This is the forth 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 IEPís, 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 itís 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 doesnít 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 discuss the wealth of benefits that are available to you if you know how to properly utilize the special considerations that are available in every IEP.
Within every IEP, there should be a section that addresses special considerations; this includes any additional device, service or supports that are necessary for the childís ability to succeed. This would include more obvious items such as brail and larger text materials for a student with visual impairments, hearing aids for the hearing impaired, or wheel chair access and electronic page turner for the physically impaired. But what else could this area include: any device, service or support that increases the studentís ability to succeed.
When we think about factors that impede a studentís ability to effectively learn, we have to consider all disabilities, not only those involving physical limitations. We have to refer back to those pre-conceived notions that we discussed in part II, and bear in mind that these disorders often do not follow the normal rules of engagement. We must remember that these disabilities can cause problems with sensory processing, behavior and social skills, which will absolutely hinder a personís capacity to learn. If we can consider these facts, and use it to our advantage, we can access a whole new world of tools and techniques that work.
So, how do we know what device, service, or support might increase this students success, and at the same timereduce the level of stress on you, the educator?
This is where you can really take advantage of the information provided in that Present Level of Academic and Functional Performance that we discussed in part III; what were his strengths and weaknesses; were there any specific types of behaviors mentioned; what other concerns or input were noted and what could they mean?
Consider the following example:
- During the course of a scheduled IEP meeting, one of Jakes teachers commented that he had been bringing his ipod to school lately, and using it during class. His mother cringed as she waited for the teacher to finish her grievance, before she would promise to make him leave it home in the future. However, as she listened, the teacher reported that with the device, he was able to focus and stay on task much more than usual. In fact, this had been the studentsí best work to date. His mother sat in amazement as each of the teacherís noted similar observations. They had all noticed that Jake did his best work with his headphones on. In addition, they also saw a decline in other chronic problem behaviors; he was no longer tapping his desk, constantly sharpening his pencil and disrupting others. The frustration level of his peers caused by his constant annoyances subsided, and consequently, so did the cruel remarks that inevitably happened as a result. In the end, the team decided to add this consideration to his IEP as a significant tool that decreased the behaviors that reduced his ability to learn, as well as those around him.
As a result, his grades showed immediate improvement and his social standing among his peers increased. As his feelings of accomplishment grew during the second semester, he progressed at the same rate he had regressed during the first.
Since in the past Jake had complained that noises were extremely distracting to him, his mother asked him how then, could he focus better with music playing in his ears but not under normal circumstances. Jake responded with the following: My brain tries to listen to every noise around me. When I wear the headphones, it blocks out all of the others so I only have to go around one.Ē
Although we canít all be expected to hold Ph. Dís in behavioral analysis, we can gain some basic understanding that will greatly increase our ability to analyze this information and apply it in a positive way. As a result, you will better understand the purpose of the information included in your studentís IEPís and how to use it to develop simple, effective strategies that will drastically reduce your stress level and allow you to focus on what you do best; teach.