Differentiating Instruction for Children With Learning Disabilities (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Modifications in Student Work Product

There are three ways teachers can differentiate instruction for children with learning disabilities by changing the tasks, or work products, they are asked to complete. These three ways are as follows.

Adapt task characteristics/requirements

An example of adapting task characteristics used for many years for older students is to make an examination “open book,” and allow students to refer to a textbook when answering test questions. For elementary school children with learning disabilities, we can modify the characteristics of almost every task we pose to students. By fifth grade, it is appropriate to ask students to answer any questions that appear at the end of a textbook chapter. After students have tried to answer the questions on their own, the teacher may want to help children with learning disabilities, by modifying the task characteristics by providing two possible page numbers where each answer can be found. One of the unit projects challenged students to find out what types of food do not spoil easily, a major consideration for both the Colonial and British armies. Children who would not be able to complete this assignment on their own could be helped in several ways. The teacher could provide reference resources, like appropriate volumes of a hard-copy encyclopedia and Websites. Or the teacher could give a child a list of foods to research. Finally, a very important way to change task characteristics for children with learning disabilities is to allow tasks to be completed while working in groups.

Change task criteria

Another way to differentiate instruction is to change the criteria for “success” for students. Usually, changes are made in the criteria of speed and accuracy. Teachers have to be careful here because there are some school tasks where speed and accuracy are essential and cannot be compromised, especially in reading and mathematics. For many other tasks, though, the path to ultimately finishing a type of task promptly and correctly requires adjusting criteria in early efforts. This is common sense; initially all of us took longer to do things that we now do in half of the time. Think of how long it takes you to look up a word in a dictionary now, as an adult, and how long it took you when you were 10 years old. One activity in the American Revolution unit challenged the fifth graders to make a propaganda poster, which could either encourage Colonists to joint Washington’s Colonial army or it could take the other side and encourage Colonists to join Loyalist regiments and fight with the British. Although most students had five days to complete the project, additional time was given to children who would find the task difficult. Accuracy cannot be sacrificed for “literal comprehension” questions where there is a correct answer. On the other hand, open-ended questions with no one correct answer can allow teachers to accept responses that are, at least, partially justifiable. For example, after the lesson on the Colonial boycott of British goods following the imposition of the taxes on goods imported from Britain, the teacher asked students to write a response to the following question: “Some colonists boycotted British goods for several years. What do you think were some of the effects the boycott had on their everyday lives?” A child with learning disabilities answered, “People would have to learn to live without certain things. Maybe they would drink coffee instead of tea.” This is a reasonable response, though it only mentions a single effect and neglects two other effects a complete answer would mention: merchants selling those items would suffer losses and the Colonists could start growing or producing their own products and stop importing items from Britain. Although a more able student might be challenged by the teacher to come up with at least one more effect, this child’s response should be considered acceptable.

Change task modality

The third modification in task characteristics involves changing the modality of an assignment. In this sense, modality refers to whether the task is written, presented orally, completed through the arts (drawing, singing, acting, etc.), or some combination of modalities. A common modality change is to allow students with difficulty writing an opportunity to complete the same assignment through an oral presentation. For example, one project in the American Revolution unit was a summary report on how the Revolution changed the lives of children living at the time. A student with a learning disability could be allowed to make an oral presentation to the class rather than write a report. In some cases, students can use the visual arts to show what they have learned. Teachers must be cautious here, however. Children will not learn to write if they are never challenged to do so. Thus, on some assignments, children with learning disabilities must be required to produce a written product.

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