills are often key factors for successful performance in the classroom, yet they may present significant challenges for some students. Students may need adaptations with respect to these skills dependent upon the level of demand for the successful performance of these skills. These skills include:
Lecture with note taking
Responding to oral questions
Following oral and written directions
Asking clarification questions
Skimming and scanning for answers to questions
Copying near point and far point
Planning and organizing writing
Cumulative recall required
Sequential recall required
Arrangement/organization of work on a page
Test-taking skills (objective and essay)