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The team has made the decision; an IEP will be developed to further support the student. The process begins and sometimes those collaborating in the development of the IEP can end up feeling quite overwhelmed. The timelines, the decisions that need to be made, familiarity with the software and the conscientious desire to develop a good program all add to a teacher’s capacity in September or anytime of the year.

The following are recommendations to accomplish all of the above and help mitigate the stress of feeling a need to produce a complicated document.

Begin with Who (the student and the student profile)

  • Seek to understand the whole child, their strengths as well as their needs. Review all data and assessments and confer with appropriate colleagues, parents/guardian and the student. The prioritized needs will be addressed in the IEP and the strengths should be leveraged.

‘A clear understanding of the student’s strengths and needs is fundamental to the development of an effective special education program and the provision of appropriate accommodations and services to facilitate the student’s learning.’

Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12: Policy and Resource Guide (2017) 

The Strengths and Needs are Key!

  • Seek to understand the diagnosis or exceptionality. For a student with a learning disability, we know that there will be difficulties in one or more cognitive processes (e.g. memory and attention) resulting in difficulties in the development of skills such as reading and writing. We also know that their assessed intellectual abilities are at least in the average range. This information helps us to be cognizant of the integrity of the grade level curriculum, with the long-term goal to allow multiple pathway options as the student moves through the elementary and secondary panels.

Image of a classroom

Start with Why (strengths and needs) in choosing the What (accommodations)

  • Being mindful of the shared beliefs in Learning for All, 2013 (e.g.All students can learn.-, Fairness is not sameness’.), determine firstly what accommodations would make a difference and why. Link the accommodation to a particular need or strength. An accommodation refers to specific teaching strategies, human supports and/or individualized equipment. Accommodations do not alter the curriculum expectations for the grade level or course. Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12: Policy and Resource Guide (2017)




Strength (S) & Need (N)


  • Visual supports (e.g. pictures, symbols, graphs, written words)
A visual learning style and/or preference (S)


  •  Oral instructions
  • Opportunities to ask questions
An auditory learning style and/or preference (S)
  • Opportunities for hands-on learning
A kinaesthetic learning style and/or preference (S)


  • Direct instruction of organizational skills
  • Organizational tools such as a planner, weekly calendar, colour-coded notebooks, highlighters, analog clock
To support the development of organizational skills (N)
  • Repetition of new concepts
  • Memory aids such as verbal rehearsal and mnemonics, study sheet and/or word bank for tests
To support memory (N)
  • Chunk large assignments into smaller steps
  • Opportunity for movement breaks
  • Vary presentation format and materials
  • Preferential seating at times; optional use of different work stations
To facilitate attention/focus (N)
  • Direct instruction of reading skills
  • Repetition and practice of text (e.g. Reader’s Theatre)
  • Subject-specific vocabulary book
  • Assistive technology (e.g. text-to-speech, speech-to-text)
To support the development of reading skills (N)
  • Explicit modeling of different text forms and the use of an editing checklist
  • Graphic organizer prior to a written task
  • Assistive technology (e.g. speech-to-text, text-to-speech)
To support the development of writing skills (N)

Important points to note:

  • Fewer, but more specific accommodations may be of greater benefit. Record the accommodations with sufficient detail. The IEP needs to be a document that all involved educators, as well as parents, can understand.
  • A particular accommodation may not be manageable for all teachers/subjects. Referring to the ‘why’ of an accommodation will allow an individual teacher to develop an alternative that will address the need of the student, as well as the teacher/classroom. (e.g. There are many options to address a memory need; different teachers/subjects may address the same need in different manners.)
  • A particular accommodation may require adjusting over time. The need may be the same (e.g. organizational skills), but the manner of addressing the need may change as students develop, settings change etc.
  • Involve the student in what accommodations he/she is entitled to and why. Explicitly teach self-advocacy skills so that students can begin to advocate for themselves as well. Revisit and revise accommodations as necessary.
  • Consider whether the carefully selected accommodations that leverage the student’s strengths and address their needs are sufficient to foster achievement and success.
  • The goal of an IEP for students with learning disabilities is to provide a program that maximizes the student’s ability to access the curriculum and to demonstrate their learning. Modification of learning expectations (a decrease in the number and/or complexity of expectations at the grade level) may be necessary at times to fill in knowledge/skill gaps. Modified learning expectations drawn from a lower grade level is only considered if the student cannot demonstrate learning with the other approaches. Policy/Program Memorandum, No. 8, Identification of and Program Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities, 2014
  • Always consider the power of accommodations and remember that ‘Fairness is not sameness.’ (Learning for All, 2013).
  • The individualized accommodations you provide for a student with a learning disability through an IEP can be the difference needed for a positive school experience and the difference needed to allow the student to proceed on a path toward success.


Ontario Ministry of Education.  Learning for All – A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12, 2013.

Ontario Ministry of Education.  Policy/Program Memorandum No. 8, Identification of and Program Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities, 2014.

Ontario Ministry of Education.  Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12: Policy and Resource Guide, 2017.

Photo of ErleneErlene Shea has been an educator with the Peel District School Board for over 30 years. She has experience in all divisions, with special education being the focus for the bulk of her career. Erlene has also worked at Trillium, one of the province’s Demonstration schools, in support of students with severe learning disabilities.