Tuesday, January 21, 2014

7 Tips + Tricks for IEPs and Personalized Plans Part 1

This time of year is always very busy with working on IEPs and other personalized plans for students in special education. The Sparklers and I would like to take this opportunity to share some ideas to help make this process easier. In my experience by mid-march I'm up to my eyeballs in paperwork! I'm at a private school so our Personalized Plans are a little different than an IEP, but the content and purpose are the same. Plus, I've worked in public school for years too, so I've seen that side of things as well.

There is always so much to do! Meetings, goal updates, assessments, conferences...the list goes on and on!

Now the question... where do I begin?!
  1. Make a calendar!! I like having a printed copy that has a full month with all the meetings and paperwork due dates. When you have several students with paperwork due around the same time, it's easy to mix up days or forget tasks all together! For confidentiality I've used colored pens for different students instead of writing names on a posted calendar.
  2. Prioritize! For a couple years I had 2 siblings who were notoriously sick or just plain absent excessively. This made assessment nearly impossible to get done on time. The first year I had them, their assessments weren't done in time for their IEPs because they had both gotten fevers that lasted for days. I learned my lesson and always did their paperwork first and the longer assessments on days I knew they were healthy and happy, even if it wasn't due for multiple weeks. In general I like to do longer assessments first because shorter ones are easier to squeeze in if you happen to fall behind.
  3. Find the positive!! Those little blurbs that talk about all the great things the child can do are immensely important! Don't forget that parents of kids in special ed. are always told all the things their child CAN'T do. It's important to show them all the things they CAN DO! I love to start meetings with these little anecdotes to set the tone of the IEP or conference meeting.
  4. Compare Work Samples! For some students, progress is very slow and hard to measure. I know I've had students who appear to have made zero growth, but when you compare work samples you can see things such as spacing, capitalization, and letter formation improving, even if spelling has not made strong growth. These are excellent to show (if you have time) during an IEP so the parents and the rest of the team can see small progress on challenging goals. 
  5. What's the most important goal? When creating a new IEP or new goals to replace old ones in an IEP, it's often a challenge to decide what makes a good goal. The priority should be on goals that will help students achieve long term success. Some students have so many areas of need that it's hard to pick just one. I like to map it out in a hierarchy to identify which things are most important. For instance, I often choose sight word goals before decoding goals because younger students need to feel those reading successes that come from predictable sight-word readers. While both are crucial, and ideally I'd have both goals if the team agrees, I focus on things that will foster long term motivation and success for my student. 
  6. Is it achievable? When creating a goal, it is essential that it is within the realm of success for the student. If a child cannot decode any CVC words, the goal should not be to decode long vowel pattern words by next year. A more realistic goal would be CVC and CVCC words. If the child achieves it sooner, then you can start working on more challenging skills.
  7. Find Successes! One of the best ways to create or meet a goal is to find areas where the child is successful and use them to your advantage. If a child has wonderful memorization skills, perhaps flashcards are a great way to work on a math goal. If a child is a visual learner, find ways to include visual cues and visual responses to lessons. I have students with dyslexia that are auditory learners, so I play songs (I can't sing) to help them remember concepts.
There are so many more ideas to come. Be on the look for future posts from our authors on this topic!

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