Saturday, November 23, 2013

Making Accommodations Easy

Every child is different; therefore, every child learns in a different way also.  But as teachers, we are responsible for the success of all our students.  That includes making the necessary accommodations that all our students need, both during instruction and during assessment.  I've been reflecting on the idea of accommodations and what they mean in working with English learners and similar diverse populations of students.  I wanted to share some of my ideas about accommodations in hopes that it can help you in planning appropriate accommodations for your ELs and all your students.

Accommodations should be made throughout the learning process.  Accommodations are not retroactive efforts made to help a student achieve a barely-passing grade on an assessment.  Accommodations should be something you contemplate as you're planning your instruction.  The best instruction includes accommodations throughout the entire teaching and learning process so that when it's time for the assessment, students won't need as many accommodations (or won't need any at all).  When implemented properly, accommodations scaffold instruction for diverse learners and allow them equal access to the content material.  When accommodations are provided during instruction (as opposed to during assessment only), it allows students to truly learn the material, which makes assessment a breeze.

Accommodations aren't all "bells and whistles".  We cannot fall into the trap of thinking that we don't have time to accommodate.  EVERY student deserves an education, and it's our responsibility to provide that for each student.  But we also don't have to make accommodations out to be something harder than they have to be.  It can be something as simple as color-coding the questions on a test to a word bank of possible answers to that question.  It could mean providing cloze notes (a.k.a. fill-in-the-blank) for students who struggle with note-taking skills.  It could mean providing a peer tutor, additional pictures, or even extended time to complete an assignment.  One of my favorite accommodations is the sentence frame.  Students, especially English learners, often struggle with writing, and a sentence frame provides a structure for that student to express his or her understanding of the content.  Basically, it's like a sentence starter.  For example, if I'm assessing my students on the water cycle, I could provide the following sentence frame for an open-ended question.  "The stages of the water cycle include..." Another sentence frame for the same question could be "During the ... stage, ...."  I haven't given my students any clues to the content answers, but they now have the language they need to answer the question according to my expectations.  These ideas do not take long to develop and soon become second-nature when planning. 

Before I began my journey as an ESL teacher, I was a paraprofessional.  Both positions require documentation of the needs of unique learners, and when there are many students involved, this process can be very lengthy.  I developed a label with check-off options to indicate the types of accommodations a student received on a particular assignment and printed them on Avery labels #5163.  This process sped up the documentation process tremendously and created a sense of consistency as well.  I just uploaded these files to my TPT store so that you can use them too!  Check them out using this link.

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