Building Your Accommodation Bag of Tricks

Through our many travel experiences, my family and I have become great packers. Whether we’re planning to stroll the streets of Paris or scale the Swiss Alps, we carefully consider likely needs and pack for all kinds of situations. When we visited India, our friends told us our backpacks were like Madhusudan bags — a reference to a Hindu god who carried a satchel that had an endless supply of everything anyone needed. We’re proud of our Madhusudan bags and know that being prepared has allowed us to make the most of our adventures. 

In addition to my traveling bag, I also have a bag of tricks for the classroom. Just like when hiking in the mountains or exploring new places, having the right items on hand for different scenarios at school ensures everything goes smoothly, and everyone has a more positive experience. 

The items I like to have in my bag are practical, multi-functional, and designed to accommodate on-the-spot. They provide opportunities for student choice and work towards fostering independence. For example, a simple roll of scotch tape could be used to secure a student’s work to the bottom of a desk when they need a change of position, rolled up and used as an impromptu fidget, or used to tape papers to a wall or window to allow for full body movement while working. 

The infographic below shows several other items teaching assistants might have on hand and how they could use them.

Use Your Bag to Achieve Accommodation Goals

Whatever you decide to include in your bag of tricks, the ultimate goals for your accommodations should stay consistent. Most importantly, make sure the learning targets for the students you’re supporting are the same as the other students. This can be done by asking yourself, 

What are the other students doing, and how can this student do something similar?

For instance, I once observed a classroom where a new student, Akio, spoke a different language than the rest of his class. He often became inattentive during large group activities since he couldn’t understand what was said. During read-alouds, he would get up and walk around the room rather than staying on the carpet to listen. Akio’s teachers decided it would be best to pull him out of the classroom during reading time and have him play a computer game instead so he wouldn’t interrupt the rest of the class. 

The problem with this accommodation is that it wasn’t really an accommodation at all. Yes, Akio was kept occupied and wasn’t distracting other students, but he also wasn’t working towards what the other kids were. A more appropriate activity for Akio would have been reading or listening to a book at a level that he could understand and enjoy.

As discussed in our introduction to accommodations, besides keeping students’ learning goals the same, remember that your accommodations should also be:

  • Based on individual personalities
  • Carefully documented to track what works
  • Designed to fade over time as students gain independence 

With these ideas in mind and your back of tricks packed and ready, you will be fully prepared for your next learning adventure. If you need help on your journey, don’t hesitate to contact me for a consultation.