School House Wonk

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Archive for the tag “special education”

It’s October. Do you know where your child’s IEP is?

The beginning of October is an important checkpoint for parents of children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). By the time October arrives, your child’s school and teachers have had a month, sometimes more, to get to know your child and to understand how your child functions in the school environment. If your child has an IEP, this also means your school should have that IEP up and running. And as a parent you need to make sure that’s happening.

How? The best place to start is the actual IEP. Parents should go back and conduct a quick review of it. Here are the three main parts to the IEP parents should review as part of this “quick check” exercise:

Annual Goals & Short Term Objectives: these are the academic and functional goals that allow your child to make progress in the general education curriculum. Parents can start by going over the goals with their child. Parents also can review completed work sent home, and ask the teacher(s) for time to review the completed work file at school.  Teachers generally either keep a file of completed and/or ongoing work at school, or send it home on a regular basis. Many school districts now offer parent access to online grading so that student work completion and grades can be monitored at home. This is a terrific resource for parents. No matter which method you choose, it’s critical for parents to monitor completed work, and that includes work on IEP goals.

Overall, it’s important for parents to not wait until report card time or IEP progress report updates before doing a quick check on how things are going, as those more formal reports are issued infrequently (usually two or three times per year). IEPs are a complicated machine with many moving parts. For them to work and work well they need to be monitored and checked on a regular basis. As is the case with practically every machine, regular inspection and maintenance is more effective than waiting for a complete breakdown.

Program Accommodations/Modifications and Support for School Personnel – The accommodations/modifications portion of the IEP arguably is the most important. These are the specific tools students with disabilities need to help them make progress in school. Typically they cover areas related to the presentation of materials, timing/scheduling of classwork/homework, and the setting and format of instruction.

There is a wealth of information available describing the types of accommodations and modifications used to help students with disabilities learn and thrive in school. Commonly-used ones include preferential classroom seating (e.g., near the teacher’s desk), copies of lecture notes sent home, visual breakdown of tasks, extended time on tests/assignments, advance notice of schedule changes, and assistance from classroom aide as needed.

To ensure accommodations and modifications are being implemented, parents again can ask their child, their teacher, or review/observe completed work. In my years of representing parents in the special education process, the accommodations/modifications piece frequently is overlooked or misunderstood. At times responsibility for implementation is murky, which can result in accommodations falling off or not being implemented properly or consistently.

Service Matrix – This is the part of the IEP that details the level, frequency and duration of services the child receives, who is responsible for providing the service, and the location for delivery of it. For example, a student who has reading goals might receive instruction from a special education or reading teacher 30 minutes per day, four times per week, in a resource room. Again, now that we have reached October, it is vital for parents to check to make sure those specific services are being delivered as described in the service matrix. Other types of services commonly seen in IEPs include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral support.

All of the above checks can be accomplished through (an always polite and brief) email to teachers, review of work sent home and possibly a quick visit to school to look at the completed work file. Building in these regular “well-checks” help parents become proactive partners in the IEP process. Most importantly, developing the habit of regular check-ins can help decrease the stress and frustration that often is associated with managing your child’s IEP.

Beth T. Sigall

October 3, 2012

Teamwork

In Rating Your Team Teacher, Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles provide a useful primer on best practices in team teaching. Boles is the director of Learning and Teaching Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Boles and Troen co-authored The Power of Teacher Teams (Corwin Press, 2011).

After 15 years of studying and observing classrooms across the U.S., the authors identified common barriers to successful implementation of team teaching. Here are some of the more significant barriers:

  • Absence of skills and support structures that would “allow them to orchestrate significant pedagogical and curriculum changes”
  • Building administrators who are not trained to supervise team teaching, and don’t have the time to guide teachers through it
  • Teams aren’t trained in the basic skills of team work, such as time management, goal setting, and conflict resolution

The authors describe a school culture that prefers affable exchange over constructive criticism as a major impediment to team teaching.

Since teachers are a congenial bunch, caring very much that everyone gets along, they tend to avoid conflicts and dismiss or ignore alternative ways of doing things.

Boles and Troen’s research reveal that in teaching, as in life, conflict is a necessary ingredient for progress; we can’t get better if we don’t know what needs improvement.

The culture of teacher of autonomy is offered as another barrier to team teaching’s effectiveness. Boles and Troen frequently observed that when one teacher asserts a leadership role by suggesting a new approach to a colleague, the “automatic response” is often “Who are you to tell me what to do?” The result? “Teacher teams often fail to make headway in improving teaching and learning because they fall into predictable pitfalls, such as poor use of common planning time, failure to pursue expert advice, a focus on issues that are peripheral to learning, absence of clear goals, or lack of team accountability for the success of all their students.”

How can team teaching be improved? Boles and Troen devised “Five Conditions” that should be in place to encourage productive use of team teaching.

  • Well-defined task focus that is centered on improving student learning, not crisis management
  • Leadership from all team members, regardless of veteran or novice status, recognizing that all teachers bring certain strengths to the table
  • A collaborative climate that recognizes the need for legitimate criticism, and sees the value of it
  • A level of personal accountability that holds members accountable for their performance, for the team’s success and for the success of all its students
  • Structures and processes that allow the team to measure whether its goals are being met

My Take – Successful team teaching looks and sounds a lot like special education. The lynchpin of special education is the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) – a yearly plan developed by everyone working with the student, including the parent. It sets forth annual goals, describes how these goals will be measured and achieved, and in what settings. If the student does not make progress, the team revisits the plan, and looks to data and related information to determine what should be adjusted so that the child can make progress. These changes can include any number of remedies, e.g., more pull out instructional time, extra support in the classroom, new placement, etc. At the center of all this decision making is an IEP team composed of teachers, therapists and the child’s parent, all acting as equal partners, and all with vital roles to play. Thus special education, when done correctly, has always required the type of conditions Boles and Troen’s describe in their team teaching analysis. It’s a robust process that relies on constant examination of whether a student is making meaningful progress, and if not, why not.

Beth T. Sigall

December 28, 2011

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