This is the third 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 discussed how educators can use that information provided within the IEP to relieve frustrations, and how pre-conceived notions sabotage your efforts.
Now we are going to get into specific parts of the IEP and why they matter:
Present Level of Academic and Functional Performance.
Within every IEP, you should find a section that gives a general description of the studentís disability. In addition to the results of any formal evaluations or assessments, it should, by law, include the following:
- How his disability affects his ability to learn, perform, and participate in the general curriculum, as well as activities.
- His weaknesses, as well as his strengths.
- Concerns or input from the parent or guardian about his achievement.
These should discuss, not only academic abilities, but functional abilities as well. These may include physical abilities, learning style, social skills, or behavioral concerns. It could be fairly general or very specific. Regardless of the length or detail, this information is legally required in every IEP. Why would the law require this information? Why do you think it is important? What is the significance?
This is your chance to learn about this student. This is your opportunity to gather all of the information, ahead of time, that will enable you to develop specific strategies that best meet his educational needs.
As educators, you know how important that first week or two of school can be for setting the groundwork for all of your students. Sometimes, it does not take much to throw things completely off course in the best of circumstances. These students have additional challenges. If you trip up coming through the gate, it could cause a significant set back.
This information not only prevents a potential problem; it gives you a head start: Where does he struggle? What are his strengths? Are there any types of situations that I should try to avoid? Is there any other information about this child that is significant for me to know in order for me to provide the most effective education?
Donít view these documents as an extra burden, but a blessing that provides you with the tools you need to create the small adjustments that will make a big difference in the school year, not just for the student, but for you.
If the IEP provides limited information, invest some time in contacting the parents. Ask them about their child. It may even be helpful to develop your own feedback form with questions about likes, dislikes and proven methods that work at home. Investing a few minutes in the beginning, and applying what you learn can be immeasurable towards a successful outcome.
How can you use this information?
Not only is this section useful; when written correctly, it should ideally be the most useful part of the IEP. While the modifications are important realistically, they were all developed based on the information provided in this portion.
Every piece of information provided can be used to your advantage in multiple ways. These strategies do not need to be excessive or time consuming in order to be highly effective. Consider all of the subtle ways you can use the following four pieces of information to your advantage:
This is a child who is fascinated with trains, draws well, is easily distracted, and the parents have described a strange issue that he has with certain textures, what can you d
- Utilize his love of trains by incorporating them into your lessons. Instead of adding 2 blue crayons and one red one, add trains. Every time you draw and retain his interest, you are enabling him to learn the lesson that was intended. Donít underestimate the difference subtle changes make.
- Make the most of his strengths. Invite him to draw the cover for a class assignment. Use his drawing skills to help him feel important both academically and socially. Children who donít achieve some level of success stop trying.
- Make a seating plan ahead of time that moves him away from distraction. A move after the fact highlights the problem to the other students that can be an additional source of stress that inevitably affects every aspect of his day.
- Avoid potential disaster by anticipating his disdain for certain textures. If a project calls for clay or paper mache, keep a box of gloves on hand and ask if anyone in the class would like one. Again, it is always important to provide alternatives without stressing his differences to his peers.
These may sound like very small, and insignificant to you, but donít underestimate the difference that these subtle changes can make when combined. These all play a part in the failures that slowly chip away at these children, putting them into a downward spiral. It stands to reason that eliminating them will have an equally positive effect.
By investing a small amount of time in the beginning, you can save yourself a lot of time, and frustration in the end. The slightest modifications can make a huge difference for these kids. It is up to the educator to make a conscious decision as to what difference they will choose to make. Will yours be positive or negative?
For more information on developing your own set of questions for your IEP students, I recommend viewing this sample provided by OASIS geared towards students with autism spectrum disorders at the following link: