Imagine a teacher assigns a writing project, requiring students to write three paragraphs related to an element on the periodic table.
Imagine one student writes three paragraphs about Chlorine and turns it into the teacher.
Now, imagine the teacher returning the paper back to the student, with red marks noting points taken off and the message, “I expected five sentences per paragraph.”
One more bit of imagination: Imagine the student asking the teacher about her comment and saying that the written instructions stated three paragraphs, but not a requirement of five sentences per paragraph—to which the teacher states, “I told everyone this in class.” The student insists this didn’t happen and the teacher insists it did.
It doesn’t matter who was right. What matters is that the student missed the instruction. For a student who has a disability, who is already juggling so much in class, this isn’t farfetched—and it is something that can be expected as the student advances in grade. The higher the grade, the more the work and responsibilities, the more to juggle.
What is Missing?
Imagine the accommodation is written in the following manner:
Clarification of directions and expectations: Engage student in leading questions to check for understanding.
What’s missing? Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Who will clarify the directions and expectations?
Will it be the lead teacher in the class? Or, if there’s an aide or assistant teacher, will it be that person? What if there’s a substitute teacher? Who handles this if the teacher/s aren’t in the classroom?
What directions and expectations will be clarified and what leading questions will be asked?
Will directions and expectations provided in writing and out loud be clarified? Or just those in writing or out loud? (One or the other, not both.) What are leading questions? Are they questions that have “yes” or “no” answers or are they questions that require the student to respond by providing his or her exact understanding? If a teacher asks a student if he understands and the student replies, “yes”, does the teacher know that sometimes the student doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, so “yes” isn’t always a correct answer?
When will this accommodation take place? End of class? Right after the instructions are first given in class? One time only? Multiple times over a spread-out period for longer assignments?
Where will this occur? Will the teacher go up to the student? Will the student go to the teacher? Will it be at the teacher’s desk or in private outside the classroom?
Why is this needed?
The data for the accommodation should be somewhere in the IEP or 504 Plan. Could be the student has executive functioning, auditory processing, visual processing, reading, or other struggles. Maybe the student forgets instructions, or doesn’t hear them, or is slow to process them, or can’t access them for another reason.
How will the teacher engage with the student? Email? Out loud in class? What if the student resents being pulled aside for every assignment and feels like he’s being treated like a baby and targeted every class? How will the teacher engage to ensure understanding? How will the teacher ensure the student remembers the directions and expectations for homework and take-home projects and assessments? Will the student use a planner to record unfinished classwork and anything that will be done at home?
Also: With a goal like this, there’s the hope that the student will eventually do this on his or her own, so an advocacy goal should be associated with it, since functional needs should be a focus, too. One goal would be for the teacher to doublecheck assignments and assessments with teachers, record them in a planner (or could be an online calendar), and—if the student gets home and doesn’t remember everything and didn’t write good notes in his planner—ask teachers follow up questions.
Watch Out: Where Things Go Wrong
Teachers have been known to change deadlines and expectations. As with the example above, the teacher provided one set of instructions, but expected something different. If the teacher makes a change, the teacher needs to ensure the student is aware. For example, if the student in the above example went over the project on a day the student was home sick, the student wouldn’t have received the add-on verbal instructions. The same holds true even if the student is in class. If the add-on verbal instructions aren’t included with the written instructions, the student might not remember them when he or she attempts to do the work at home.
Some teachers have placed blame on the student for not engaging with them as the reason this accommodation wasn’t implemented in full. Until the student is doing it on his or her own, students need teachers to help them, which means the teachers initiate engagement. However, this has to be clearly written in the accommodation. (Additional reading: The Language of IEPs and 504s: The Problem with “Engage”.)
When planners have been included in this accommodation, other teachers have taken the one-and-done approach of 1) writing the assignments into student planners themselves and/or 2) inputting up to a few weeks of assignments in the planner at one time—and then they don’t touch base with the student again. These teachers have misunderstood the accommodation. If a student needs clarification of instructions and expectations, it is likely the student needs it at the time the time work is assigned, rather than two weeks in advance. Most people would be hard pressed to recall two weeks of directions and expectations two weeks after they were presented, and the students might not recall what the teachers’ notes mean. (Additional reading: Accommodation Breakdown: The Assignment Notebook (a.k.a. the Most-Changed and Least-Implemented Accommodation))
In addition, many students today don’t read or write in cursive and some teachers have bad handwriting that makes cursive even harder to read. If a student can’t read what the teacher wrote or remember what it means, it might as well not even be there.
Writing the Accommodation
One way this accommodation might be written follows below:
Student needs clarification of all directions and all expectations. For all classwork and all assessments, teacher will meet with student to ensure understanding by asking leading questions before student starts work. For all homework, all take-home projects, and all assessments, lead teacher will meet with student at the end of class. Student will write directions in planner and show teacher planner after class. Teacher will doublecheck correct understanding is written in planner and will initial planner. For projects with due dates of more than one week, teacher and student will agree upon specific dates to touch base at the beginning, middle, and close to the due date, and review student’s work to ensure understanding of directions and expectations, and will provide feedback to student when they meet.
Additional: Goal and Assistive Technology
Again, this is an accommodation that really needs a goal attached to it, to move in the direction of the child doing more on his or her own, without as much teacher involvement. The above example could include a longer list of actions needed for the teacher to help the student or it could be shortened so the student is working with greater independence.
In addition, this accommodation might be paired with assistive technology. For example, for a student who struggles with writing, it might be easier to use a program that records and transcribes what is due—or the student might do well with a device that has a digital calendar.
Ultimately, it boils down to your child’s or student’s needs.