Modifying and Adapting Material: Organizational Skills

by Kathleen L. Bulloch, MA, CCC

Classrooms today have students with many special needs, and teachers are often directed to "modify as necessary." The following article takes the mystery out of modifying and adapting materials with concrete examples and models of modifications. The focus of this article is on "Organizational Skills." Future columns will address other curriculum areas.

If the student has difficulty becoming interested, then try-
  • telling stories which relate the lesson to peoples' lives;
  • establishing relevancy and a purpose for learning by relating it to previous experiences;
  • providing an experience, such as a field trip, and then teaching the lesson;
  • rewarding the student often as the lesson begins;
  • shaping approximations of desired behavior by providing praise, one-to-one conversation, or immediate feedback for correct answers;
  • reading aloud a brief article or story to stimulate interest;
  • seating the student closer to teacher (distance affects interest); and/or
  • making a positive, personal comment every time the student shows any evidence of interest (i.e., sits in seat, has his/her book).
If the student has difficulty getting started, then try-
  • giving a cue to begin work;
  • giving work in smaller amounts;
  • providing immediate feedback;
  • sequencing work with easiest answers first;
  • providing all necessary materials;
  • introducing the assignment carefully so student knows the task expected;
  • providing time suggestions for each task;
  • checking on progress often in first few minutes of work;
  • giving clear directions;
  • giving a checklist for each step of the task (e.g., the steps in a long division problem); and/or
  • using a peer or peer tutor to get student started.
If the student has difficulty keeping track of materials or assignments, then try-
  • requiring a notebook or using large envelopes for each subject;
  • checking his/her notebook often;
  • keeping extra supplies on hand;
  • giving an assignment sheet to the student, other teachers, and/or parents;
  • writing the assignment on board for the student to copy;
  • checking and reinforcing the student for recording the assignment;
  • requiring envelopes for big projects that have many separate parts;
  • giving a reward (e.g., grade, points) for bringing a book, paper, and a pencil to class every day; and/or
  • returning corrected work promptly.
If the student has difficulty staying on task, then try-
  • reducing distractions;
  • increasing reinforcements;
  • providing shortened tasks;
  • providing checklists;
  • reducing the amount of work;
  • providing peer tutors;
  • providing different activities during the class period;
  • providing a reward valued by student;
  • isolating the student or using a time out;
  • providing quiet alternatives for a short time; and/or
  • providing a timer to set short periods of work.
If the student has trouble completing tasks on time, then try-
  • reducing the amount to be accomplished;
  • allowing more time;
  • providing time cues;
  • writing schedules;
  • asking for parental reinforcement;
  • suggesting a calendar at home;
  • providing closure at points along the way; and/or
  • providing positive feedback to other teachers using an "assignments completed" checklist or a "wall thermometer."
If the student has trouble working in groups, then try this-
  • providing direct instruction in group processes and providing interaction opportunities gradually;
  • providing the student with a responsibility or position of leadership;
  • preparing the group members to include and help the student;
  • utilizing an aide or volunteer in class;
  • providing more structure by defining the task and listing the steps; and/or
  • restating the goal, linking it to the required activities, and providing closure.
If the student has trouble working independently, then try-
  • assigning a task at an appropriate level;
  • being certain the student can see an end to the task;
  • giving precise directions;
  • lowering the difficulty level;
  • shortening the assignment and gradually increasing the amount of work required;
  • reinforcing the student for on-task behavior;
  • letting the student see individual work as a sign of personal responsibility and growth rather than thinking the teacher just wants to "get rid of him"; and/or
  • providing a variety of types of work within the assignment (e.g., making charts, maps, or flags; drawing pictures; etc.).

©2003 by Kathleen L. Bulloch, MA, CCC

About the Author: Kathleen L. Bulloch was a Speech/Language Pathologist for the Riverside County Office of Education in Riverside, California and an Educational Consultant/Scriptwriter for a children's television series. Portions of this article were adapted from The Mystery of Modifying: Creative Solutions published by the Education Service Center, Region VI, Huntsville, Texas 77340. Ms. Bulloch passed away on May 29, 2004.