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Understanding the Differences Between Accommodations and Modifications—And How to Use Them Effectively

    accommodations vs modifications

    It can be hard to navigate the world of inclusive classrooms. In this post, I clarify the differences between accommodations and modifications and how to provide them in the ELA classroom to help all students succeed.

    Looking to understand the differences between accommodations and modifications in education? You’ve come to the right place, my friend. Trust me—you’re not the first (or only) teacher to get confused by these terms. However, it’s important to understand the differences between accommodations and modifications and how to best support students with each.

    Whether you find this post as you are preparing for final exams or first receiving Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or 504 plans at the start of the year, I’m glad you’re here. Understanding the difference between accommodations and modifications will help you take an inclusive, student-centered approach during any lesson or assignment at any point in the curriculum. Let’s dive in, shall we?

    Defining Accommodations and Modifications

    While both support student learning, accommodations and modifications are not the same thing.  Accommodations are all about providing additional tools and approaches to help students learn the same material as their peers. Modifications, however, change more than just how students learn. They modify what a student is expected to learn, too. Now, let’s take a closer look.

    Accommodations: Meeting Students Where They Are At

    Consider accommodations as a way to level the playing field of student learning, giving all students a fair shot at achieving success. However, accommodations don’t involve changing the content or expectations. Instead, they provide students with the necessary resources to access and demonstrate their understanding of the curriculum. The goal is to remove barriers, allowing students to participate and succeed alongside their peers.

    Let’s take a look at some examples of accommodations in the ELA classroom:

    1. Giving additional time for reading assignments or assessments.
    2. Allowing the use of graphic organizers or visual aids to support comprehension.
    3. Using transitions like “For example” and “To illustrate” to introduce examples.
    4. Offering audiobooks or digital texts for struggling readers.
    5. Assigning a peer buddy for note-taking or collaborative tasks.
    6. Providing preferential seating for students with attention difficulties.
    1. Utilizing assistive technology tools, such as text-to-speech or speech-to-text software.
    2. Scaffolding complex assignments into smaller, manageable tasks.
    3. Color-coding materials to aid visual organization and understanding.
    4. Providing sentence starters to support students during writing tasks.

    You may already implement some of the accommodations mentioned above as part of your general teaching strategy. If so, well done! There’s nothing wrong with making these accommodations a normalized aspect of your instruction. Honestly, many accommodations reflect best teaching practices in general.  However, it’s especially important to ensure those students with documented needs for these accommodations have clear access to them.

    Provide additional support with my Venn Diagram and Plot Diagram templates.

    Modifications: Adjusting the Curriculum

    Now, let’s talk about modifications. Modifications are meant to maximize student potential for growth regardless of their skill level. These are like tailor-made adjustments to the curriculum, specifically designed for students with significant learning challenges. These are students who we do not expect to learn the same materials or produce the same work as their peers. Modifications ensure students can engage with the material at their level, embracing their unique needs and abilities. It’s about adjusting the curriculum to match a student’s ability and learning style.

    Let’s take a look at some modification examples in the ELA classroom:

    1. Simplifying the reading level or content of assigned texts to match student ability.
    2. Providing alternative texts or materials that cover similar, more accessible content.
    3. Changing the length or complexity of writing assignments.
    4. Accepting graphic organizers or outlines as substitutes for longer written responses.
    5. Differentiating vocabulary lists by number and complexity of words.
    6. Modifying assessment criteria or rubrics to focus on fewer, more specific skills.
    7. Providing alternative assignments that align with individual learning abilities and goals.
    8. Giving guided notes or outlines for support during lectures or discussions.
    9. Adjusting the level of support or guidance provided during independent activities.
    10. Assigning fewer readings or assignments while maintaining the key learning outcomes.

    It’s important to remember that modifications aim to adjust the curriculum to meet students’ individual needs and abilities as outlined in their IEPs or 504s. However, it’s vital to maintain high expectations. After all, no matter the modification, the goal is to create opportunities for progress and growth to flourish.

    Knowing When to Use Accommodations vs. Modifications

    The first step to knowing when and how to use accommodations or modifications is understanding the student’s needs and goals. Start by reviewing the student’s IEPs or 504 plan to understand student abilities, limitations, and teacher expectations. However, even those can leave teachers wondering when to use what types of support.

    Accommodations are most appropriate when a student can grasp the content and meet the learning objectives with additional help. Rather than changing the difficulty level or assignment itself, providing additional steps and support allows the student to fully engage with the curriculum and demonstrate their understanding.

    Modifications are best used when students face significant challenges meeting the standard curriculum requirements. These students have often fallen significantly behind their peers due to learning disabilities and delays. By adjusting the learning goals and expectations, we can still promote student growth and progress by meeting them where they are at. Again, this may involve shortening texts, simplifying the language, or modifying the overall criteria.

    Regardless if you are using accommodations or modifications, remember to provide clear instruction and hold students to high standards. With the right support and adjustments in place, all students can succeed. 

    Collaboration for Student Success

    Teamwork makes the dream work, especially when implementing accommodations and modifications. Therefore, I encourage you to collaborate with special education teachers and support staff. Their expertise can inform your instructional decisions and help create appropriate learning plans for students with diverse needs. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek support. You are on the same team, all working to give students equal access to success.

    However, it’s not just your peers that you need to collaborate with. Communicating with students and parents is a vital component of student success too. Create a supportive network by encouraging transparent and ongoing communication with students and their parents.

    Evaluating Effectiveness: Are the Accommodations and Modifications Working?

    Ensuring student success is not a one-size-fits-all approach and the effectiveness of accommodations and modifications may vary from student to student. That’s why it’s important to regularly check if your strategies are meeting students’ needs and making a positive difference in their academic progress. If a student puts forth an honest effort and struggles to succeed, it might be time to switch things up. Stay open-minded and be ready to explore alternative approaches that better meet each student’s needs.

    As secondary ELA teachers, understanding the differences between accommodations and modifications is essential for creating inclusive classrooms where all students have a chance at success. While I hope this post clarifies the difference between accommodations and modifications, I want to reiterate that you are only one piece of the puzzle. (Trust me, I know how much pressure teachers face daily.) We are teachers, not magicians. The truth is, you can provide all the accommodations and modifications you want, but the student must be willing to do the work. If you feel you are doing everything you can to support the student based on their needs, know that you are doing your job.

    Lastly, in addition to supporting student success, I love seeing teachers supporting teachers. If you have any ideas for accommodations or modifications you’ve used in the secondary ELA classroom, leave a comment below to share your knowledge and join the conversation! Together, we can help set the future generation up for success in our classrooms and beyond.

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