Accommodations vs. Modifications
Imagine someone who hasn't exercised in years is told to run a marathon in a month. Even being allowed to walk portions of it instead of running probably wouldn't make them capable of accomplishing the task. Trying to do so would probably leave them discouraged and very sore. However, being told that they can participate in a 5k instead would be much more manageable. Both involve exercise, but the goal has changed - run a 5k instead of a marathon. The goal was modified to reflect the person's ability.
Sometimes the words 'accommodation' and 'modification' are used interchangeably, but they are in fact different things and have different effects on student learning. An accommodation changes the way a student receives information or is tested without changing the learning goal or standard. Another way of thinking about accommodations is that they change how a student learns but not what they learn. An example of an accommodation is allowing a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to take breaks during a test. The student is still taking the same test with the same objectives, but how he/she accomplishes the task is different.
A modification changes the learning goal or objective. This goes beyond changing how the student learns or is tested and effectively changes what they are actually learning. A modification could change the instructional level, the content or curriculum covered, the performance criteria or objective, or the assignment structure. An example of a modification would be reducing the amount of spelling words a student is required to learn or changing an essay assignment into a poster project.
Generally, it's better for a teacher to make accommodations rather than modifications to assignments. It's important to try accommodations first before modifying a curriculum, since modifications change the actual learning goals, which usually results in students learning on a lower level. This doesn't mean, however, that modifications should never be used. As in our opening example, the accommodation of walking alone wouldn't have been enough to complete the goal of running a marathon; a modified goal was needed. If a student cannot achieve success at the targeted level, using modifications to make the material more manageable for the student is an important part of teaching. Modifications allow students to learn at their present level rather than failing to comprehend information above their understanding.
When making modifications, it's important to first create a new goal or objective that the student is realistically capable of achieving. The new objective for the student guides what modifications will be used, which direct the teacher's instruction. Modifications should help the student master key concepts while avoiding tasks and information that may be unnecessary for grasping the most essential points. It's important to document when and how modifications are used to avoid confusion about what the child has mastered. For example, a gradebook entry for a student shows he got an A on a multiplication test; however, there's no note indicating the test was modified to allow the use of a calculator. Without a note documenting the modification, there could be confusion about the student's true level of understanding.
Examples of Modifications
Let's review a few examples of modifications that can be used in the classroom.
First you might eliminate sections of the curriculum. For instance, your math student can continue to work on addition and subtraction while the rest of the class works on multiplication. Another modification could be to allow your student to focus on paragraph writing instead of essays, or perhaps your student can skip map labeling in a U.S. history class.
Secondly, reduce material. Some ways you can do this include giving ten vocabulary words in a science unit instead of 20. Maybe have them label states on a map rather than states and capitals. Another option is to shorten a reading assignment.
A third way to modify your lesson is to give your student an alternative assignment or project. Have them make a poster rather than write an essay, for example. Allow calculator use. You also can provide reading material at a lower reading level.
Another strategy you can use to modify your lesson is to change tests and assessments. For instance, use recognition tests such as true or false, multiple choice, and matching rather than essay or short answer. Allow open-book or open-note tests. You can also provide vocabulary lists with definitions, or provide word banks. Another technique is to eliminate an incorrect answer choice. Additionally, you can reduce the number of questions on the test.
When making modifications, you can also modify grading. You can do this by allowing students to redo assignments, or grade partially based on progress or effort. You can also use a pass or fail or alternative grading system. Another option is to grade based on objectives and goals.
Modifications and accommodations are fundamentally different. Accommodations change how a student learns or is tested without changing the learning goal. Modifications change the learning goal for an individual student. Modifications are used when the general curriculum is too advanced for a student, and they usually involve changing an assignment or objective in response.
Some examples of modifications include:
- Allowing open-book tests
- Providing reading material at a more accessible level
- Providing an alternative grading system