“Is adaptive teaching the same thing as ‘reasonable adjustments’?”

I get asked this question often when working with teachers and leaders on developing adaptive teaching. It is no surprise, given they can often appear similar when applied to classroom practices that support pupils with learning needs. It is helpful for busy teachers to know some of the parallels, but also to be clear about some of the differences. 

What are reasonable adjustments? 

Reasonable adjustments’ are specific changes that are made to a child’s life at school so that they are not disadvantaged compared to their peers. It is commonly used to describe approaches taken for supporting children with SEND. More specifically, in British law, it is about the changes made to support a disabled child. 

The Department for Education describes reasonable adjustments as approaches that schools and teachers can take to do things differently to ensure we ultimately treat pupils equally. For example, reasonable adjustments can include: 

  • a pupil with a visual impairment sitting at the back of the class to accommodate their field of vision
  • a pupil struggling with severe dyslexia can be given a laptop to support their writing. 

There are an array of small, carefully chosen adjustments that can have a beneficial impact on pupils that can be classed as reasonable adjustments, but they could just as easily be classed as adaptive teachingapproaches in the repertoire of teaching supporting all pupils to learn with success. For instance, the British Dyslexia Association suggest reasonable adjustments for pupils that can include:

  • Repeat instructions/information and check for understanding of tasks
  • Break information down into smaller ‘chunks’
  • Encourage peer support to record homework tasks in the planner. 

For many teachers, these approaches would commonly be described under the umbrella adaptive teaching (or more specifically, ‘microadaptations’). Lots of people would, with good claim, describe them plainly as 'just good teaching'! It is clear that they don’t seem specialist or ‘different’ enough for what we typically consider to be reasonable adjustments. Though the differences start to get a little fuzzy, these subtle approaches can be of great value, so they are worthy of allocating time to define and deploy effectively.

Some differences between adaptive teaching and reasonable adjustments

The more typical reasonable adjustments we consider when we think about supporting pupils with dyslexia include extra time in exams, laptops for writing, or other tech supports for reading.

Many of these reasonable adjustments are crucially important. There is also, however, some myths and popular products that masquerade as necessary reasonable adjustments. For example, ‘dyslexie’ fonts were offered as a solution for struggling readers, but the research evidence didn’t back up the claims of its developers. Fidget spinners and other fads come and go. Clearly, teachers need support to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to tools labelled as reasonable adjustments (and it may just save a lot of expensive ‘special’ printing and spurious purchases too!). 

It is helpful for teachers to consider those approaches that are likely to benefit all pupils’ learning, whilst explicitly posing advantages for pupils with specific needs. It helps moving beyond the assumptions that can attend some labels. For pupils who have dyslexia, extra time in exams may be a desirable outcome, but teachers can also make a positive difference to pupils reading in timed conditions by focusing on reading fluency practices, such as choral and ‘echo reading’. Instead of specialist fonts for such pupils, teachers can instead focus on supporting pupils with dyslexia with reading and spelling strategies such as explicit vocabulary instruction and focusing on morphology to enhance spelling and reading

Teachers are too often short on time, so specialist knowledge of the latest additional tools can be lacking. Happily, however, some of the reasonable adjustments offered to pupils with SEND that also appear to be adaptive teaching approaches can prove of great value, but at a low cost (or more plainly, just great teaching). Both will matter and both can make a difference, so supporting teachers to consider both reasonable adjustments and adaptive teaching could prove a good use of time.