I am thankful for modifications and accommodations. Crazy thinking and right here at Thanksgiving you say? But I am serious. I am thankful that because of IDEA and because of modifications and accommodations, Rachel can be in the general education classroom and learn alongside others and learn many of the same things other students learn.
Rachel is a sophomore.
Recently, I’ve realized a lot of people asked me about how we modify Rachel’s work in high school. Check out any of the online groups about educating students with disabilities, and you will see that questions about modifications and accommodations are quite common. Then, the other comment I hear a lot is “My child doesn’t read on grade level so he/she cannot be in gen ed.” Rachel Mast is above grade level in the following:
• Hard worker
• Positive attitude
• Loving life
• Boy craziness
According to comprehension tests Rachel Mast is not on the 10th grade level in reading. She is a good reader. When you asked her about a story or what they are doing in class, most of the time you get a pretty decent summary. It kind of depends on the subject matter. She gets the big picture though and that’s enough.
I am not a trained professional who knows a lot about accommodations and modifications. I’ve learned a lot from attending workshop, listening to other parents, teachers and my best ever Professor, Rachel. Today, I just want to share two thoughts.
The two most important things on Rachel’s list are:
1. Communication – para’s will assist with home-school communication, assignments, organization of materials, upcoming tests, projects and assignments via electronic device (iPad).
2. Teachers will provide study guides and test format with sample questions to parents one week in advance. This also applies to big projects.
Rachel works hard to stay engaged in her classes all day. By the end of the day, she sometimes says her brain is full. I imagine this is very true. She confuses details and days and so forth. We have to have dependable communication so we know what is going on. We use an app called “Notability” and that is how communication goes back and forth. Instead of my having a complete meltdown trying to decipher her papers, I can find out what she is actually supposed to be doing and when it is due. Rachel can also take pictures of assignments and sometimes they even video her.
Her iPad also has the flash card program, Quizlet. Rachel learns best for test taking by using flash cards. Before Quizlet (The iPad vs the Index Card Lady), we had hundreds if not thousands of Ziploc bags with flash cards inside handmade by mom. Quizlet allows us to make flash cards set up with multiple choices. She is able to study for tests on her iPad during seminar, during free time at school, in the car night or day, or almost anytime. For science I am able to access the teacher posted list directly on Quizlet. I make a copy and set up multiple choice questions to prep Rachel for tests. Rachel has a lot of information and understands a lot. There are certain formats that are just more effective for finding out what she knows.
Another one of Rachel’s accommodations is to allow her to PowerPoint Presentations instead of essays or essay tests when appropriate. For one of her Human Geography tests, the teacher sent a template of a PowerPoint. It was kind of a fill-in-the-blank PowerPoint. She had to put the correct term or definition and could get extra credit for pictures in certain spots. This is an example of one of the slides.
As I said I am not a teacher and have had no formal training in making modifications. I do know my child though and God gave me a good measure of common sense. I just try to apply that as we think through what will work and what won’t. We have been fortunate to have had great resource teachers who have been good at helping make those modifications. And we have had some of the most outstanding general education teachers. In fact, I told Rachel’s English teacher the other day that she needs to be teaching classes to other teachers on how to modify, accommodate and include!
Today, Rachel has her final over Macbeth. Rachel is full of surprises and has shocked both her dad and me by liking Shakespeare. I wasn’t too surprised that she enjoyed Romeo and Juliet because it is a love story, and she is such a romantic. We (teachers, para’s and parents) have noticed that she gets into the drama of Shakespeare. I hear her reading, and she is in character using her British accent and acting it out. It is rather entertaining. Today’s test has several pieces and Rachel has been studying. One part of the test requires the students to read a passage and then write about it with some very specific directions. Rachel’s teacher said that Rachel can share her thoughts on the passage. That seems fair and appropriate. Rachel read the passage and said, “Macbeth says nothing in life is perfect. Life is like a stage. Life is over soon like a candle.” Don’t know about you, but I say that’s pretty good. Her teacher is pretty amazing and I suspect she’ll think it’s pretty good, too.
A few years ago her class had read a clip from “A Christmas Carol.” That amazing teacher said she knew Rachel knew the information so she decided to give her the same 15 question test as the other students. She allowed her to answer the questions orally though. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the brain and the written answer so if you can give it orally it helps. You can also more easily clarify what she is trying to communicate. She said Rachel needed to employ a little self-talk to reason out some things. When all was said and done, Rachel made 14/15 on the same test as everyone else. The same teacher later told me that Rachel was the only student in the class who could answer a particular discussion question about Mr. Van Daan from “The Dairy of Anne Frank.”
My husband suggested that I used maze in the title of this blog because he said it is more like a maze than a puzzle. Each child is individual and each of our situations is individual, and we often feel lost. Frequently, I tell families you need to figure out your goals and what is important to you. Inclusion is important to our family. We believe it is important for individuals with Down syndrome to be included in school, church and the community. We do not believe school means just the academic setting either. There is a lot of work to be done in the extra-curricular arena at school. That’s a blog for another day. I don’t want Rachel to memorize a piece from Macbeth or read “To Kill a Mockingbird” just so she can say she did it or read a great work of literature. I want her to be exposed to the same things as the people she will work with and for, the people she will live beside and the people she will worship with. For us inclusion goes way beyond the walls of the classroom and not just for Rachel but for the other students, too. They are the ones who will do life with Rachel and Lily and Stella and Ryan and Bella and Ben. They are the ones who will see the world through a different set of lenses and will help create a world that is more accepting and more inclusive.
So yes, I am thankful for the accommodations and modifications that to the maximum extent appropriate allow Rachel to be educated alongside children who are not considered disabled in the regular education environment. Seems like I might have read that somewhere! Inclusion done right works!