What We Have Learned: Experiences in Providing Adaptations and Accommodations for Gifted and Talented Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

* Would you allow a person to use a wheelchair?

* Would you carry him or her?

* If using a wheelchair gives someone an unfair advantage in a race, should his or her time count the same as that of other runners?

* Would you allow a person to wear glasses for reading a test, even if they only help a little? What about glasses that are so strong that they give the person an ability to read faster than average?

* Would you allow a person to use a word processor if you knew that the person had a severe writing disability but had ideas that showed evidence of giftedness?

* Would you allow dictation for a gifted student who had a severe writing disability?

At a recent national conference on gifted education, participants shared their feelings about allowing accommodations for students in a variety of situations. For each accommodation, they gave a thumbs-up, a thumbs-down, or a thumbs-sideways response, depending on whether they agreed or disagreed with the appropriateness of the accommodation. The seminar participants demonstrated little agreement in their responses to the preceding questions. Reactions to the situations reflected their varying attitudes and perceptions about appropriate adaptations and accommodations.

Twice-exceptional students, that is, students who are gifted and have learning disabilities (GLD), often need to have appropriate adaptations and accommodations (Barton & Starnes, 1989; Baum, 1991, 2004; Cline & Schwartz, 1999; National Association for Gifted Children; 1998) so that they can effectively gain access to enriched and accelerated instruction. Our experience in Maryland's Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) indicates that students often receive inadequate or inappropriate adaptations and accommodations, thereby making their access to gifted instruction problematic. The differing beliefs and opinions of teachers, parents, and students often lead to too few accommodations, too many accommodations, or the wrong accommodations.

A review of the research about GLD students and about successful programs for them reveals that the most important component in the education of GLD students is providing gifted and talented instruction in the student's areas of strength. However, programming for GLD students must simultaneously furnish support in the student's areas of weakness (see box, "What Does the Literature Say About Providing Instruction in Areas of Students' Strengths and Weaknesses?").

Additional Critical Components In GLD Instruction

In almost 2 decades of working with GLD students in Montgomery County, we have developed a system of approaches that we use for dealing with the complexities of providing appropriate adaptations and accommodations for students (see box, "Resources That Describe the GLD Program in Montgomery County, Maryland"). The following is a description of these critical components and the ways that MCPS has addressed them.

Best Practices

The following four major components summarize best practices for educating GLD students:

* Instruction in the student's area of strength.

* Opportunities for the instruction of skills and strategies in academic areas that the student's challenges affect.

* An appropriately differentiated program, including individualized instructional adaptations and accommodations systematically provided to students.

* Comprehensive case management to coordinate all aspects of the student's individual educational plan.

Definition of Terms

Since multidisciplinary teams make decisions about adaptations and accommodations, all participants must share a common vocabulary. Definitions of the terms accommodation, adaptation, enable, empower, and differentiation have proved to be especially useful in MCPS when educators discuss issues related to appropriate adaptations and accommodations for GLD students. The definition of enable has both positive and negative connotations. …