The confusion between accommodation and remediation

“I wish I knew this at the beginning of the school year!” How many times have you realized that you could have done things differently as a parent, had you had better knowledge about your kid’s learning and development?

In this article, I would like to explain the differences between two critical terms: accommodation and remediation. These two terms often remain under-the-radar in many parent-teacher meetings and are the cause of fruitless attempts of improving students’ performance in school. Throughout my work as an educational specialist, I meet with many parents who are faced with many challenges in helping their children succeed with tasks that require cognitive/executive functions. These kids face different kinds of issues on a daily basis. The main two being homework and class performance.

Nevertheless, those issues surface much more in school than at home. Therefore, teacher-parent collaboration is essential. In the absence of effective cooperation, many parents end up feeling hopeless as they see how their children are not fulfilling their true potential as individuals and as learners. Many parents share with me their willingness to cooperate and meet with the school’s demands, but the issues seem to persist; they keep on getting negative reports from the teachers. Nothing seems to be working.

To learn more about their children, I ask parents many different questions seeking to clarify the areas of struggle.
For example, one parent explained to me how his son can read a chapter from the textbook but cannot recall what he read shortly after. A more significant problem emerged when the child started avoiding learning and showing outburst of anger. When the school administrator contacted the parents, the conversation revolved around the behavior and conclusion that the student might have ADHD or dyslexia [or both]. The teacher reported many ways to differentiate the teaching, some of which include moving the student’s seat closer to the board, breaking the tasks down into smaller tasks, and even working with the student one-on-one during lunch time. All these attempts ended up fruitless. The school’s recommendation was to send the student for an evaluation. Sadly, no one suggested discussing a plan of action to remediate to the child’s weak working memory, an essential executive function.

Parents know that when the issue pertains to their children their ability to control their emotions becomes compromised rapidly; some even admit that they feel physical aching during those meetings in school. Another ability that is weakened during these situations relates to asking the right questions, one of which could be the school’s ability to help the child.

If we want to help struggling students, we must clarify two types of appropriate supports. Theses supports fall into two categories: accommodation and remediation. Parents should find out whether the teacher and/or school are able and ready to provide students with these kinds of support. Some schools do so as part of their teaching style, other schools do not. Accommodation means providing support for the sake of achieving a result. For example, erecting a wheelchair ramp at the entrance of the City Hall is a support for the disables who needs to enter the building. Another example, when my student broke his finger in basketball practice, the nurse recommended that he will type his class-notes on the computer. These two cases are examples of accommodations where support is available for one to attain his/her goal. These accommodations are not meant to heal the disability nor the finger of my student. It will, nevertheless, help them achieve what they need to get.

In contrast to accommodation, remediation deals with the healing of the problem. The word remediation stems from the Latin word, remedialis, which means “healing, curing.” For example, a student who suffers from test anxiety and resorts to procrastination will benefit from sessions with a coach or a counselor who will help the student find out about causes and together form effective solutions. Moreover, the student may discover that her test anxiety stems from a fear of failure. The work with a coach will then focus on flexibility and problem-solving skills.

Another example of remediation could be a student with dyscalculia who struggles with understanding number-related concepts. It was the Kindergarten teacher who noticed the problem first. However, due to the child’s ability to remember answers rather than understand processes, the issue surfaced only in fourth grade. At that juncture, the teacher, who did not know the previous teachers, allowed the student to use a calculator in class. After a whole year of using a calculator, the student arrived in 5th grade unaware of the concept of place value. Needless to mention his arithmetic skills were below grade level. To remediate the student problem of dyscalculia, his 5th grade Math teacher will have to find the exact problem or use the student’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) to remediate a few years of Math deficit.

As you may realize, the ramifications of addressing a problem with accommodation rather than remediation can create a cycle of unproductive efforts and growing frustration. I have seen many parents who could not accept the idea that their child will be better off in a different school. These parents perceived their conversations with the school as utter humiliation. Unfortunately, there is a bad stigma for specialized schools. Even though these schools are fully equipped and dedicated for remediation, many parents still perceive specialized schools as institutes for troubled kids.

There are instances where accommodation is the best alternative, but in some instances remediation is the best option. Every parent should seek to understand the balance between these two approaches. The possibility of a blend of the two can also be explored.

Accommodation and remediation are thus two critical terms parents ought to know and understand. For students with learning disabilities, it is always better to inquire with the teacher about the difficulties of the student. Try to look for the facts. You would also want to remind yourself that managing your emotions during the meetings with the school’s representative will help you stay focused and ask the right questions. In addition, taking notes on the conversation will help you remember the key points when you follow up with the grade advisor or the school psychologist for further inquiry. Some of your questions should include trying to understand in which classes your child misbehaves or does not meet class expectations. Ask about the learning activities and the work environment. Find out about the activities your child performs rather well. Finally, ask what you can do at home to support the teacher’s endeavors and your child’s learning.

Showing curiosity and empathy with the teachers have proven to be very helpful. You do not have to agree with them, but mutual respect will surely enhance effective communication and progress. Understanding the differences between accommodation and remediation should change the way you encounter your child’s learning endeavors in school and home as well. Maintaining frequent communication with your child’s teachers by asking relevant questions will help you focus your efforts and resources effectively.

I wish you and your children a happy and successful first semester! Please remember that you can contact me with questions at contact@mrmizrahi.com.

Thank you,

Benjamin Mizrahi

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