This report was written with support from the National Center on
Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC), a cooperative agreement
between CAST and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), Cooperative Agreement No. H324H990004.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position
of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs,
and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred.
Prepared by Nari Koga, Boston College and Tracey Hall, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist
National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum
Modifying existing general curriculum has been an effective way to create more accessible learning environments to support all students and their teachers in various educational contexts. There are many terms in use regarding changes made to curriculum, such as; enhancements, accommodations, overlapping, and adaptations. We differentiate curriculum modification from curriculum enhancement for the purposes of this paper. In this way, we can clarify the definition and nature of curriculum modification, to emphasize its effectiveness in improving education for all children, and to provide vivid examples and useful resources which will enrich actual classroom practices for diverse learners. Although both ideas, enhancement and modification, become pivotal when we consider improving accessibilities of general curriculum in relation to individual students’ needs, the approach, design, and methods resulted from each idea may differ significantly.
Curriculum enhancement is most likely to be built around existing general curriculum and to involve teachers’ alterations of curriculum. Frequently, teachers will enhance curriculum with additions of instructional strategies. Frequently enhancements are created to evaluate and teach adequate background knowledge in preparation for a new task. Additionally, teachers may incorporate a variety of instructional materials and procedures to meet students’ needs, including the use of co-teaching, and/or instructional collaboration.
Curriculum modification differs from curriculum enhancement in that modification is a more extreme alteration to the curriculum than that of an enhancement. Modifications involve combinations of altered content knowledge, conceptual difficulty, educational goals, and instructional method versus building scaffolding and bridges between existing curriculum and people involved in the educational process. Such differentiation between curriculum modification and curriculum enhancement is based on ranging degrees in which our educational approach becomes distinct from or maintains the similarities to existing general curriculum. In other words, educational practices in which students and teachers interactions differ from those designed in existing general curriculum to a greater extent when curriculum is modified than when enhanced.
There are numerous ways curriculum modifications are put into practice for different purposes and outcomes in various levels, such as individual, classroom, and school-wide. Due to the flexible nature and countless applications, curriculum modification often remains an ambiguous concept and is understood as an umbrella term to include multifarious aspects of everyday teaching practices. We have refined our definition of curriculum modification based on understandings of its nature and potentialities. The discussion below introduces a way to understand the concept and some concrete practices of curriculum modification through presenting how we have defined curriculum modification, how components can be categorized, what research says about its effectiveness, and how such empirical evidence can be applied to general education settings. We provide in the end, a list of useful Web resources and related literatures for the reader.
It is important to note that no single definition of curriculum modification exists. Many researchers offer many definitions from various fields of discipline. In other words, the practice of curriculum modification has been discussed in different language by many researchers from various specialty areas in education. For instance, in addition to the most frequently used terms, accommodation and adaptation, some use terms such as alteration, differentiation, change, revision, enhancement, compacting, integration and scaffolding to discuss teaching events involving curriculum modification. Another issue is that discussions regarding curriculum modification are often interwoven with ideas of strategy use for intended educational purposes. This creates a situation in which we face the difficulty of separating literature focusing on teaching strategies from those focusing on curriculum modification.
Our challenge is to clarify these ambiguities and to refine the definition of curriculum modification. In this review, we define curriculum modification as modified contents, instructions, and/or learning outcomes for diverse student needs. In other words, curriculum modification is not limited to instructional modification or content modification but includes a continuum of a wide range of modified educational components. Similarly, Comfort (1990) defines curriculum modification as “the adapting or interpreting of a school’s formal curriculum by teachers into learning objectives and units of learning activities judged most reasonable for an individual learner or particular group of learners” (p. 397). Curriculum modification involves change to a range of educational components in a curriculum, such as content knowledge, the method of instruction, and student’s learning outcomes, through the alteration of materials and programs (Comfort, 1990; King-Sears, 2001; MacMackin & Elaine, 1997; Reisberg, 1990). Although some may distinguish instruction from curriculum and argue that mere instructional modification should not be considered as curriculum modification, defining curriculum modification requires us to understand curriculum as a broad concept which involves various educational components and people involved in the educational processes. After all, contents, instruction, input and output inseparably construct daily teaching and learning. We also conceive school curriculum as a framework for guiding teachers (Comfort, 1990). In short, the way that we interpret curriculum influences our understanding of curriculum modification. Reisburg (1990) lists examples of the modifications of content, such as teaching learning strategies, simplifying concepts or reading levels, teaching different sets of knowledge and skills needed by students, and setting up specific objectives and examples of modifications to instructional methods, including reducing distractions, altering the pace of lessons, presenting smaller amounts of work, clarifying directions, and changing input and response modes. All of these teaching events should be considered as examples of curriculum modification.
For the purpose of this report, we have adopted the categorization of curriculum modification suggested by King-Sears (2001). King-Sears identified four types of curriculum modification: (a) accommodation, (b) adaptation, (c) parallel curriculum outcomes, and (d) overlapping curricula on a continuum. This categorization represents the relation between modified curriculum and general curriculum in terms of differences and similarities in educational input including content knowledge and conceptual difficulty, educational output including educational goals, and methods of instruction. The extent to which the modified curriculum differs from the general curriculum becomes greater as educational practice moves from accommodation to overlapping curricula. For instance, in accommodation, the only educational components which may differ from general curriculum are instructional method and educational goals, whereas, in overlapping curricula, all components—input, output, and instructional methods that students receive—can be totally different from those designed in general curriculum.
As conceptualized in this continuum, curriculum modification that King-Sears suggests contains a wide range of educational practices and shares the essence of the fore-mentioned definition of curriculum modification; modified contents, instructions, and/or learning outcomes for diverse student needs. Modifications identified by King-Sears, for example, range from an educational practice of simply providing a book-on-tape to some students who have reading difficulties during reading lessons to an educational practice of having some special needs students work on individual (IEP) goals, such as following directions, while they engage in general science lessons. Moreover, these four types of curriculum modification, according to King-Sears, are the extensions of curriculum enhancement within the process for teachers to determine the degree of accessibility of their classroom students with disabilities. In other words, curriculum modification, in King-Sears’ view, is a suggested step to take when curriculum enhancement alone is not effective to achieve objectives for inclusion.
King-Sears’ clear categorization and analysis of the components of curriculum modification is valuable for educators to capture the essence of curriculum modification. As stated above, her categorization consists of a wide range of educational practices. Since curriculum modification is practiced in numerous ways, it is important to broaden the definition rather than limiting to particular events.
Components and Features
As noted above, the components of curriculum modification are well categorized by King-Sears (2001) into four types: (a) accommodation, (b) adaptation, (c) parallel curriculum outcomes, and (d) overlapping curricula. Switlick (1997) explains that the purpose of modifying curriculum is “to enable an individual to compensate for intellectual, physical, or behavioral challenges” (p. 236) and to create learning environments which “allow the individual to use existing skill repertoires while promoting the acquisition of new skills and knowledge” (p. 236). We need to understand that these are the purposes which underlie the four types of curriculum modification identified by King-Sears (2001).
In the following section, brief explanations of each type of curriculum modification with examples from actual classrooms are prepared. Actual educational practices reflecting modified curriculum vary in many ways, modification occurs in various educational settings across diverse subject areas, students, assignments, assessments, evaluations, and so on. Presenting examples for all educational situations is beyond the scope of this report. Therefore, we selected a range of examples across four types of curriculum modification with a special focus on the examples from integrated general classrooms. For instance, the section regarding accommodation involves an example of using assistive technology in writing class for students with learning disabilities, and an example of using book-on-tapes for English Language Learners in a reading lesson. Likewise, various settings (math, language arts, social studies, and science lessons) and learners; students with a moderate to severe disabilities, as well as students identified as gifted and talented appear in the examples presented across the four types of curriculum modification.
Following the description and examples of each curriculum modification type is a table illustrating comparisons among four types of curriculum modification in relation to components modified and the extent to which modified curricula differ from the general curriculum. The table helps us visually recognize that, as we move forward from accommodation to overlapping curriculum, focused components shift from instruction-oriented to content-oriented, and that educational practices reflecting modified curriculum become more distant from educational practices based on general curriculum.