Have you ever encountered a really great idea, program, or activity but are not sure how to get started? Even though student led IEPS are best practices, how do we implement them? Where do we begin and how are educators effectively putting these proposals into practice?
Student led IEPs are an effective way to maximize student participation and ownership of their own education planning. Historically, Individual Education Program meetings have been a source of stress due to conflict between schools and parents of children with special needs. Coming to a consensus about what a student needs for learning can be stressful and challenging for many reasons. Disputes between parents and schools can often be alleviated when the student is present to speak on his or her own behalf. While evidence supports including the student in the IEP development, it has not become a routine practice nationwide. In review of the literature, it appears that the benefits do outweigh the barriers impeding this practice. (see The Essential Benefits of Student Led IEPs and How to Break Down 5 Barriers to Student Led IEPs).
For educators, this can be a very difficult shift in practices and that change can seem daunting. Likewise, students may feel intimidated or uneasy about participating in their own IEP. Each student’s level of participation may look different depending on their disability, motivation, and encouragement from staff and family. Remember, students can learn valuable self-advocacy skills for life after school. Even when the barriers are overcome, many just simply do not know where to begin. Here are some practical tips to begin putting Student Led IEPs into practice:
1. Teach your students about their disability
The first and most important piece to implementing student led IEPs is to teach your students about their disabilities. Providing information about their abilities and limitations can help them increase awareness. Many students may not be aware of the underpinnings to their academic struggles. They may also not be aware of the accommodations and modifications that can increase their success. This insight into their own capabilities and needs is invaluable to learning to advocate for themselves.
2. Teach your students about the IEP process and procedures
Before students can be expected to take an active role in leading their IEP meetings, they will need to have a basic understanding of the structure and process. Educators can implement direct instruction time to explain the laws that regulate individual education programs. Students should learn that there are disability laws that govern their learning while they are in school (IDEA) and disability laws that protect them after graduation in the community (ADA).
Lessons can be designed to help your students learn the process and procedures surrounding IEP meetings. We can prepare students on different levels, starting with the basics such as: who should be present, what items are discussed, and the specific parts of the IEP. This information can be taught through lessons, worksheets, and mock interviews. As students gain more understanding, they can review each piece of the IEP deeper and samples can be deliberated. Real life discussions about their own learning experiences can be used to create content and focus for these lessons. The lessons can be further broken up into smaller assignments and introduced on the student’s instructional level slowly scaffolding their knowledge of the process.
3. Teach your students presentation and communication skills
Help your students practice their presentation and self-advocacy skills by chunking each IEP part into smaller presentations. Students can practice conversational turn taking from the introductions at the beginning throughout the IEP process. IEP sections can begin with scripted lessons and then build on these skills with a prompting system to increase independent communication skills. You can help students gradually move into more natural conversation on individual topics such as present level of academic and functional performance, future goals, accommodations, transition planning, etc. Students should be able to practice giving input and responding to the other team members’ ideas or contributions. Remember, verbal collaboration takes time and practice. Respectfully giving input that diffuses arguments is an advocacy skill that students must learn. Explaining what they need, why it is important for them to achieve success, and why something will not be effective takes forethought and practice.
About the Author: Kelly Ott has over 22 years of experience as a licensed speech language pathologist, consultant, educator and administrator. Kelly has served children and adults with a diverse range of speech, language, swallowing, learning, and communication needs. She has provided direct speech pathology services, specialized tutoring services, educator professional development training, business communication and presentation training. Kelly is dedicated to providing students, educators, and parents with specialized strategies for achievement.