Accommodating Students: Individual Differences or Individual Difference

Stan Deno used this title in a journal article a number of years ago*. He was arguing that often, particularly in special education, the focus is on individual differences in which a process is started (in a referral) that relies on tests to show deficits and then affix labels (e.g., learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, etc.). This process is often based on the standard bell shaped curve, in which most individuals collect in the middle (within one standard deviation of the average) and then taper off above and below these markers. In contrast, Stan argued that our obligation as teachers is to make an individual difference by addressing those at the tails of the distribution. For these students, different scaffolded accommodations should be made. The problem is that teachers stand right in the middle of this difference. They have the impossible task of doing both in addressing individual differences and making an individual difference. WRN is designed to provide teachers a technology support system that is hopefully easy to implement this seemingly impossible task. The prompt tab illustrated below reflects three options for teachers to edit and adjust their problem solving prompts in three ways by clicking on (a) the bar chart icon (furthest left) to view a summary of student performance on the prompt, (b) the garbage can (in the middle) to delete the prompt, and (c) the pencil (far right) to edit the prompt. To accommodate students, teachers can take a basic prompt and make it easier by providing assistance for some students (like graphic organizers or outline guides for writing). They can also complexify the basic prompt for students on a fast track or in advanced classes. This feature only requires teachers to group students accordingly and then assign these different prompts to them. Moral of this blog: Providing accommodations for students is an important part of teaching but it should not require so much extra time and demand on teachers that, frankly, teaching to the middle becomes the norm. ---------- * Deno, S. (1990). Individual differences and individual difference: The essential difference of special education. Journal of Special Education, 24(2),160-73.