ERIC Identifier: ED480433
Publication Date: 2003/07/00
Author: Keith Lenz and Jean Schumaker
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
Adapting Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science
Materials for the Inclusive Classroom. ERIC/OSEP Digest.
When instructional materials present a barrier to student learning,
teachers often adapt the materials to allow students greater access to
the information to be taught. These adaptations may involve changing the
content of the materials (the nature or amount of information to be learned)
or changing the format of the materials (the way information is presented
to the learner).
For students with mild cognitive disabilities, most adaptations should
be a bridge to skill development, not a substitute for intensive instruction
in the skills and strategies that students will need to become independent
learners. In other words, adaptations should be approached as a short-term
solution to increase access to the curriculum and to increase the probability
that the students will be able to complete an academic task. However, there
may be some cases in which short-term adaptations become permanent adaptations
if they are needed by a particular student.
Ideally, adaptations would be designed into curricular materials by
the developers, and the built-in adaptations would be broad enough and
flexible enough to assist students regardless of their disability. When
they are not, teachers must adapt materials themselves, and effective adaptations
take time for teachers to design and implement. In some cases, making and
implementing adaptations can be more time consuming and complex than teaching
the student the skills needed to meet a particular demand.
A careful process can help to ensure that the decision to adapt materials
is the correct one and that adaptations will be effective. This digest
describes a process consisting of nine steps for planning and implementing
Step 1. Create a Plan for Adapting Materials
Effective adaptations require sustained development and support. They
must be made within the framework of a larger plan that includes consideration
of (a) basic and strategic skills instruction and (b) the roles of people
involved in the adaptation process. It is important to involve your administrator
and curriculum or program coordinator from the beginning, and identify
exactly who will be responsible for making, implementing, supporting and
evaluating the adaptation over the course of the year. As much as possible,
involve students, parents, paraprofessionals, and others. Adaptations that
can benefit an entire class or several classes are more likely to be supported
Step 2. Identify and Evaluate the Demands that Students Are Not Meeting
The purpose of this step is to define the problem to be addressed by
the adaptation. Observe students' performance when they use typical instructional
materials. They may have difficulty acquiring or getting the important
information from written materials (level 1), storing or remembering the
information presented in the materials (level 2), or expressing the information
or demonstrating competence on written tests (level 3). If students have
difficulty with a given task, different solutions may be required depending
on the level of difficulty.
Step 3. Develop Goals for Teaching Strategies and Making Adaptations
Some problems can be solved by adaptations; other problems may signal
the need for intensive instruction in skills or strategies. Often, teachers
may need to provide adaptations while simultaneously teaching the student
the learning strategies he or she needs in order to perform the work. All
adaptations lead students to become dependent on the person who makes them.
Before an adaptation is made for an individual student, educators must
carefully consider the best approach to addressing the student's disability
and promoting success. Adaptations should be approached as short-term solutions
within a long-term plan for teaching skills and strategies that will promote
the student's independence as a learner and ultimately reduce the need
Step 4. Determine Whether Content or Format Adaptations Are Needed
Content adaptations may be made only when the student's Individualized
Educational Program (IEP) notes that the general curriculum is inappropriate
for this student. Content adaptations must also meet local and state education
standards. In some cases, the IEP may address the degree to which the requirements
associated with meeting state standards and taking assessments may be modified.
The teacher must decide which parts of the curriculum the student will
be required to learn and will constitute mastery of the course content.
When the curriculum is considered appropriate for the student, adaptations
may focus on format rather than content. Again, the teacher must identify
the critical elements of course content that students must learn: First,
identify the critical course ideas or concepts. Then identify the information
that must be mastered in each unit to ensure that the critical course ideas
are mastered. Finally, determine how students will demonstrate their mastery
at the end of each unit and at the end of the course. Format adaptations
are made to compensate for mismatches between the presentation or design
of the materials and the skills and strategies of the student. In format
adaptations, the content is not altered.
Step 5. Identify the Features of the Materials that Need To Be Adapted
The design of materials can present many different types of problems
for students with disabilities. Teachers adapting materials should examine
each curricular unit for features that might cause a learning problem.
For example, the content may be very abstract, complex, or poorly organized,
or it might present too much information. It may not be relevant to students
or it may be boring. Further, it may call for skills or strategies or background
information that the student does not possess. It may present activities
that do not lead to mastery, or it may fail to give students cues about
how to think about or study the information. Materials also may not provide
a variety of flexible options through which students can demonstrate competence.
Guidelines for identifying these and other problems in the design of instructional
materials may be found in resources like those listed at the end of this
Step 6. Determine the Type of Adaptation That Will Enable the Student
To Meet the Demand
Once the materials have been evaluated and possible problem areas identified,
the type of format adaptation must be selected. Format adaptations can
be made by:
- Altering existing materials-Rewrite, reorganize, add to, or recast
the information so that the student can access the regular curriculum material
independently, e.g., prepare a study guide and audiotape.
- Mediating existing materials-provide additional instructional support,
guidance, and direction to the student in the use of the materials. Alter
your instruction to mediate the barriers presented by the materials so
that you directly lead the student to interact with the materials in different
ways. For example, have students survey the reading material, collaboratively
preview the text, and create an outline of the material to use as a study
- Selecting alternate materials-Select new materials that are more sensitive
to the needs of students with disabilities or are inherently designed to
compensate for learning problems. For example, use an interactive computer
program that cues critical ideas, reads text, inserts graphic organizers,
defines and illustrates words, presents and reinforces learning in smaller
increments, and provides more opportunities for practice and cumulative
Step 7. Inform Students and Parents About the Adaptation
Adaptations are more successful when they are offered and introduced
to students at the beginning of the year. Parents should also be informed
about them at the beginning of the year. Students should be taught explicit
strategies to use any adaptation effectively and how to process the information
received through the adaptation. As students progress, they should be taught
how to recognize the need for and request materials adaptations. While
content adaptation decisions are made at IEP meetings, decisions about
format adaptations may be made informally, and parents may need assurance
that content is not being altered and that standards are being met.
Step 8. Implement, Evaluate, and Adjust the Adaptation
As the adaptation is implemented, the teacher should evaluate its effects
to determine whether the desired outcomes are being achieved. If not, adjustments
will need to be made either in the adaptation or the instructions to the
student in its use. Adaptations should significantly reduce failure and
Step 9. Fade the Adaptation When Possible
Adaptations usually are short-term solutions to allow classroom learning
and participation until the needed skills and strategies can be taught.
Once the adaptation is in place, the teacher should begin to plan with
other teachers how to teach the needed skills and strategies. Once the
student has learned the necessary skills and strategies, the adaptation
should be faded. The adaptation should not be removed until the student
possesses the skills and strategies to learn and complete tasks independently.
For some students, an adaptation may be required for several months, while
for others, it may be maintained for years.
For more information and for examples of materials adaptations, see
Adapting Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science Materials for the
Inclusive Classroom by Keith Lenz and Jean Schumaker.
Deshler, Schumaker, and McKnight, (1997).The survey routine. Lawrence:
University of Kansas Press. Guidelines for identifying features of materials
that may be inconsiderate of the learner.
Knackendorffel, E.A., Robinson, S. Schumaker, J.B, & Deshler, D.D.
(1992). Collaborative problem solving. Lawrence, KS: Edge Enterprises.
Lenz, K. & Schumaker, J. (1999). Adapting language arts, social
studies, and science materials for the inclusive classroom. Reston, VA:
The Council for Exceptional Children.