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Modification strategies for physical guidance

This is an excerpt from Inclusive Physical Activity-2nd Edition by Susan Kasser & Rebecca Lytle.

Organizing and Managing the Instructional Setting

When designing physical activity experiences, practitioners make decisions on how best to organize the setting and the activity plans to promote all objectives being achieved. Certain modifications in organization can result in greater inclusion of participants in the programs. These modifications might involve organization of participants, time, space, individual positioning, or equipment.

Group Size and Grouping Techniques

Practitioners must consider the optimal number of participants who can work together and still achieve individual outcomes through practice. In some situations, participants might work individually or in partners; at other times small or large groups might be best. Ideal group size depends on several factors, including the nature of the activity, length of down time for participants, and the attentional focus and capacity of participants. Some participants who are more easily distracted might need to work in smaller groups with increased guidance for their skills to improve. Larger groups might also increase waiting and not provide enough active involvement to maintain attention and on-task behavior.

Another consideration is how to group participants. Best practice has moved from participants choosing their own groups (lower-skilled players are often chosen last) to practitioners creating groups of mixed ability. In the latter case, groups are devised so that each group has a continuum of ability levels, thereby equalizing competition or practice. The rationale behind this strategy is that less-skilled players will learn from the more-skilled ones and can be matched or paired against each other in the game. Although less-skilled players might sometimes learn from higher-skilled peers, there is often unequal active participation in the game, and skill development occurs less for those who need it the most. Rink (2005) suggests that heterogeneous or mixed ability grouping might work well for peer teaching or collaborative learning situations but that grouping by ability level might offer individualized and optimal challenge for all involved. Practitioners can offer a continuum of options or different levels of play. One group might have a high level of competitiveness, another a more recreational level, and another a level geared toward skill development. With guidance from the practitioner, participants can then choose the level of participation they prefer.

Time Considerations

Time management can also be modified to create more inclusive and dynamic capability shifting of participants. Time management relates to scheduling physical activity sessions as well as monitoring the duration and pace of practice. The time of day that participants engage in physical activity might significantly influence their performance and learning process. Practitioners should try to determine the best time for participants to be active and then arrange activities around this time. For individuals who fatigue more easily than others, physical activity sessions might be offered early in the day. On the other hand, some participants, such as those with medication schedules, might gain more from sessions offered later in the day, when medication effects have peaked. Participants and others from the support network or IEP team should offer input to help practitioners make scheduling decisions.

How long participants practice a task can also be modified to help optimize skill development. Some individuals might need additional sessions to achieve a desired physical activity outcome, whereas others might attain personal goals in fewer sessions. Within a particular session, some participants can remain engaged in an activity and continue practicing for longer periods of time. Others might tire or become off task within a relatively short time. Practitioners must observe and assess whether participants are engaged and ensure that practice is productive. The length of the activity session can be altered depending on how engaged participants are. There should also be options available for participants who need to change activities more quickly to remain active and on task. It is important, however, to ensure that participants have enough time to practice for skill improvement before transitioning from the task. Clear participation expectations and reinforcements, as well as prompts, are useful for some individuals with differences in attention and self-responsibility. Regardless of the duration of the task practice, transitions between activities are also critical to effective management. The length of time between tasks and expectations during this time can be modified to meet individual needs. Some participants might need time to rest or receive additional instruction, whereas others might need to quickly begin the next activity to remain involved and less distracted. Also, some participants might need a signal that a transition is about to occur. This pretransition cue can prompt them to finish their last practice attempt and prepare themselves for a change rather than being surprised by sudden shifts in expectations. Again, decisions regarding length and type of transition should be individualized, based on each participant's capabilities.

Physical Activity Space

How physical activity space is used and organized can contribute to the inclusion of all individuals. Defining the practice area is an important first step in accommodating individual needs and differences. The type of surface on which practice occurs might affect some participants' capabilities. For instance, a flat surface might allow for increased performance for individuals with balance or mobility differences. Although the size of an activity area is often dictated by the nature of the activity or skill, defining the area in which participants practice can also help keep learners on task and close by for further instruction and feedback. Cones or brightly colored markers can accentuate boundaries for individuals with differences in vision, attention, or understanding. Dividing the practice area is another way to accommodate differences. By breaking up the practice space, practitioners can adjust the amount of total space available, thereby altering task demands. For instance, reducing space for some participants engaged in group activity might result in reducing the force or speed needed and lead to greater success. On the other hand, allowing more space for activity might require greater movement and lead to increased fitness levels. Participants who are more easily distracted might also need a smaller space partitioned off to stay focused. Mats, markers, poly spots, or hoops can be used to define personal space or a practice area.

The size of the practice area can also be manipulated to suit participants' needs. Some individuals might require reduced space or boundaries in some activities so that force or speed is modified. For example, reducing the boundaries in a tag game for a participant with a difference in speed might increase the player's success at tagging others. Conversely, other participants with differences in balance, for instance, might need a larger space in which to move during certain movement games. Decreasing or increasing the distance to a target or moving players farther from or closer to a net or basket changes the force needed by these players to achieve success. In all cases, if learning outcomes are to be achieved, modifying spaces to match the type of activity and the needs of participants must be thought through before activity begins.

Individual Positioning

The formation of participants within the physical activity space should also be considered. Many different group formations are used in physical activity settings, including squads, lines, circles, and scattered formations. Scattered formations are preferred by those who do not like wasting time getting into set formations, but scattered formations are also beneficial as they allow less observation of others, including those with less developed skills. Lines and circle formations can place participants with disabilities in the spotlight, showcasing their differences in skill. Regardless of which group formation is used in program activities, each individual's position within the formation should be considered. If squads or lines are used, practitioners should ensure that all participants can see and hear instruction. This might require some individuals being moved in closer to the practitioner. Some participants, especially those with differences in attention, might need to face away from others and away from equipment to prevent being distracted. Some participants with differences in self-control might also need to be in closer proximity to the practitioner for increased guidance and instruction. Positioning participants in the best place to obtain needed instructions, observe demonstrations, and avoid distractions contributes to an inclusive and effective learning environment.


Practitioners should consider each piece of equipment and how it is used to support a participant's current functional level and help him or her achieve desired goals (figure 7.7). By establishing a task goal and providing equipment choices for learners, practitioners can more easily accommodate differing capabilities within the same activity (Davis & Broadhead, 2007). As an example of taking advantage of equipment choices, a participant with differences in coordination might choose a larger ball when involved in a catching activity with a peer, whereas others in the group might use smaller balls as they practice, and learners with increased capability in eye-hand coordination might elect to throw and catch irregular shaped balls to remain challenged. Targets can also be raised or lowered and distances to targets increased or decreased to provide optimal challenges for participants with different levels of skill. Table 7.4 shows a list of equipment characteristics that can be modified for differences in participant capabilities.

Another modification strategy to consider is using a different piece of equipment for the intended task rather than the piece typically used. For example, someone with differing eye-hand coordination involved in a modified softball game might choose to use a large-headed racket rather than a bat to strike a pitched ball. Another possibility is to add a piece of equipment to assist in task completion. For instance, an adult with decreased range of motion and strength involved in a bowling league might elect to use a bowling ramp instead of a two-handed approach. Increasing the amount of equipment used in an activity can also provide increased opportunities to respond and allow for faster improvement. For example, adding additional balls in a target throwing game for young children allows for increased contact with the balls and prevents dominant players from controlling the activity. Remember, though, that increasing the amount of equipment likely also increases the attention demands on participants. Practitioners must determine if participants can handle this increased level of difficulty and ensure the safety of all participants involved in the activity.

Equipment decisions pertain not only to context modifications but also to task progressions, as discussed earlier. Changes in equipment used might allow participants to achieve additional steps in the sequence that they otherwise would not attain. For instance, Suzi might be able to kick a small stationary ball to a stationary partner quite accurately. But she might not be as successful with this size of ball if the task were more complex. For instance, she might need a larger ball to pass accurately from a dribble to a peer who is also moving down the field.

Practitioners must also assess how equipment choices affect participant behavior and performance. Although some participants might benefit from colored markers and cones, others might be easily distracted by these visual cues. Practitioners should have the equipment they intend to use ready and attempt to eliminate distractions caused by equipment when modifying for inclusive programming.

Learn more about Inclusive Physical Activity, Second Edition.

More Excerpts From Inclusive Physical Activity 2nd Edition