By Raj Khatri
[This article was first printed in the Fall 2016 issue of TEAL News.]
It is often experienced that due to the diverse linguistic backgrounds, disabilities are mostly unidentified among adult English language learners (ELLs), which makes it challenging for instructors to efficiently accommodate differently-abled students. Although instructors often feel that particular ELLs might benefit from certain classroom strategies or differentiated instruction, when learner disabilities are not formally identified, it becomes critical that instructors systematically and appropriately assess ELLs’ learning needs and identify potential mismatches in order to facilitate adaptations. With that said, I am going to discuss the ADAPT strategy (Hutchinson, 2010), which I employed when working in a regular classroom with adult ELLs who were formally identified as learners with disabilities or exceptional learners. This process (I prefer to call the ADAPT a process rather than a strategy), I believe, can also be implemented in an adult ELL classroom with learners who are not identified with disabilities but seem to be needing assistance.
A few days before I started teaching an adult ELL class, two envelopes marked “Confidential” were handed over to me at the program coordinator’s office. I carefully opened and read the documents right then and there. It took me no time to find out that they were academic accommodations from the school’s disability service centre. Because I had just completed my program on special education from Queen’s University and was then certified to teach learners with special needs in Ontario, I instantly felt that it was an opportunity for me to apply my learning to classroom practices. My responsibilities towards these two learners with disabilities started right from the moment they were introduced to me on that very first day. Since there were only two learners with disabilities in the regular ELL classrooms, I facilitated my classes in such a way that all of my learners had equal access to classroom materials and academic instructions. No modifications took place, but I used a variety of strategies to accommodate learners with disabilities. I always provided a supportive and encouraging classroom throughout the semester so that all learners would participate in activities and assignments in a non-threatening environment.
The ADAPT Strategy
It is important that for teaching to be effective, it be differentiated in regular classrooms with exceptional learners and that differentiated teaching be an integral part of planning and delivering lessons (Hutchinson, 2010). One of the systematic processes or strategies I often use for differentiating teaching is the ADAPT process, which Hutchinson often discusses, showing its application and importance in accommodating learners with disabilities. During the use of the ADAPT process, I try to ensure in class a structured learning environment, scaffolded instruction, and opportunities for learners to experience success, all of which, I believe, alleviate boredom and frustration and promote engagement and learning, as stated by Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2008). The ADAPT process, which I incorporated when teaching the learners with disabilities in an adult ELL classroom as mentioned in the paragraph above, consisted of the following five steps (Hutchinson, 2010):
Step 1: Accounts of learners’ strengths and weaknesses (A)
Step 2: Demands of the classroom (D)
Step 3: Adaptations (A)
Step 4: Perspectives and consequences (P)
Step 5: Teach and assess the match (T)
Step 1: Accounts of learners’ strengths and weaknesses
During Step 1, I familiarized myself with all information that was important for me to know about the exceptional learners with the help of their confidential files that contained medical information, counsellors’ contact information, exam instructions and accommodations, assistive technology needs, classroom accommodations, supportive services, and other relevant information, as is generally provided in the Individual Education Plan (IEP) for K-12 public school system in Ontario (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2004). These files contained very specific statements about learners’ strengths and weaknesses under social, emotional, and behavioural; physical; and academic categories, just as Hutchinson (2010) discusses. Turn taking in a group assignment, avoiding from being harsh, and being highly motivated to do better and score higher grades were some of the social, emotional, and behavioural strengths, whereas showing resistance to move and participate in group work, crying as a result of frustration caused from academic assignments, and disobeying classroom instructions were part of social, emotional, and behavioural weaknesses that I came across when reading the files. Physical strengths and weaknesses are mostly manifested in motor skills, sight, hearing, and neurological functions. Reading and mathematical skills, problem-solving strategies, and organizational skills could be connected with academic strengths and weaknesses. I also assessed the learners’ knowledge with regards to their learning expectations and gathered information through observation of the learners. I finally prepared a detailed description of these strengths, weaknesses, and needs of every exceptional learner and added it to my agenda so that I could easily and promptly access this information whenever needed, keeping all information still confidential throughout the process.
Step 2: Demands of the classroom
All social, emotional, and behavioural; physical; and academic demands of the classroom were taken into account when planning classroom activities, and this occurs in the second step of the ADAPT strategy. It is important that classroom activities be planned, keeping in mind strengths and weaknesses of learners with disabilities. When preparing long-range and daily lesson plans, I made sure that I balanced grouping configurations. I realized that some learners would benefit from discussion in pairs, as it helped them understand some difficult assignments in class when working with peers, but at the same time, I had to make it sure that these learners did not find it difficult to concentrate because of the noise or commotion originating from nearby pair or group discussions, as the challenges of the learners with attention difficulties would generally be further complicated because of the noise or commotion. As far as physical demands are concerned, I exercised caution when I moved furniture around for grouping configurations. Similarly, the academic demands of the classroom are related to instructional and supplementary materials, such as textbooks, realia, audiovisual aids, manipulatives, etc, and assessment methods. With regards to this, I provided direct instruction before guided and independent practice took place in class, which mostly helped the learners become independent gradually. I included the supportive service or the support from a note taker in the academic demands of the classroom, and I add that sometimes a note taker was recruited to help a learner with the class notes. Regarding assessment methods, additional time was provided for submission of both take-home and in-class assignments. Time was doubled for tests and exams, but the questions remained the same in all tests and exams. Private rooms were always arranged during tests and exams for the learners with special needs in this particular class.
Step 3: Adaptations
According to Hutchinson (2010), in the adaptations step, teachers need to find out potential mismatches or gaps between learning needs of exceptional learners and demands of the classroom and identify adaptations to differentiate teaching and evaluation methods in order to eliminate these mismatches or gaps. There are, in fact, several ways for the instructor to adapt and to make changes that meet learner needs. I sometimes ADAPTed the instructional and evaluation approaches. I broke a complex assignment into three key steps without watering down the curriculum (Dehn, 2008), and thus avoided learner frustration. Based on the learner strengths, one group of learners was assigned to read a few articles on multicultural characteristics of Canada, discuss some key important elements as provided in those articles, regarding different cultures and their celebrations, and bring their ideas to class. However, the other group was asked to visit some street festivals and cultural shows that were happening around them, write down about cultural showcases that they thought were very interesting as well as significant, and report to class. And, the third group was supposed to watch videos online, and use the Internet and talk to their friends and members of their family to gather information on different cultures, discuss some key celebrations of the people from these cultures, and present it to class. Learners from these three groups would then gather information from all sources together to present their findings both orally and in writing. Students had varied amounts of knowledge when they completed their part of the assignment, but when they got together in class and shared their experiences and knowledge, everybody in class made gains, which I could definitely observe.
There are also other ways to ADAPT. As instructed in the confidential file that belonged to a learner with disabilities, the student’s learning need was also bypassed sometimes, since she was allowed to use a word processor with spelling and grammar check, so bypassing some learning needs of learners with disabilities can also be a way to ADAPT. I also facilitated some classes on basic or study skills, such as note taking, test taking, scanning, and skimming skills, and teaching such skills are also considered a way to ADAPT. As Hutchinson (2010) mentioned, students with learning disabilities may need support right away in such basic or study skills, whereas the whole class can still benefit from instructions on these skills although they may not need these skills right away.
Step 4: Perspectives and Consequences
Now is the step for critical reflection on adaptations. I considered my own perspectives, and perspectives from learners with disabilities and the rest of the class. It is essential that adaptations be critically reflected on from several perspectives, such as considering how the adaptations went, whether the adaptation process was very time consuming, if instructors and learners were happy with the adaptations, how effective this process was, and whether instructors would ADAPT their teaching the same way in the future. In the process, as Hutchinson (2010) suggests, throughout the semester, I incorporated the simplest adaptation that, I believe, was effective, and was beneficial for many of my learners, if not for all. Although it was the simplest adaptation, planning, preparation, and implementation of it took considerable time and energy. As it was a summer class, and there were not many classes I was engaged in teaching that summer, I had sufficient time to use for creating and implementing a variety of strategies for incorporation in this particular class. But, as Hutchinson suggests, the adaptation process should not consume considerable time and energy. I surely had to reconsider time management and effort level for the adaptations in the following semesters. Along with my perspectives, I also considered the perspectives on adaptations from the learners with disabilities for their learning. I ensured that adaptations I incorporated were not biased and that these adaptations did not draw undue attention to the learners with disabilities in my class. I kept confirming that all of my learners were respected in the adaptation process.
Along with perspectives as such, I was able to consider consequences of my ADAPTing teaching in class. I made sure that the learners with disabilities benefited from my adaptations and that these learners and the rest of the class were always engaged in activities and the learning process in and outside the classroom. I kept observing and sometimes assessing as much as possible for evidence that would demonstrate all learners’ learning. While I provided the learners with additional time after class, I also ensured that these learners did not become dependent as a consequence of continued assistance.
Step 5: Teach and Assess the Match
This step meant the time for me to decide on whether to incorporate this adaptation again or make some changes in the existing adaptation, or rethink a completely new adaptation should I be assigned to teach adult ELL learners with disabilities in a regular classroom. I carefully analyzed whether the adaptation matched strengths and needs of the learners with disabilities to the classroom demands and whether it was able to eliminate the mismatches or gaps I had identified during my adaptations step. It was again important for me to include the learners’ opinions about the adaptations. To assess the adaptation process, I also needed to find the evidence of learners’ getting involved in different activities in and outside the classroom.
This was the ADAPT strategy I incorporated first when accommodating the learners with disabilities in my adult ELL classroom a few years back, and it was really a learning opportunity. The process went well; however, I sometimes think it could have been a little different, and possibly better if I had opportunities to discuss with colleagues who were involved with the students, just as the IEP would allow the student, his or her parents, the school, the community, and other teachers or professional involved with the student to work together for the best accomplishments (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2004). However, there were no such instructions from the disability service centre. And, as it was the only class the students with disabilities were taking that summer, the instructors who had taught them previously were not available then. Nonetheless, it was a great experience, and since then this process has been part of my teaching and learning engagement. It has been instrumental in further shaping my teaching and learning process when it comes to working with exceptional students. I have lately come across a few learners who have not been identified with disabilities due to various reasons, such as learners’ diverse linguistics backgrounds and lack of diagnostic tests in different native languages, that would help identify disabilities. Although learners might not be identified and the instructor may think that learners might benefit from the ADAPT strategy, I think it can still be used, which can enable the instructor to identify strengths and needs of their learners and differentiate their teaching and assessment methods accordingly.
Dehn, M. J. (2008). Working memory and academic learning: Assessment and intervention. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model. New York: Pearson Education.
Hutchinson N.L. (2010). Inclusion of Exceptional Learners in Canadian Schools: A practical handbook for teachers. Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.
Ontario Ministry of Education and Training. (1999). Special education companion: Curriculum unit planner. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from https://www.ldcsb.on.ca/Programs/SpecialEducation/Gifted/Documents/SpecialEdCompanion.pdf
Ontario Ministry of Education (2004). The individual education plan (IEP): A resource guide. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario. Retrieved June 29, 2016, from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/guide/resource/iepresguid.pdf
From the Fall 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter: Raj Khatri has facilitated EAP and EAL classes for over fifteen years at a variety of settings, including at the University of Regina, Toronto Catholic District School Board, and Centennial College. His areas of interest are L2 reading strategies, L2 writing, intercultural communication, teacher professional development, and strategies for adult ELLs with special needs.
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Original reference information:
Khatri, R. (2016, Fall). Welcome to the ADAPT Strategy: A Five-Step Strategy for Inclusion in Adult ELL Classrooms. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-Teal-Newsletter-Fall-2016-Final-2.pdf