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How to Modify for Special Education
November 12, 2016 by pathway2success 10 Comments
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Supporting kids with special needs works best when both regular education and special education staff work together. That’s why it is helpful for all teachers to understand how they can modify and accommodate for students in their classrooms. For newer teachers, learning that you need to modify work for kids of various levels can be a bit overwhelming. Even teacher who are highly experienced might struggle with how much to modify. It’s really a balance because you are constantly trying to find out what is “just tough enough” to push your students, with it still being at an appropriate level that can help them grow. Too easy and the work doesn’t really challenge them. Too difficult and kids might shut down, causing them to not learn anything at all. It’s okay (and actually good) to fine-tune your level of modifications over time.
Most importantly, if a child requires a modification according to their IEP, the teacher needs to provide it. The IEP is a legal document and those modifications and accommodations were agreed upon the child’s planning team. Some modifications are specifically listed, such as having a word bank or being able to use a calculator. Other times, modifications are left up to the discretion of the teacher. If there is something you are unsure about in the child’s list of modifications, talk to the spec
ial education teacher and get further clarification.
Here is a quick reference list for some ideas to pull from when you need to modify for a child’s assessment, homework, or other assignment:
Reduce the Workload:
- Assign even or odd problems only – This is a great strategy for homework. It’s simple and quick for the teacher, but still gives the child similar practice to everyone else.
- Select specific problems and omit extra ones
- Give 1 essay question instead of 3 or 4
- Give choice – Let the student select 10 problems to do or let them pick whether to do the front or back of a worksheet. This will help with motivation, too, since the child sees they have a choice in the assignment.
- Put fewer problems on each page – This will be less visually distracting.
- For matching, reduce the number of items to match or break them in half
- Reduce the number of multiple choices – There will be less to select from. For example, if everyone else has a quiz with 4 possible multiple choice answers, your student might only have 2 or 3 options to choose from.
- Eliminate true or false questions – These questions can be extremely tricky, especially for kids with language-based disorders.
Modify the Content:
- Give a similar but different assignment with lower grade level material in area of weakness (math, reading, or writing) – For example: if the topic is computing with fractions, the student might be drawing fraction pictures. This will also help you target the “most important” concepts for the child to learn at the time.
- Provide an alternative assignment – This can be a research project, hands-on project, lab experiment, or making a poster to show understanding of a topic.
- Align student interest to the content – For example, you might focus on reading strategies while learning about trains.
- Give a word bank for fill in the blank or when writing an essay
- Allow students to type or orally report their responses
- Give a specific list for steps to complete a task
- Provide concept cards with an assignment
- Allow the student to use their book or notes
- Provide specific examples
- Highlight tricky or key words in questions
- Allow extra time
- Allow student to work in quieter setting
- Allow calculators
- Allow for brainstorming prior to the assignment
- Have adult read assignment to student
Learning to modify can be hard work at first. It’s best to give it a try even if you are not entirely sure it’s the right modification. Remember that you can always tweak your modifications as the year goes on. Most likely, you will need to continually reassess modifications and supports, since your students will be growing and making progress. And when in doubt, work with your special education staff to ask for feedback, support, and ideas.
If you are a special education teacher in need of a toolkit, consider the Special Education Teacher Binder . It is a huge compilation of special education resources.
Materials focus on IEPs and team meetings, progress monitoring of academics and behavior, classroom materials, building a classroom community, planning, lessons, organization, and other forms to help make the life of a special education teacher a little bit easier.
September 21, 2018 at 5:30 am
I was wondering if you have any examples of how to provide a word bank for an essay at the high school level? I’m having a hard time figuring out how to provide words that answer either short answer questions or essay questions that typically require sentence answers.
October 7, 2018 at 9:31 am
Hi Joy- I would provide my students a separate sheet of paper with words and phrases that might be helpful to them. For example, if the essay is on the industrial revolution, I might include terms like: industrialization, labor, working conditions, migration, etc. Giving these vocabulary words would help students remember vocabulary and guide them in the right direction without steering them one way or another. Hope that helps!
January 7, 2020 at 9:21 am
I even split up word with their questions into chunks of 5-7-10 and then chunk the correct answers with those chunks of 5-7-10
So for example in a Voacb test the first five words would match the first five questions, the next 5 words would match the questions 6-10.
The students seem to really benefit from this.
October 20, 2018 at 12:48 pm
I insert a text box for a word bank for some modified exams.
June 9, 2019 at 12:18 pm
I’m curious how you might modify for chemistry, algebra II, or those other tough HS classes. We really struggle with that in our district.
June 24, 2019 at 12:53 pm
Hi Stacie! A lot of the strategies really work well for any content area, even in high school. Students who struggle with reading can learn about the same material that is written with a simpler text or vocabulary words that are defined for them ahead of time. For math, one strategy that worked for some of my learners was creating guide cards for them. I would give step-by-step examples for how to solve a certain type of problem. Kids could use these cards on quizzes or tests many times if they needed because it wasn’t giving the answer- just a guide to help them remember HOW to do the steps. Visuals are extremely helpful for any subject as well. For tests and quizzes, reduce the number of essay questions or problems and focus on what is most important. This can help kids who get fatigued. Let them focus their energy where it is most important! Also, chunk the information together (for example, if you have a test on multiple types of math concepts, keep all similar concepts together). Hope some of those ideas help! As always, every child is unique and you have to sometimes test out what works for them!
January 22, 2020 at 8:17 pm
For math in particular, I have used “doodle notes” created by Melanie Ellsworth that I purchased on tpt. The notes are fill in the blank and most of the concepts are already illustrated giving the students the chance to following along with the lesson rather than worrying about catching the finer details.
June 8, 2020 at 1:49 pm
These are some great tips for modifying special education for a student. Thanks for sharing.
December 4, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Could you please clarify if Inclusion Teachers are allowed to read assignments and testing materials to students. (Not during STAAR or State wide exam but regular classroom testing, assignments or homework)?
We are saying that when given a general ed test to the SPED students that we can modify the wording for better understanding of the questions for the student. If you have any resources to confirm this, please email it back to me.
December 5, 2020 at 6:09 am
Hi Thelma, I would think the best way to show this is to refer back to the student’s IEP. This is really another reason why it’s so helpful to be specific in IEPs. But even if it is not in the IEP, I think it’s just a best practice to rephrase or reword directions if a child doesn’t understand- on an IEP or not! If you are having a disagreement with the general ed teacher about it, my best suggestion would be to conference with them and offer to write a differentiated test together for your students. Ideally, the general ed teacher could be making 2 versions of the test: one with more complex wording for higher kids and one with more simplified wording. Both would allow kids to show knowledge of concepts. I’ll try to see if I can find some documentation on this. It’s a GREAT question. -Kris
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Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Examples of modified assignments for students with special needs.
Thanks for this post. I will be sharing with my daughter's teachers.
Yes yes yes! More more please... are there other links you suggest for MORE examples! Other websites or blogs??? this is a large need for school teams. THANKS
How Do you know when your modification/adaptation is too much vs just right for a student?
You can use the IEP goals to help you decide how to modify the work.
Very nice article. (Middle School Math/Science) I've cut sheets in half, had some students do 5 problems in a section first then go back and do more if they can, 2 day testing as opposed to one day tests, cut homework in half, created guided notes, handouts, allowed word bank usage, open book quizzes, use of notes/guides during classwork, station time etc, had them work in pairs, use as many visuals as possible, color coded formulas and the numbers we inserted into formulas, created tiered lessons.... easier level problems leading up to harder problems, calculator usage..... the list can go on. Thank you so much for the article.
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Supports, Modifications, and Accommodations for Students
For many students with disabilities—and for many without— the key to success in the classroom lies in having appropriate adaptations, accommodations, and modifications made to the instruction and other classroom activities.
Some adaptations are as simple as moving a distractible student to the front of the class or away from the pencil sharpener or the window. Other modifications may involve changing the way that material is presented or the way that students respond to show their learning.
Adaptations, accommodations, and modifications need to be individualized for students, based upon their needs and their personal learning styles and interests. It is not always obvious what adaptations, accommodations, or modifications would be beneficial for a particular student, or how changes to the curriculum, its presentation, the classroom setting, or student evaluation might be made. This page is intended to help teachers and others find information that can guide them in making appropriate changes in the classroom based on what their students need.
Part 1: A Quick Look at Terminology Part 2: Different Types of Supports
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Part 1: A Quick Look at Terminology
You might wonder if the terms supports , modifications , and adaptations all mean the same thing. The simple answer is: No, not completely, but yes, for the most part. (Don’t you love a clear answer?) People tend to use the terms interchangeably, to be sure, and we will do so here, for ease of reading, but distinctions can be made between the terms.
Sometimes people get confused about what it means to have a modification and what it means to have an accommodation . Usually a modification means a change in what is being taught to or expected from the student . Making an assignment easier so the student is not doing the same level of work as other students is an example of a modification.
An accommodation is a change that helps a student overcome or work around the disability . Allowing a student who has trouble writing to give his answers orally is an example of an accommodation. This student is still expected to know the same material and answer the same questions as fully as the other students, but he doesn’t have to write his answers to show that he knows the information.
What is most important to know about modifications and accommodations is that both are meant to help a child to learn.
Part 2: Different Types of Supports
By definition, special education is “specially designed instruction” (§300.39). And IDEA defines that term as follows:
Thus, special education involves adapting the “content, methodology, or delivery of instruction.” In fact, the special education field can take pride in the knowledge base and expertise it’s developed in the past 30-plus years of individualizing instruction to meet the needs of students with disabilities. It’s a pleasure to share some of that knowledge with you now.
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Sometimes a student may need to have changes made in class work or routines because of his or her disability. Modifications can be made to:
- what a child is taught, and/or
- how a child works at school.
Jack is an 8th grade student who has learning disabilities in reading and writing. He is in a regular 8th grade class that is team-taught by a general education teacher and a special education teacher. Modifications and accommodations provided for Jack’s daily school routine (and when he takes state or district-wide tests) include the following:
- Jack will have shorter reading and writing assignments.
- Jack’s textbooks will be based upon the 8th grade curriculum but at his independent reading level (4th grade).
- Jack will have test questions read/explained to him, when he asks.
- Jack will give his answers to essay-type questions by speaking, rather than writing them down.
Modifications or accommodations are most often made in the following areas:
Scheduling . For example,
- giving the student extra time to complete assignments or tests
- breaking up testing over several days
Setting . For example,
- working in a small group
- working one-on-one with the teacher
Materials . For example,
- providing audiotaped lectures or books
- giving copies of teacher’s lecture notes
- using large print books, Braille, or books on CD (digital text)
Instruction . For example,
- reducing the difficulty of assignments
- reducing the reading level
- using a student/peer tutor
Student Response . For example,
- allowing answers to be given orally or dictated
- using a word processor for written work
- using sign language, a communication device, Braille, or native language if it is not English.
Because adapting the content, methodology, and/or delivery of instruction is an essential element in special education and an extremely valuable support for students, it’s equally essential to know as much as possible about how instruction can be adapted to address the needs of an individual student with a disability. The special education teacher who serves on the IEP team can contribute his or her expertise in this area, which is the essence of special education.
One look at IDEA’s definition of related services at §300.34 and it’s clear that these services are supportive in nature, although not in the same way that adapting the curriculum is. Related services support children’s special education and are provided when necessary to help students benefit from special education. Thus, related services must be included in the treasure chest of accommodations and supports we’re exploring. That definition begins:
§300.34 Related services.
(a) General . Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes…
Here’s the list of related services in the law.
- speech-language pathology and audiology services
- interpreting services
- psychological services
- physical and occupational therapy
- recreation, including therapeutic recreation
- early identification and assessment of disabilities in children
- counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling
- orientation and mobility services
- medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes
- school health services and school nurse services
- social work services in schools
This is not an exhaustive list of possible related services. There are others (not named here or in the law) that states and schools routinely make available under the umbrella of related services. The IEP team decides which related services a child needs and specificies them in the child’s IEP. Read all about it in our Related Services page.
Supplementary Aids and Services
One of the most powerful types of supports available to children with disabilities are the other kinds of supports or services (other than special education and related services) that a child needs to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate. Some examples of these additional services and supports, called supplementary aids and service s in IDEA, are:
- adapted equipment—such as a special seat or a cut-out cup for drinking;
- assistive technology—such as a word processor, special software, or a communication system;
- training for staff, student, and/or parents;
- peer tutors;
- a one-on-one aide;
- adapted materials—such as books on tape, large print, or highlighted notes; and
- collaboration/consultation among staff, parents, and/or other professionals.
The IEP team, which includes the parents, is the group that decides which supplementary aids and services a child needs to support his or her access to and participation in the school environment. The IEP team must really work together to make sure that a child gets the supplementary aids and services that he or she needs to be successful. Team members talk about the child’s needs, the curriculum, and school routine, and openly explore all options to make sure the right supports for the specific child are included.
Much more can be said about these important supports and services. Visit our special article on Supplementary Aids and Services to find out more.
Program Modifications or Supports for School Staff
If the IEP team decides that a child needs a particular modification or accommodation, this information must be included in the IEP. Supports are also available for those who work with the child, to help them help that child be successful. Supports for school staff must also be written into the IEP. Some of these supports might include:
- attending a conference or training related to the child’s needs,
- getting help from another staff member or administrative person,
- having an aide in the classroom, or
- getting special equipment or teaching materials.
The issue of modifications and supports for school staff, so that they can then support the child across the range of school settings and tasks, is also addressed in our article on Program Modifications for School Personnel .
Accommodations in Large Assessments
IDEA requires that students with disabilities take part in state or district-wide assessments . These are tests that are periodically given to all students to measure achievement. It is one way that schools determine how well and how much students are learning. IDEA now states that students with disabilities should have as much involvement in the general curriculum as possible. This means that, if a child is receiving instruction in the general curriculum, he or she could take the same standardized test that the school district or state gives to nondisabled children. Accordingly, a child’s IEP must include all modifications or accommodations that the child needs so that he or she can participate in state or district-wide assessments.
The IEP team can decide that a particular test is not appropriate for a child. In this case, the IEP must include:
- an explanation of why that test is not suitable for the child, and
- how the child will be assessed instead (often called alternate assessment).
Ask your state and/or local school district for a copy of their guidelines on the types of accommodations, modifications, and alternate assessments available to students.
Even a child with many needs is to be involved with nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. Just because a child has severe disabilities or needs modifications to the general curriculum does not mean that he or she may be removed from the general education class. If a child is removed from the general education class for any part of the school day, the IEP team must include in the IEP an explanation for the child’s nonparticipation.
Because accommodations can be so vital to helping children with disabilities access the general curriculum, participate in school (including extracurricular and nonacademic activities), and be educated alongside their peers without disabilities, IDEA reinforces their use again and again, in its requirements, in its definitions, and in its principles. The wealth of experience that the special education field has gained over the years since IDEA was first passed by Congress is the very resource you’ll want to tap for more information on what accommodations are appropriate for students, given their disability, and how to make those adaptations to support their learning.
Should I modify assignments or grades for students with disabilities?
The term modification is defined as an adjustment to an assignment or a test that changes the standard of measurement for the task. A modification is not the same as an accommodation. An accommodation is the practice of making the assignment or assessment more accessible to the student with a disability through changes in formatting, timing, setting, scheduling, and/or presentation. An accommodation does not change the standard of measurement for the task, only the accessibility of the task. A modification, however, changes the standard of measurement by altering the task or expected outcomes.
When determining whether or not to modify assignments or grades for students with disabilities, consider the following:
- At what grade level is the student?
- What are the student's barriers to successful participation in classroom assignments and activities?
- Can these barriers be overcome by making accommodations that do not change the standard of measurement?
- Is the student able to perform at the standard measured by the task or assessment?
Considerations for Precollege Students
The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) team, which should include students whenever possible, especially once they are over the age of fourteen, is the ultimate authority over the appropriate course of action for each individual student. If the student is college-bound, modifications in most classes would not be appropriate, since changing the standard of measurement would limit the student's ability to acquire the necessary skills expected of them in college.
Considerations for Postsecondary Students
In postsecondary institutions, modifications are not appropriate when a student is taking a course for academic credit. However, postsecondary institutions have systems in place by which students with disabilities can request and receive reasonable accommodations.
For more information, consult the DO-IT Knowledge Base article What is the difference between accommodation and modification? and Accommodations for Students with Disabilities in High School , published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET) .
Examples of Accommodations & Modifications
Program accommodations and modifications are available to children who receive services under IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Large print textbooks Textbooks for at-home use Additional time for assignments A locker with adapted lock Review of directions Review sessions Use of mnemonics Have student restate information Provision of notes or outlines Concrete examples Adaptive writing utensils Support auditory presentations with visuals Use of a study carrel Assistance in maintaining uncluttered space Weekly home-school communication tools (notebook, daily log, phone calls or email messages) Peer or scribe note-taking Space for movement or breaks Study sheets and teacher outlines Extra visual and verbal cues and prompts Lab and math sheets with highlighted instructions Graph paper to assist in organizing or lining up math problems Use of tape recorder for lectures Use of computers and calculators Books on tape Graphic organizers Quiet corner or room to calm down and relax when anxious Preferential seating Alteration of the classroom arrangement Reduction of distractions Answers to be dictated Hands-on activities Use of manipulatives No penalty for spelling errors or sloppy handwriting Follow a routine/schedule Alternate quiet and active time Teach time management skills Rest breaks Verbal and visual cues regarding directions and staying on task Agenda book and checklists Daily check-in with case manager or special education teacher Adjusted assignment timelines Visual daily schedule Varied reinforcement procedures Immediate feedback Work-in-progress check Personalized examples
Testing and Assessment Accommodations:
Answers to be dictated Frequent rest breaks Additional time Oral testing Untimed tests Choice of test format (multiple-choice, essay, true-false) Alternate ways to evaluate (projects or oral presentations instead of written tests) Accept short answers Open-book or open-note tests Read test and directions to student Provide study guides prior to tests Highlight key directions Test in alternative site Use of calculator or word processor Extra credit option Pace long-term projects Preview test procedures Simplified test wording; rephrased test questions and/or directions
Allow outlining, instead of writing for an essay or major project Use of alternative books or materials on the topic being studied Computerized spell-check support Word bank of choices for answers to test questions Provision of calculator and/or number line for math tests Film or video supplements in place of reading text Reworded questions in simpler language Projects instead of written reports Highlighting important words or phrases in reading assignments Modified workload or length of assignments/tests Modified time demands Pass/no pass option Modified grades based on IEP
Breaks between tasks Cue expected behavior Daily feedback to student Have contingency plans Use de-escalating strategies Use positive reinforcement Use proximity/touch control Use peer supports and mentoring Model expected behavior by adults Have parent sign homework Have parent sign behavior chart Set and post class rules Chart progress and maintain data
Related Smart Kids Links
- IEP Planning: Accommodations & Modifications
1 (844) 773-3822
What are Accommodations and Modifications in Special Education?
Have you ever watched the movie Roxanne with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah? There is a scene in that movie that I think will help you to understand the difference in accommodations and modifications.
I will describe the scene to you and how it relates.
Steve Martin has an extra-long nose (like really long!). He finds it hard to drink from a wine glass in the traditional way. Steve asks Daryl if she has a straw, but she does not.
So, he begins trying different angles to drink from the wine glass. But every time, his nose gets in the way.
Finally, he gives up and sucks it up through his nose.
Ouch! I bet that hurt!
Using his nose (or straw if she had one) is an accommodation allowing him to still “drink” the wine in the same way as everyone else. He didn’t change the wine in any way. He just finds a way to consume it differently.
Alternatively, say he froze the wine or turned it into jello to eat. That would be modifying the form of the wine. This would be different than what everyone else has. This is an example of a modification.
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What are Accommodations and Modifications in Special Education?
Many times parents, students, and educators are easily confused when discussing accommodations and modifications.
Most people think these two words have the same meaning in special education. In all actuality, they have very different meanings.
Accommodations refer to “leveling the playing field”. Modifications refer to “changing the playing field”.
Special Education Accommodations
ANY student can have accommodations, not just students with a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). When utilizing accommodations, it is important to remember it as a way “to make it fit”. This is because it is an adaptation that one does to the learning environment.
These adaptations can be used to describe how students are included in instruction and participate in the classroom. Accommodations make learning accessible to all students and allow the students to demonstrate what they know.
Accommodations are just basically the physical and/or environmental changes that a teacher makes in his/her classroom. There are over 500 special education accommodations that your child can possibly have.
Examples of accommodations (this is not an exhaustive list)
- Extended time
- Frequent breaks
- Changes in the classroom including varying activities
- Preferential Seating
- The physical arrangement of the room
- Copies of notes/guided notes/study guides
- Computer/Calculator/Word Processor/Large Print
- Peer Tutoring and/or teacher tutoring
- Shortening test length or making changes to a test (such as multiple choice vs. fill in the blank)
- Verbal Responses
- Read aloud-computer and/or teacher
- Testing Accommodations
Accommodations use grade-level curriculum standards via a different path (i.e., differentiated). When an accommodation is put into place, it allows the student to be successful at the benchmark.
These accommodations allow for a change to occur. This will help the student overcome or work around a learning difficulty.
Fitting accommodations to a student’s needs is a lot like finding a good pair of jeans. You may have to try a few out before you find them “just the right fit.”
Special Education Modifications
Modifications are generally made for students with significant cognitive or physical disabilities. A modification does not alter content knowledge.
Instead, it creates a learning environment for that specific student. And change the core program by using a parallel curriculum that does not include all grade-level standards.
Modifications may include a change in the:
- Course of the student
All of these and more help provide access for the student. Consequently, by honing in on the student’s strengths, the student’s needs are met.
Special Education Modification Examples (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Modifying curriculum
- Grading is subject to different standards (i.e., 12-point grading scale) based on IEP
- Assignments are changed: lower-level reading, worksheets, simplified vocabulary
- The student is involved in the same theme/unit but provided different tasks/expectations
- Eliminate specific standards
- Individualized materials
You may also find content specific modifications to support your child.
Which does my child need accommodations or modifications?
Accommodations and modifications are both necessary for special education students to be successful within the general education curriculum.
Within the context of the classroom environment, both must be utilized in a way that makes the specific student successful.
There will be times when only accommodations or modifications will need to be utilized. Then, there will be other times when both need to be utilized.
Knowing and understanding the student’s special needs is the critical piece in knowing what should be used. Accommodations and Modifications are put in place to help the student be successful.
This is done in a way not to harm, hurt, or belittle the student in any way.
How do we get Special Education Accommodations and Modifications?
The best way is to know your child’s needs and advocate for them in IEP meetings . Try out different accommodations and modifications to be sure all your child’s needs are met.
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Great informative post. I’ve never before thought about the differences between accommodations and modifications. This breaks it down nicely.
You gave a great explanation between accommodation and modification. The details really help understand between the two…thanks for sharing!
I really like how you broke down the differences between modifications and accommodations. The movie you referenced is a great analogy.
I love your analogy and it totally makes sense of the two terms! To be honest, I think they can be be transferred to adults too – what works for one may certainly not work for another. You have made the steps really easy of how this can all be adapted in schools, just wish our school would take note of these steps sometimes! They definitely think a one size fits all! 🙁 Sim x
This is so helpful and clear! Thank you for explaining the difference so well.
This is a really great list. Thanks for pointing out these special education tools that anyone can use
We have only been through one IEP meeting so far with my daughter but I’ve been trying to learn more about how we can get her what she needs.
this is perfect information. thanks for sharing
This is a great article! I really enjoyed learning the difference between modification and accommodation with understanding special ed needs. Wow! You share such valuable examples. Thanks!
I love that you used a movie to explain the difference between accommodation and modification. That brought out the message in a clearer way. Thanks for the information you provided about special childhood education. I hope more schools would adapt measures to make it easier for children with special needs to attend regular school.
I have worked with the special ed students in our district for a while now and I love that while they do not learn in the same ways, it allows the teachers to become creative to help these kids learn the same information the other kids in their grade are learning. Just because they need help doesn’t mean they can’t learn the same thing, they just need a different approach.
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