IntelAssessing Projects : Formative Assessment
Meeting Learners' Needs


Differentiation for Learners with Moderate Learning Disabilities
Learners with moderate learning disabilities learn at a slower rate and are expected to learn content, but may be responsible for a limited number of concepts. Rubrics can be adjusted to address fewer concepts or additional skills that other learners have already mastered. If a mark is assigned on the basis of different expectations, this adaptation may need to be noted in the final grade report.

Learners at this level can achieve higher levels of thinking, but they usually need extensive scaffolding and support. For example, the following checklist is used by high school learners to observe the thinking skills of their peers in a small-group activity. The various thinking skills can be divided among the members of the group. Checklist items in green would be appropriate for learners with moderate learning disabilities to observe, depending on their age and understanding of the subject matter. Of course, all learners need teaching and modelling before participating in this activity.

Problem Solving Skills  Comments
Responds positively to complex problems       
Maintains concentration in an active environment       
Persists with challenging problems       
Takes a systematic approach to support decisions and conclusions       
Uses equations       
Works backward       
Chooses effective notation       
Creates tables and diagrams       
Builds models        
Simplifies the problem       
Assesses the validity of methods and answers       

Careful assessment is critical for targeting learning goals for learners with moderate disabilities. Since these learners may not be expected to achieve all the goals of a project, teachers must carefully prioritize the concepts and skills that learners are expected to learn. Take, for example, the following journal entry written by an intermediate phase learner before a science project on frogs:

I like froggs. They are green and they are amphbins and live in the ocen in little houses with their mommys and daddys and all their bothers and sisters and the daddy frog gos to wrk evry day and the mommy frog clens the house and frogs grow from seeds like flowers.

A teacher could determine several strengths and weaknesses from this short writing. The child’s thoughts are connected and fairly well elaborated. They make a kind of sense. The learner knows that frogs are amphibians, they are green, and they live in water. The writing needs to be divided into sentences, and spelling errors, most of which are phonetic in some way, need to be corrected. A teacher could use this journal entry to prioritize some assessment standards for the learner.

When planning science concepts to address, while the learner has several misconceptions about frogs—such as they live in the ocean and they grow like flowers—the learner’s biggest misconception clearly comes from mixing the fantasy frogs in storybooks and cartoons with real frogs. This is the first content issue that the teacher should address, leaving the other issues for later. Most likely, other learners in the class have the same misconception, even though they may not have indicated it in their journals. Therefore, spending some whole-class teaching on this subject would be a valuable use of teaching time. The teacher would then check with the learner frequently to see if the learner’s beliefs are changing to a more scientific perspective.

Learners with moderate disabilities can also benefit from extensive self-assessment through checklists and reflections. For example, an item from a problem-solving checklist can be elaborated as follows to be used by learners with moderate learning disabilities:

Regular Checklist  Checklist Adapted for Learners with Moderate Learning Disabilities
checkbox I think ahead to avoid potential problems.
checkbox I think about problems I might have with equipment and how to solve them.
checkbox I think about problems I might have getting the materials I need and how to solve them.
checkbox I think about problems our group might have working together and how to solve them.
checkbox I think about problems I might have meeting deadlines and how to solve them.

Checklists can also be simplified by eliminating some steps and information, and by providing space for learners to write on the checklist itself. One important concept to remember is that although learners with moderate disabilities will need more extensive scaffolding to achieve their learning goals, the scaffolding still needs to be removed bit by bit. Certainly, removing support structures takes place at a much slower rate, but learners should be moving toward a degree of independence appropriate to their abilities.


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