Curriculum modifications are simple but powerful tools that can help make a learning environment more accessible to all students. This tool kit, written for teachers, offers a definition of curriculum modifications, describes their different types, and offers suggestions of how to plan for and incorporate them in the classroom. Information in this tool kit is based on the concepts of the third edition of Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs (2019), by Sandall, Schwartz, Joseph, & Gauvreau.
Definition of Curriculum Modification
A curriculum modification is a change to the ongoing classroom activity or materials to help a child participate. The change may impact the materials used or the delivery of the lesson just a bit but does not change the learning goals of the activity.
Types of Curriculum Modifications
There are eight main types of curriculum modifications. Definitions and examples of each type are provided below:
Knowing When to Use Modifications
Although curriculum modifications are useful for supporting students with disabilities or developmental delays, they can be used for any student, any time that they are not participating to their fullest ability, as illustrated in Curriculum Modifications: Introduction to a Blog Series.
As a teacher plans an upcoming activity, she can anticipate which students in the classroom might have difficulty, what types of difficulty they might have, and incorporate modifications accordingly.
- Ms. Jones is planning for students to sort manipulatives by color and shape. She anticipates that Jonas will have trouble keeping his materials contained, so she uses the environmental adaption of putting manipulatives into shallow trays.
- Ms. Chin is inviting a local restaurant owner to talk to the class about their project on pizza. She anticipates that Maya will have difficulty waiting for a turn to ask her question, but she wants Maya to practice raising her hand and allowing others to talk as well. Ms. Chin uses invisible support by calling on Maya third, increasing her chances of successfully listening to others before sharing her ideas.
- Mr. Edwards, the PE teacher, wants to teach his students to pass a ball back and forth to each other, in preparation for some upcoming ball sports. His student Rafael has a visual impairment. Mr. Edwards works with the teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist to acquire an audible ball that makes noise when it is used. This adaptation of special equipment allows Rafael to participate with his classmates.
Incorporating Curriculum Modifications into Lesson Planning
Curriculum modifications do not alter the overarching goals of a lesson. For example, if the goal is a for children to write the first letter of their name, that can be accomplished with a traditional pencil, but it is also accomplished with a variety of curriculum modifications such as:
- Using a pencil with a gripper on it (materials adaptation)
- Using a communication device that allows a child to type letters (special equipment)
- Using a paper secured to an easel (environmental support)
- Using a favorite-colored crayon (child preference)
- Working near a classmate who models for writing a particular letter (peer support)
Although modifications are simple, they do require planning. There are times when a teacher realizes the need for a modification as an activity is occurring and puts it into place on the fly, but a better strategy is to incorporate modifications into lesson planning, ensuring they are ready for each child who needs one. For example, in a lesson related to sorting, one child with a visual impairment needs brightly colored objects to sort (materials adaptation), while another needs to sort fewer items to be successful (activity simplification). During the planning process, a teacher recognizes these different needs and has appropriate items ready. For some concrete examples of how this might work, see Adapting Lesson Plans to Meet IELDS Benchmarks.
Curriculum modifications are easy for early childhood educators to implement. They help learners with disabilities, delays, and other challenges a great deal. With just a bit of teacher planning, each child can access the fun learning activities in their classroom.