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Why We Focus on Remediation, Not Just Accommodation

Dr. Susan Autry
Academic Supervisor

We are often asked about the difference between remediation and accommodation and why we focus on remediation at Oakwood.  The short answer is that we believe that our students have the ability to learn when their specific learning needs are addressed and the teaching targets their learning challenges and helps them understand who they are as learners.  The long answer involves much more!
First, let’s make sure we all have the same understanding of the vocabulary.  Using our morphemes, remediation means “the act or process of remedying.”  Of course, “to remedy”  means “to make better or to correct a deficit.” Therefore, the definition of remediation that we will use here is the process of making something better or correcting a deficit, with the emphasis on making better or correcting. Accommodation means “something supplied for convenience or to satisfy a need”.  The emphasis in this definition is on the “something” that needs to be supplied.

[Definition citing: Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Many of our students have come to us with “accommodations” that have been provided for them. If they have trouble reading the books, then audio books are provided so they can access the material.  If they have trouble writing, then a computer program or a scribe is provided to help them put their words on paper.  These accommodations have their place, but we believe that they should not take the place of remediating the underlying skills that are needed. This is why we place the students in the correct “Instructional Level” group so we can teach them at the correct level for their current skills, then move them on from there.
For example, we will suggest that a student use audio books (such as available through Learning Ally) to read along with the text.  This has several benefits - if a student follows along with his/her eyes as the text is read to them, it simulates the reading process and helps the student make connections between the sounds and the symbols or spelling of the words.  Audio books also help the student build background knowledge at a level he/she can understand but may not yet be able to “read” on his/her own.  This is especially helpful for developing an understanding of the topics in Science and Social Studies, or to support the reading of a novel by learning more about the time period or setting.  However, this support does not take the place of learning to read on their own.

At Oakwood, our focus is on remediation.  We often talk about “filling holes” in students’ knowledge, and we do so in very specific ways through the structure of our program, multisensory teaching methods, and the materials we use.  Many students come to us having received more accommodation of their learning needs.  Some of them are quite dependent on these accommodations (such as someone scribing their answers for them, using audio books for all reading, use of a calculator for basic facts).  We may need to wean them off relying on these accommodations in order to help them learn the underlying skills that are necessary.  We need to teach them how to read, building the foundational skills that are missing then moving on.

We do this for several reasons. First, we want the students to be independent learners when they leave us.  We need them to understand who they are as learners – what their learning strengths and challenges are and which strategies help them. Also, we do not want them to be dependent on having something supplied to them.  An accommodation, by definition, is something that is given by someone else to help the student with a specific skill. Therefore, we focus on helping the students know which accommodations are helpful to them as learners so they can advocate for the use of these in other environments.  If we find that an accommodation is necessary for a student, we will help them practice with it and learn when to advocate for using it.

With the combination of appropriate remediation of skills and the understanding of the appropriate use of accommodations, our students leave us ready to learn in a larger environment.

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