Why adapt instructional materials for the inclusive classroom?
If most of your teaching experience has involved following a prescribed curriculum or teaching from a series of textbooks, you may wonder why instructional materials need to be adapted for special needs students or second language learners. Why not follow the same program for all your students, and simply give easier work to students who are developmentally delayed or struggling with the curriculum?
Teaching strategies and educational materials need to be adapted to make them accessible to students, and also to ensure an educational activity is allowing the student to master and demonstrate the target skill. A student who is hearing impaired and who reads the teacher’s lips cannot access the information in a lecture if the teacher faces away from the class. A student with a visual impairment may need large print worksheets and textbooks.
Recently our son was sent home an exercise designed to help him learn the names of colours in French. The exercise was very simple, and could easily have been done by a much young francophone student. It could also have been taught quickly to a younger student learning French for the first time. It consisted of two steps: first colouring a set of circles using the provided labels as cues, and then playing a “show me” game in which he needed to point to a colour we named. The first part of the game reinforced his knowledge of the written colour words, and the second reinforced his familiarity with the spoken words.
Although he did very well with the written part of the exercise he was not fond of the “show me” game, and his progress was much slower with it. Despite the fact that he could reliably name the colours, he couldn’t point to the colour we asked for. We looked at the exercise and discovered the phrasing of the command involved several language constructs that were new to him, but which would have been assumed for a student with a basic command of spoken French. The task needed to be adapted so he could understand it, and so he could learn and demonstrate the target skill.
When we removed the unfamiliar constructs from the “show me” game, our son’s performance improved. We have also had similar experiences with text books written for francophone students, when used in an immersion or second language environment. The materials assume a familiarity with the spoken language that is not present in special needs or second language learners, and tasks need to be simplified so the only challenge they present is that of learning the target skill or concept.
How to adapt instructional materials for the inclusive classroom
Adapting a teaching tool is a three step process. It consists of: 1) identifying the skill to be taught; 2) evaluating what skills the educational activity is testing for; and, 3) adapting the material so the only challenge presented is the target skill.
Identifying the target skill or concept should be simple enough. In the majority of cases it should be the same for all students in the class, regardless of mother tongue or ability. In our example it is to learn the names of colours in French, both written and spoken.
To identify the challenges presented, compare the task with the student’s known abilities. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) may help to identify these abilities. Teachers can also consult their resource department and professionals such as speech or occupational therapists. Parents are also an excellent source of information about what concepts a special needs or second language student has and has not mastered. Compare the student’s abilities with the tasks presented in your lesson plan or worksheet.
In our case, our son had never been introduced to the phrase “montre-moi” (“show me.”) This was one of the additional challenges the simple activity posed for him. In the same way that the best scientific results are obtained from an experiment in which there is only one variable and all the others are controlled for, the teaching activity needed to be modified to control for all the variables except the one being taught and tested: the colour names in French.
We suggested a separate activity to introduce the phrase “montre-moi,” with a later return to the game. This modification made the educational activity accessible to our special needs son, and ensured that the only thing he was being tested on was his knowledge of the colour names he was learning.
This kind of modification is time-consuming for the teacher, and may require consultation with both the student’s family and colleagues. But for the dedicated teacher who wants to see the student succeed, the smile on the child’s face when he achieves the goal is well worth the journey.
Susan M. Bashinski, Ed.D. , “Adapting the curriculum to meet the needs of diverse learners.”
Robin Hurd, “Access science: Notes from the ‘other’ teacher.” Southeast Regional Clearinghouse (SERCH)