How Can You Accommodate Special Needs in Your Upper Grade Classroom?

When I worked in the public schools in Massachusetts one of the things I did was co-teach in middle school language-based classrooms for students with language disorders.  I worked with these students from K through 8th grade, so by the time they got to middle school they were pretty tired of seeing me.  

One of the ways in which my working with them changed in middle school, however, was exciting - at least to me; probably not so much to them.  I got to help many of them as they spent more time in general education classes; which meant trying to figure out how to learn what was required and keep up with the work that was so hard for them.  These kids were usually about 2-3 years behind in their reading skills, and further in terms of vocabulary comprehension and use.

So, what are accommodations?  They are the changes we make in the materials we give or procedures we use so that students with disabilities can access to the curriculum.  These accommodations are meant to help reduce the impact of the disability on the student as he tries to access the curriculum material and should allow him to demonstrate what he does know with success.

We make accommodations in the curriculum materials:

  •     alternative assignments and assessments

  •     provide lower reading level or reading materials provided in alternative formats

  •     give fewer or shorter assignments

  •     provide listening guides or outlines

  •     advanced notice of assignments and tests

  •     front-loading of material

We make accommodations through our teaching strategies:

  •     chunking information and highlighting key points

  •     reducing distractions in class or in worksheets themselves

  •     breaking work down into smaller pieces

  •     use of peer partners

  •     use of assistive listening devices

  •     use of alternative formats

For students with medical disabilities, we provide health monitoring.

For students with vision disabilities, we provide materials in large font with high contrast colors, with alternative placement.

For students with attentional issues, we

  •     seat them away from distractions and near a good role-model

  •     cue on-task behavior with a private signal

  •     ignore minor behavioral issues that aren’t disruptive

  •     allow them to get out of their seats/move around/chew gum 

For students with ASD we provide lots of visual supports.  

How can you keep all of this straight?  Hopefully, you don’t have to.  Your students should have a well-written IEP that documents what accommodations work for them.  And you should be able to go to your special education team and ask for support.

Have a good school year!

Susan Berkowitz, MS CCC-SLP, MEd., has been a speech-language pathologist for 40 years. She has worked mostly with children and adults with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and other developmental disabilities, as well as 8 years in the language-based classrooms in a school district. Susan has worked in public and non-public schools, residential settings, and nonprofit community agencies. She has written for peer-reviewed professional journals and presented at international conferences. Visit her website  and blog for additional resources. For her complete resume, click here.