A Time for Change… Student-Led Individual Education Plans

Guest Blog Post by: Bev Clarke, Executive Director of LDAWE

Self-AdvocacyHaving reviewed many Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that indicate the student should develop better self-advocacy skills, I am always curious to know how the student will learn to be an effective self-advocate.   Whose responsibility is it to explain the student’s learning disability; the legislation that outlines his/her rights; the services / supports / accommodations available; relevant language; and ultimately the policies and procedures to be followed, when engaging in self-advocacy? Is the psychologist that diagnoses, the parent, the teacher, the school administrator, or outside agency such as the Learning Disabilities Association responsible for teaching the student to be an effective self-advocate?

How do we measure whether the student is becoming a better self-advocate?  Is it when the student requests the accommodations and support outlined in the IEP that was prepared for student by an educator, in consultation with a parent?  Is it when the student is able to work independently in the classroom?  Is it when the student is able to get what they need in classroom without demonstrating or causing frustration? Or… is it when they are able to effectively contribute and direct their own IEP?  The Ontario Government’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) A Resource Guide (2004) indicates that principals are required to ensure that those students over 16 years of age must be consulted in the development of their IEP.  The Guide further indicates, “that any student for whom an IEP is being developed should be consulted to the degree possible.”  So, when and how does this begin?

I am the "I" in IEPI have had many conversations with parents, educators, other professionals, who suggest that the child may be too young to understand his/her learning disability; however, when speaking to very young children, they are clearly able to identify their strengths, and more specifically their differences, and while I wouldn’t expect a primary student to be able to say “I have central auditory processing disorder, which makes it difficult for me to prioritize noise in the classroom, so it would be very helpful to me to have access to an FM system,”  I would expect a primary student to be able to say, “I can’t pay attention when there is too much noise.”  They may not know all the educational and disability lingo and possible solutions to addressing their learning needs, but they recognize their differences very early.  Self-advocacy instruction and support should begin early.

The United Nations adopted the motto Nothing About Us, Without Us for International Day of Disabled Persons in 2004.  Observance of the Day was intended “to focus on the active involvement of persons with disabilities in the planning of strategies and policies that affect their lives.” The motto relies on the principle of participation and has been associated with the global movement for individuals with disabilities to achieve full participation and equalization.  I would argue that direct instruction and support is required for many students with learning disabilities to have full participation in the development of their IEPs and to develop the skills and acquire the knowledge to become effective self-advocates.

Student Led IEPThe IEP is arguably the most important document developed regarding the student with exceptionalities at school. The IEP meeting provides an opportunity to discuss critical issues and make decisions regarding specific accommodations and support services.  Creating the IEP without the student or with only token involvement teaches the student that his or voice is not important (Hawbaker, 2007); it is important for students with learning disabilities to not only be the receiver, but the author of their accommodations (McCarthy, 2007) and observing the student’s ability to meaningfully contribute to the IEP provides the school team with a way to measure the effectiveness of the self-advocacy instruction.  The goal is for students with learning disabilities to move from others leading their learning to students leading their own learning, with IEP meetings providing an opportunity to practice their decision making skills and gradually increasing autonomy to promote increased self-responsibility (Connor, 2012).

Students cannot be expected to know appropriate meeting protocol, systems, policies and procedures, and all the lingo the surrounds issues associated with education, disability, and legislation without instruction; however, they can be taught this information, with support and instruction from parents, educators, professionals, and local agencies. Developing effective self-advocacy skills as an elementary and secondary school student prepares the student to successfully advocate for themselves in a post-secondary environment, in the workplace, and in the community.

References:

Connor, D. (2012). Helping students with disabilities transition to college – 21 tips for students with LD and/or ADHD. Teaching Exceptional Children. 44, 5, 16-25.

Hawbaker, B. (2007) Student-led IEP meetings: Planning and implementation strategies – A case story. Teaching Exceptional Children Plus. 3, 5.

McCarthy, D. (2007). Teaching self-advocacy to students with disabilities. About Campus. 12, 5, 10-16. doi:10.1002/abc.225.

Organize your Life!

One of the most frustrating parts of having executive functioning difficulties, is the lack of a clear organizational system. Simple, everyday tasks become difficult when you don’t know where to begin or worse…when you are ready to begin you can’t because you cannot find the necessary tools for the job. This can really get in the way of not just learning, but life in general. Those with poor organizational skills often end up late for school, appointments, social functions, etc.

Whether it is the child that is lacking in organizational abilities, or the parent (I’m guilty of this!) here are a few suggestions and strategies to help make things go a little smoother.

1.ROUTINE – Create a routine for your family. This is so important. Routines can easily become habits when they are DSC_0014-3Snap 2012-03-07 at 08.02.04consistent. This paves the way for leaning life-long strategies to help organize your life. Time management is always a valuable lesson. Making a schedule for your young children to follow can cut out a lot of family arguments as well. If children have assigned shower times and homework
times, there is no fighting over who goes next in the shower and yelling to turn the tunes down (depending on the age of your children). Always include homework time, a chore and free time in the routine. A balance is necessary. If your child doesn’t have time for these things, you may want to consider a shift in activities for better time management.calendar

2.FAMILY CALENDAR – Have a central family calendar that is posted somewhere with high visibility, like the fridge. I bought an “Mom’s Ultimate Family Fridge Calendar”. It comes with stickers for different activities and
appointments. You could also find many different DIY calendar ideas on Pinterest. It is way easier to plan events and activities when everyone knows what is going on.

2.PERSONAL AGENDA – Another important tool for children as students is the agenda. Many students are expected to carry an agenda for school each day. This
provides an essential daily means of communication between the parent and teacher. Phone calls and interviews are good for periodic checks, but in order for you to get the full picture on your child’s agendaschool day, an agenda routine is necessary. Some teachers and/or schools do not follow this policy. If that is the case it may be difficult for you to convince your child to consistently use an agenda, but give it it a try. It keeps them organized with assignments and homework and they can transfer any important days onto the family calendar at the end of the day.
Some teachers use blogs and websites to relay this type of information. That is great news! Make sure that checking the blog or website is built in to your child’s nightly routine.

3. ORGANIZE! – Organize and reorganize and reorganize! We finally get a room organized and then VOILA! All your hard is gone. Of course it is…it takes work to stay organized. Make sure you expect this to happen. Look for lots of ideas on how to organize parts of your house. I find most of mine on Pinterest or Google. It does take time to adjust to news ways of organizing your items, but it is worth it when you are looking. I use labels and pictures to help organize things at home and things at school. If you aren’t sure where to start, a FANTASTIC website for organizing your life is:

http://www.flylady.net/

 

This website really can help you clean and organize your entire house. She has tons of great ideas and even better – a routine to follow!

Most of my favourite ideas come from Pinterest though…

shoe-organizer-boy-spring-craft-photo-420-FF0408BABYA14

books

4. GENTLE REMINDERS – Remember – everyone needs lots of reminders! That usually includes the parents too. It takes a lot of work to change a lifestyle. You can do it! Life will be so much easier in the end.

ADHD in the classroom, maintaining order while providing a flexible learning environment for all.

Reach for the Top 9As many of us reading this post are aware, kids with ADHD can sometimes act without thinking, can be hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what’s expected of them but have trouble following through because they have difficulty sitting still, paying attention, or attending to details. (source kidshealth.org)

As an experienced educator working with young children for over a decade, I understand that most of the time disruptive behavior is not intentional. Never the less , it can be very distracting to the classroom learning environment. One solution would be to teach in a physically active and stimulating environment at all times. However, in addition to burning myself out doing this on a daily basis (don’t get me wrong, I would if it was the only option for the success of my students!) we also know that all students do not learn in the same way and some children require more “down-time” so they themselves do not suffer form the same ” burn-out”. Therefore, in our regular classroom where several students needs are to be met, this constant “up and moving” classroom is not feasible.

Listed below are some solutions to minimize disruption in the classroom and allow children who have ADHD and other children to have an outlet without forcing the entire classroom to partake at once.

Solutions in the Classroom

The number one thing teachers can do to help ADHD students squirm and fidget less is to provide physical outlets that let them regularly release pent-up energy and improve focus.

1)Send students with ADHD on errands. Ask your ADHD students to deliver a message to another class or take a note to the office. These tasks help kids build a sense of self-worth while providing an opportunity to stretch their legs and move around.

2)Let students stand and walk around between lessons. One teacher, for example, put a mini-trampoline in her classroom for kids who got restless. In the beginning of the school year, everyone used it frequently; but after the novelty wore off, only the ADHD students who needed to use it continued to do so. Another teacher let students use exercise balls instead of chairs so ADHD students could move around a bit, but still stay seated.

3)Provide fidget objects. These object can include worry beads, Wikki Stix, and squeeze balls—anything that can be quietly squished or handled. Not having to focus on staying absolutely still conserves the student’s energy for focusing on class lessons.
(Tip: Attach squeeze balls to the desk, so they don’t get hurled across the room!)

4)Keep lessons short and provide frequent breaks. You can even do this during tests if you sense that a student needs to move.

Does anyone have other methods, tips and tricks they have used?

In my next post I will discuss the topic of discipline for a child with ADHD from a teachers standpoint.

The Write Stuff: Handwriting Difficulty in Young Learners

Multiple-print-reversals-e1331590434434-300x286The first time I reviewed my son’s grade one assessment binder that came home from school I was overcome with worry.  Flipping through the pages, I noticed that every page had some letter or number reversal.   I got even more concerned as I read his teacher’s notes about the number of reversals he was making.  I had excused his writing because of his young age but now having a seasoned grade one teacher comment was making the gears in my head turn.  As a teacher myself who works with students with learning disabilities, letter reversals in writing is not new to me.   I knew how to help my son; I had all the right tools to help him improve his writing, tools that I regularly use with my students.  What I didn’t know was why these reversals occur and what is typical for younger children and what isn’t.  I dove right into books and articles to learn as much as I could about letter reversals in children.

frustrated writingWhat I learned from my research was that letter reversals in young children were common until about age 8 because generally, children do not develop directionality until that age.  Directionality means up/down, right/left and forward/backward.  Another issue is that some children do not learn to properly form their letters and what helps is to re-teach them how to write.  I also learned that for children who have dyslexia, 8 out of 10 will have an issue with directionality.   Younger children who have Dysgraphia will have trouble with forming letters, maintaining word spacing, and will complain about having sore hands.  These students may also have trouble forming ideas about what to write about.  Their writing may be illegible and may not fall on lines or within the page margins.

It’s a lot of information to take in and in my son’s case I’m not yet sure if the writing troubles are because of his age (he’s in the second grade now) or because there is an underlying issue affecting his handwriting.  As an educator, I know these handwriting issues will not just disappear regardless of the outcome and some work needs to be done.  While I strongly support modification and accommodation to support a student with difficulties I am an advocate for remediation in whatever capacity possible.   It’s the basis of our ABC123 Tutoring Program and it’s what I utilize with my students and my own son.

wetdrytryIn the ABC123 program, I have used the Handwriting Without Tears  program and while researching writing difficulties I came across their iPad app Wet-Dry-Try  and purchased it to try with my son.   He immediately took to the program and was willing to practice printing.  With the program he learned to properly form his letters from top to bottom, something I had tried to do with paper and a pencil, but which only frustrated him.  The app has been a game changer in our home, and my son has been learning how to form his uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.

With students who have difficulty with writing it’s important to learn what strategies will work best for them.  For my son it was the iPad, for others it may be paper with raised lines or finding the right pen or pencil.  Practicing letter shapes through motor activities such as finger tracing in a tray of sand, or forming individual letters and numbers with play-doh are other methods that help students learn.  It’s also important to ensure that the student is using good writing hygiene, meaning that they are sitting properly, holding the paper down and have a good grip on the pencil since many of these bad habits will be harder to unlearn later on.  With many of my students, their grip is awkward which makes writing with a pencil difficult.   A strategy I learned from an occupational therapist was to have the student ball up a tissue in their hand to grip their pencil (see picture below).  For my son and many of my student’s it’s helped to find a commercial pencil grip that works for them.

kleenex grip

In the end, a wait and see approach is risky and many bad writing habits are difficult to change later on.  If you have a child or student with a writing difficulty, it’s beneficial for them (Dysgraphia or not) to try to remediate these difficulties because it’s likely that they will not improve on their own.  After remediation has been thoroughly examined accommodations such as keyboarding or Assistive Technology can be further explored.  For my son, I am taking it one day at a time and working with him to improve his printing for now.

To read more about Dysgraphia and the warning signs: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dysgraphia/what-is-dysgraphia

STUDY SKILLS

English: A Student of the University of Britis...

In my last blog  on Assessment, I discussed different assessment strategies that teachers can use for all students in their classrooms.  In this post, I’ll be focusing on strategies to help develop appropriate study skills.

I have found over the years no matter what grade level there is something most students lack and that is proper study skills. This goes across the board for students of all ability levels and is something they really cannot get too much of. Simple accommodations are all important skills for both the student/ child’s academic and working career and should be taught and reinforced early on and throughout their schooling. This way it will become second nature and will no doubt help them improve.  These accommodations can be as simple as:

  • a quiet, distraction-free work environment,
  • reviewing assignment (proofreading) before handing it in,
  • time management of assignments (through an agenda or calendar),
  • organization (colour-coding, different binders for different subjects), and
  • taking good concrete notes.

Things like homework calendars for organization, understanding the particular disability and using either adaptive technology or other tools to address the specific need.  For example:

  • Comprehension – through making connections, prediction, graphic organizers, visualization, and explaining difficult words.
  • Spelling – through use of adaptive technology and computer programs designed to help.
  • Retention issues – visualization, graphic organizers, using melodies to memorize, having child recall information in a variety of modalities and often.

Another important strategy is using specific instructions and repeating them often so that it minimizes miscommunications. Having the students/ children  repeat the instructions back in their own words is also a great tool for you to assess whether or not the student/ child really understands what you are trying to explain.

In my next blog post I will discuss why communication between teachers and parents is essential for the child’s success.

Do you have any suggestions about study skills or strategies that have worked for you?