Teaching IEP's

Teaching IEP's
This is the fifth in a series of articles discussing Successful IEP Teaching, written specifically TO the educator. Although I am writing it in this voice, it is equally helpful for anyone involved in Individual Education Programs, regardless of which side of the table you are sitting. I believe that if we all have the ability to keep an open mind and look at things from the perspective of another, we can learn to be more productive towards the main goal, helping students.

If you are a teacher who is frustrated by IEP’s, you owe it to yourself to read this series with an open mind. If teaching is becoming a daily chore that you struggle to enjoy, maybe it’s time to try a new approach.

We see a lot of information devoted to helping parents develop a better understanding of the IEP, but nothing for the teacher. Teaching a student with an Individual Education Program doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience. If everyone involved takes the time to determine the meaning of the document, we can all work together to create a positive, rewarding outcome for everyone involved.
In earlier segments, we talked about the purpose of the IEP, the meaning of the information within the document, and how educators can use that information to relieve frustrations instead of creating more. In this segment, we will look at the purpose of annual measurable goals and their significance.

Why do we develop goals within the IEP?

Within every IEP, there should be a section for reporting progress towards annual measurable goals. It is important that both the educator and the parent understand the purpose of these goals for them to be truly effective; these are not put in place as a way of “grading” the teacher nor are they a promise that the student will perform at that level by the specified date. These goals are intended as a way to provide a consistent gauge by which to effectively measure the student’s progress from year to year, even though the team members will change.

Remember that an IEP is not put in place to cure or fix a disability. It is there to provide interventions, accommodations and modifications that enable the child to receive a complete education and reach their full potential in spite of it. Therefore, it is an ongoing program that will need to be in place for many, or every year of the student’s academic career. In order for it to serve it’s purpose effectively, the team must be able to look at the goals, gauge the amount of progress achieved in previous years, and use that information to develop new ones that follow the progression.

How do we develop meaningful goals?

This again, is where we use all of the information provided in the IEP:

  • what is the student’s specific disability?

  • What is his current level of academic and functional performance?

  • How does his disability impede his success in those areas?

    Sam is a student diagnosed with ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome and
    mood disorder. He struggles to maintain attention, is impulsive and lacks organization. As he advances in grade level, the progression in academic skill level seems to be slowing as the demands increase. When he doesn’t understand an assignment, he becomes easily frustrated and copes by “losing” the assignment.
In what areas is the child experiencing difficulties?

Since Sam frequently misplaces his assignments, we could conclude that he has a lack of organization that is certainly impeding his success. However, it is important to consider that this could also be a learned pattern of escape or avoidance that Sam is using as a coping method when he struggles with an assignment; If the work disappears, he no longer has to deal with it. Therefore, by allowing him to “lose” the work, we are actually reinforcing the behavior; How can I get away from this frustrating problem? I shove it into the back of my desk.

What skill could we develop or improve on to increase his proficiency in those areas?

Since Sam frequently fails to complete assignments, regardless of the reason, the result is the same; He is not learning the skill’s as they are being taught that are a necessary foundation for all subsequent skills. Without those basic skills he has nothing to build on and the problems can only escalate. Therefore, it is crucial at this point that we develop a goal that improves those organizational skills and decreases the avoidance behavior.

How much improvement does the team feel is attainable for this student in a given time frame?

Again, the IEP is a process; the issues typically will not be resolved in one year. This is why the goals are so important. We have identified a problem and written a plan to tackle it. These problems are complex, requiring a multiple step program to reduce or eliminate them. Therefore, we create goals that work towards that skill one step at a time. We track the progress and modify those goals accordingly.

Now, you can begin to develop a goal:
    Sam will decrease his number of missing or incomplete assignments from 20% to 5%.
However, do not stop here. This is a common mistake that will sabotage the entire goal. In order to be truly effective, the goal must include the following information:

How will the team implement the goal?

    Sam will decrease his number of missing or incomplete assignments from 20% to 5% by increasing his organization and ability to ask for help when he needs it. His regular education teacher will provide a scheduled time each Friday to work with Sam to organize his desk.
As his organization skills improve, the teacher can slowly decrease her amount of participation, and ultimately, provide only the scheduled time. In the following years, the new IEP team can discuss the progress towards that goal, and make appropriate modifications. Sam may still require one on one assistance or, he may do well on his own. We follow that gauge which tells us where he is in the process and build on it accordingly.

In addition, we will use this time to locate any of those “lost” assignments, and provide individual help.

    Sam’s homeroom teacher will gather the missing assignments and send them home for completion every friday. Any assignments that are still incomplete on Monday will be sent to a resource teacher for individual help.
This includes the parent as part of the team and provides them the opportunity to help with that extra individual instruction. By doing this, you have provided them a clear role and helped reduce part of that extra burden. It also increases the parent’s awareness of the child’s academic struggles and the progress being made. By allowing the student to “lose” those assignments, we are only reinforcing his pattern of escape.

How will the goal be measured?

    Sam will redo any assignment that are less than 60% accurate for full credit upon completion.
It is important to answer ALL aspects regarding how these goals will be implemented if they are to be truly effective: Do not leave any gray areas.

Although the goal states that Sam will reduce his number of missing assignments from 20% to 5%, it does not address HOW those assignments will be measured: What is an “incomplete” assignment? If he learns that he can just fill in any answer, he is still escaping the situation, and simply re-inventing the same problem. Ultimately, we need him to learn the skill taught by those assignments. We need to teach him appropriate ways to tackle them. If he turns in a “completed” assignment with all of the wrong answers, what will the team do?

If we want to eliminate the pattern of escape that Sam has learned, we have to show him that he can tackle these assignments; if he doesn’t understand something, the appropriate solution is to ask for help. Remember that the ultimate goal is that over a period of time, he will be able to tackle this task independently. In order to reach that end, we need to address these areas within the document.

By developing a better understanding of the entire IEP, we will increase our ability to work together as a team in developing a meaningful, effective program with measurable goals. Inevitably, we will reduce the frustration level of everyone involved and gain the ultimate prize: Improving the overall performance and success of the program.

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