Not Just the Fly On The Wall; Getting Modifications Done In Seconds

I dislike doing “on the fly” modifications. It shouldn’t surprise you; I’m a heavy advocate for knowing what you’re going to do and having an alternative, even several alternatives, on hand right away. But this entire academic year, I’m being tested by my ability to turn around on a dime. And there is actual benefit for this skill for paraeducators.

I’ve been fortunate, one of my classes has been extraordinarily low demands on me, and I can make quick decisions for a series of students who will experience the class in future hours. But for a couple of my other classes, and the general use of the majority of my professional life: flying by the seat of my pants, trying to make some hard decisions about which direction to take some students who have extraordinary needs is quite complex.

So the basic idea of modifications “on the fly” are not about taking out content or even addressing the content. It’s about adapting the moment to best address an IEP goal. It can be too time consuming to create the shiny, finished alternative. And what then after you make it: it does no one any good if it is never referenced and used. And even when it is created, it could be misinterpreted by another teacher or paraeducator. Sometimes, paraeducators have a deep library to reference, and yet I find them constantly retooling their modifications because they don’t like questions or they think it’s tooled to a specific student’s abilities.

Returning to the basics of On the Fly: If the instruction of the teacher was to highlight adverbs on a given reading, you redirect your student to just highlight verbs. Or words that have long vowel sounds. Because that would be a better use of the student’s time and ties into their IEP goals.

One of my issues with modifying on the fly, personally, is that it is really hard to be consistent and document that you addressed needs with a student. It requires a lot of recognition by the general education teachers and the paraeducators that they need to work in tandem to produce the best results for the students in a class. It can be very complex if the students in a given class are served by two paraeducators. If you lack time to meet with the general education teacher your time in the classroom can be quite precious and email may not always be the best way to communicate needs of a student.

Campuses that rely entirely on “on the fly” modifications can find that they ignore the cycle of yearly events and then ignore specialties of staff who may actually know significant amounts of information about certain topics (science, history, or art), and then they short change the students’ chances to learn from the depth of interests that surround the campus.

On the Fly modifications are demanding, I have been known to be drained after three periods of being required to keep thinking ahead and references my memory for all the things I can do instead or to help the assignment on.

I say all of this: but I know in a heartbeat this will be my tool of choice in the depths of a class activity. On the fly is an extraordinary skill in a paraeducator’s tool box. It demonstrates your professional knowledge of the IEP goals for the students, and helps flex limited resources (computers, printers, paper, paraeducators) to best address a student’s needs. Modifying on the fly also fills those moments when you just need those five minutes to collect your mind from the last class.

So some activities I’ve typically used “on the fly” include:

  • Warm Ups: these are nearly worthless to prep in advance. They can change annually, they can also change to the specific student.
  • Activities that the substitute hands out. Unless it’s on topic for an activity the students are currently studying, this may just be filler, I’m not going to put a lot of time and energy into these assignments, I want my student to get credit for attempting the assignment.
  • Special event activities: reflective letters of special activities or words of encouragement are hard for some students. If you can give them a path, they might find the words on their own.

While I have you here, I was in a “meeting” this week, which the paraeducators were left on their own. And the usual gripe involves lack of training. I will repeat these endlessly: here are some great resources online to get your mind into a groove about disabilities, academics, and other resources have been great supporters of ParaEducate over the years. We receive no compensation at ParaEducate for mentioning these resources.

  •  Think Inclusive: Originally just headed by Tim Villegas, he’s expanded to have a full group of bloggers who all discuss different topics that relate to having disabilities and education.
  • 30 Days of Autism: Run by Leah Kelly out of Canada, this is a parent and teacher blog as Leah and her family help their son H keep growing: physically, socially, and academically.
  • Ollibean: From their Facebook page, “Ollibean is a content driven, cross-disability community that connects families, self-advocates & providers working together for full inclusion for all.”
  • Diary of a Mom: a blog written by a mother who is raising two children, one who has Autism.
  • PraAACticalAAC.org: Information for people, Speech Language Pathology students, and families about using AAC.
  •  The Inclusive Class: run by Nicole Eredics, an online resource for parents and teachers. Nicole and her friend Terri Mauro, also run a weekly podcast through “Blog Talk Radio” called “The Inclusive Class Podcast”. They’ve covered a variety of topics. Just this October, The Inclusive Class has partnered with Brooks Publishing for a series of special education webinars.

One of the things about starting to find resources especially for paraeducators/paraprofessionals, resources aren’t always available. It is okay to get a hold of things that would normally be targeted to special education teachers or even parents of students with disabilities. From any one of these links, you’ll find a wealth of other resources and connect with other equally compelling and interesting groups who advocate for people with disabilities and education.


One more thing: We would like to welcome to the world, Samantha Gross, daughter of Megan Gross. Megan started a journey with ParaEducate three years ago now, her son was just a little wiggler then. Today, he’s an excited big brother and cannot wait for his little sister to come home. We wish this growing family well.


Do you have a question for us?  Find ParaEducate online here, here, here and here. ParaEducate is company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.

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