Accommodations, Modifications & Differentiation - Oh My!


Get the scoop on accommodations, modifications and diferentiation with some tried and true teaching ideas!  #strategies #intheclassroom



As a support facilitator for students with special needs, I am teamed up with a few different teachers each year.  The questions I am asked always revolve around the difference between accommodations, modifications and differentiation.  


The difference between Accommodations and Modifications


Accommodations are listed on a student's IEP (Individualized Education Plan), 504 Plan, or ELL (English Language Learner) plan and are designed to assist the student in attaining grade level standards.  Accommodations change HOW the student learns.  They are things like extra time and oral presentation of items and answer choices and are specificially listed on the plan. 

For example, Sally is reading below grade level.  During the class study of a specific non-fiction text,  the teacher has Sally listen to the text.  Sally is still listening to the same grade level text and so there has only been a change to HOW she is accessing that text.

Modifications, on the other hand, are changes to WHAT is expected to be learned.  This likely means that students with modified curriculum are not working on grade level standards.  

For example, Jordan is reading below grade level.  During the class study of a specific non-fiction text, the teacher gives Jordan the same content written at a lower grade level.  Now Jordan is no longer working on grade level.  This changes WHAT Jordan is expected to learn.

I admit that it is tempting to change what you expect from a student with special needs or who is learning English, but those students need those grade level standards if they are expected to take grade level state assessments.  This is where differentiation can help!


So where does differentiation fit in?

Differentiation is essentially creating multiple pathways to reach the standard.  They are different from accommodations because these are instructional methods.  Differentiation can be things like:
Menus are one way to give middle school students a different pathway to mastering the standards in the classroom.  Read on for more!  #strategies #ideas #teaching
Menus from my FREE Theme Unit.
  • guided notes
  • using acronyms
  • menu options for demonstrating understanding
  • word banks
  • fill-in-the-blank "cloze" assignments (free examples in my resource library.)
  • processes being broken down into steps
  • Using Google Read and Write to have text read aloud and to convert speech to text
  • Using Cooperative Learning Strategies like Kagan Strategies
  • Using other physical movement "games"/gallery walks

These are, in essence, new ways to do ordinary things that provide pathways for students to learn content, experience different ways to process that information and produce various products.  

Notice that none of these options changes the expectations of learning the standard.  They just provide many ways to get there.  

Do these take time?  Yes, they do!  If you work with a team or PLC, I hope that each person is willing to help create some of these items.  Although, I know they are probably just as overloaded as you are.  I get it.  I'm still in the classroom too.  What's helped me is that I've been in the classroom for while now (I'm in my 26th year of teaching) so I've made many differentiated things over the years and have quite a collection at this point.  Reaching all learners is my passion and that's why I do what I do here.

Here are some of my ready-to-go resources that utilize some of the differentiation strategies I mentioned above:

Argumentative Vocabulary Interactive Guided Notes




  • Reading Units with menu options for content, process & product that allow you to teach, reteach and enrich - all ready to go!

The Bottom Line

All students in a general education class should be working to reach grade level standards.  Some students have accommodations to help them reach those standards.  Some even receive the service of support facilitation.  Where I'm from, this means a person like me comes to their general education class as little as once per week and as much as 5 times per week to assist them with understanding and completing their work.  In the end though, mastery of grade level standards is required.  This can be achieved in multiple ways but not by changing what a student is expected to learn.

For the teachers with whom I work, this takes some of the pressure off of them because now they realize everyone should get the same information but how we deliver the information is where we can be creative and look for ways to help reach all learners.  

I hope some of the ideas I shared above give you some new ideas or can save you time as you work to help all students learn!

Thanks for stopping by!


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