Easy Accommodations for Struggling Learners
In a public school setting, children with special needs and learning challenges are often eligible for an IEP. A team of advisors (usually teachers, parents, and guidance counselors) creates an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student. It documents the student’s learning challenges and the specific classroom accommodations and modifications to which he is entitled.
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Some special needs that qualify for an IEP include learning disabilities (dyslexia and dysgraphia, for example), physical challenges (visual, hearing), ADHD, and autism.
Parents may question their ability to homeschool their special needs student, but homeschooling is often an ideal option for children with learning challenges. Homeschooling allows parents to work with their special needs student one-on-one and put accommodations in place without all the red tape.
If you have a struggling learner, you may find that you naturally use many of these accommodations. These tips should give you ideas for others to try and validate those you’re already using.
If your child has trouble comprehending or reading directions on assignments, read them aloud. For many years, I read the directions on math worksheets aloud to my dyslexic children. They were perfectly capable of completing the assignment once they understood the instructions.
Read aloud books that are above your student’s reading ability. It’s a great way to introduce new vocabulary. Plus, many kids who struggle with something like dyslexia don’t have trouble comprehending more complex text. They just struggle to read it themselves.
It’s okay to read aloud from other texts, too. We often read history and science assignments aloud. My kids understood the topic and grasped it much more quickly when they weren’t stumbling over unfamiliar words.
Yes, kids with reading challenges need practice reading, but that practice doesn’t have to come with every assignment. There is no need to allow a student’s learning struggles to make every subject unnecessarily challenging.
Complete Assignments Orally
When it makes sense, complete assignments orally. We used to complete the kids’ Easy Grammar assignments on the whiteboard. I was the scribe while they told me what to capitalize, where to place punctuation, or how to combine two sentences.
Instead of written tests and reports, tap into the power (and fun!) of oral presentations. You could just ask your student the questions and allow him to answer aloud. However, there are many creative ways for a child to show what he knows beyond written assignments. He could create a video or build a model.
If your child has learning struggles, never worry about being her scribe. The depth of your student’s creativity and comprehension may surprise you when she doesn’t have to struggle with the physical act of writing. Let her dictate her story, report, or science lab to you while you write down her responses. Use technology such as Dragon Naturally Speaking or talk-to-text.
And don’t worry that they’re not getting in enough spelling, writing, or grammar practice. They can write the final draft after editing. (Because we all know that you have to proof-read talk-to-text!) First, teach your kids to self-edit and let them do that first. Then, you can offer your edit suggestions before your student writes (or types) the final copy.
Include Audio and Abridged Books
If your student’s struggles include reading challenges, don’t shy away from audio books and abridged versions. I used to check out both the print and audio version of books for my oldest. It’s beneficial for a kid with dyslexia to be able to follow along with the print version while listening to the audio.
Because we had Josh formally diagnosed with dyslexia through Lexercise, we were able to take advantage of Learning Ally. Learning Ally offers over 80,000 audiobooks (many also feature a follow-along digital version) for people with visual impairments and reading disabilities.
Abridged versions can make classics accessible to students who might not otherwise read them. They can also ensure that students with learning struggles understand the basic storyline before tackling the unabridged version.
And, your student may surprise you. My oldest loved Shakespeare, so I bought her the entire No Fear Shakespeare collection. She rarely read the paraphrased version, preferring, instead, to read the books in the original language.
Make Use of Technology
There is so much incredible technology available to kids today. Use it to your struggling learner’s advantage! In addition to speech-to-text software, there are online (and app version) dictionaries and thesauruses. Most of them offer audio pronunciation which can be a lifesaver for kids with dyslexia.
Allow your students to take notes in ways that make the process easy and easily accessible (for later review) for them. My son loves taking notes on his iPhone. He’s always got it handy, and he can text on it faster than he can type on the laptop. Plus, talk-to-text is available if he needs it.
Use a Variety of Mediums
Don’t be afraid to try non-traditional mediums for things like writing, note-taking, and spelling practice. Kids with dysgraphia, ADHD, or sensory-processing disorders can benefit from practicing spelling and handwriting in sand, shaving cream, finger paint, or salt trays.
Students with dysgraphia may also benefit from paper with bigger lines – or no lines. You can use wide-ruled, primary-ruled, or blank paper. You can even let them write their assignments on personal-sized whiteboards or digital tablets with a stylus or their finger.
With the easy availability of resources, be sure that you include videos in your homeschool lessons. Use your Amazon Prime or Netflix account to watch documentaries. Search YouTube for videos related to whatever topics you’re studying. (We love the Crash Course and Crash Course Kids channels.)
Use sites such as Khan Academy and Udemy for self-paced video courses on a variety of topics. And, of course, we love Teaching Textbooks for math.
Look for Alternatives
If your child is struggling to understand a concept, look for a different way to teach it. I have a friend who teaches math to special needs students in high school and tutors on the side. She told me that she always explains at least two different ways to work a problem. Just a small variation may make a massive difference to a student.
When Brianna struggled with multiplying multiple digit numbers, we discovered the lattice multiplication method. It completely turned the concept around for her. Before long, she was able to work the problems as they were set up in her math text.
Offer Grading and Testing Modifications
Allow your struggling learner additional time on tests. Don’t count off for spelling in other subject areas (history and science, for example). Consider when spelling and capitalization are essential, such as final drafts of papers.
When my oldest (who has dyslexia) was in first grade in public school, I remember her dejectedly bringing home her latest spelling test. The teacher had counted many of the words wrong because Brianna had capitalized them. She spelled the words correctly, but they weren’t supposed to be capitalized.
Yeah, I called the teacher on that one. I mean, I get it. They weren’t proper nouns, so they weren’t supposed to be capitalized, but they were spelled correctly. Brianna had tried so hard, and she knew that she’d spelled the words right. I told the teacher that I could see circling the capital letters or even taking off a point or two. I did not agree with her counting the entire word wrong.
Later, Brianna took a Spanish class with a local homeschool mom. The instructor knew about Brianna’s dyslexia. I’ll never forget her calling to complain about Brianna getting some of the letters transposed when she clearly knew the words. Um, yeah, that thing called dyslexia.
My thought was that, unless it was a Spanish spelling test, if the instructor could see that Brianna obviously knew the word, she should get credit for it. Heck, I am learning Spanish on Duolingo, and even it gives me credit for obvious typos.
I’m not suggesting that you give your kids a free ride. There are times when things like spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are important. And, kids need to learn how to use proper grammar.
I am suggesting that sometimes we need to focus on the effort and the intent of the assignment. Sometimes we need to let things that don’t matter slide until we’re working on a subject area in which they do matter.
If you suspect that your child may have a learning disability, Lexercise offers two free online tests. Try their free online dyslexia text or their free online learning disability test.
If you have special needs homeschool students, what accommodations do you use in your homeschool?
This is excellent advice, and so practical! It is easy to make things more difficult than they need to be and I appreciate the reminder to evaluate what is and isn’t important on each assignment.
What kind of math learning disabilities are there? And would you suggest any official testing before a teen heads to college?
I don’t know a lot about math learning disabilities. I know there is dyscalculia and often dyslexia will affect math. Not having any experience with it myself, I can’t make a knowledgeable suggestion about testing. However, if an official diagnosis would result in learning modifications and accommodations, I would think it would be worth investigating. Hope that helps!