By Allyson Cousineau-Grant and Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger
The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a key tool for the support of students with learning disabilities (LDS), in particular, because it describes the accommodations necessary to meet their needs. These instructional, environmental, and assessment strategies are essential in allowing them to learn and demonstrate their learning. It is important to bear in mind that the IEP is also “an accountability tool for the student, the student’s parents, and everyone who has responsibilities under the plan for helping the student meet the stated goals and learning expectations as the student progresses through the Ontario curriculum.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, The Individual Education Plan (IEP): A Resource Guide, 2004, p. 7). Beyond the process of simply implementing the IEP, there are some practices that can foster collaboration between the school team and the family and increase the impact of the actions taken.
A shared vision between the family and the school about the child’s challenges in the classroom is an important factor in a student’s uptake of interventions and strategies and their use at home. It should be remembered that the IEP is not an exhaustive assessment of the child’s strengths and needs, nor is it a list of all the strategies used for classroom teaching. It must target the most important skills that will be worked on at school. Following are examples of practices that can easily be implemented to support parent involvement.
How to prepare parents
The IEP might not be familiar to parents who are learning for the first time that their child requires the additional support such a document provides. When the school team announces to the parents that it intends to develop an IEP to meet their child’s needs, it can result in two opposite emotional reactions. Some parents will recognize their child’s special needs. These parents may feel relieved and supported when an IEP is suggested. For other parents, facing their child’s difficulties may result in feelings of disappointment, annoyance and even a sense of failure. No matter what their reaction is, it is important to invite parents to participate in the IEP development process. This is an ideal opportunity to show parents the extent to which the school team knows their child (providing evidence, for example by sharing an anecdote showing happy times between a staff member and the child). In addition, a more personal invitation made directly will make it possible to quickly assess the parent’s attitude and to be sure to adjust your actions accordingly. Furthermore, the time spent informing parents about what an IEP is and listening to their fears and apprehensions greatly decreases any anxiety felt regarding this official procedure and encourages them to be active participants throughout the entire process. This is also the right moment for the school team to ask the parents for any information that it is seeking. In this way, the parents can feel that they are valued, listened to and that their input is being considered.
At all times, educators must ensure that parents have correctly understood the obstacles encountered by their child at school. It can be complex for someone who does not work in education to understand the impact certain behaviours or difficulties can have not only on learning but also on the student’s progress. Also, care should be taken to ensure that more specific education-related terms (IEP, modified expectations, transition plan, level of achievement, etc.) are fully understood by the parents.
Finally, if the context allows, leave some time for the parents and the child to become familiar with a preliminary version of the IEP. This will certainly contribute to more active involvement during the meeting since the parents can digest the essential information ahead of time, without any worries, and jot down their questions, if applicable. This will enable the parents to arrive at the meeting with a feeling of being engaged in the process of developing the IEP and a sense of being included as part of the team supporting their child. It is easy to increase the impact by proposing a few leading questions: “What works well for you?”, “What would you like to change at school?”, “Which school tasks, not just subjects, are difficult for you?”. Additionally, providing a significant preparatory activity to do at home will allow the parents and the child to have a structured discussion about the student's strengths and needs and the different strategies that seem to be the most successful. This can be in the format of a self-assessment grid on the use of accommodations, or a self-awareness questionnaire. In addition to creating engagement in the IEP process, this will contribute to developing the child’s self-determination, which is a major factor of success during school transitions.
Parent consultation modalities
It is essential to involve the parent in the IEP development process. This can be done by identifying a meeting time with the parents in order to discuss their child’s profile, their concerns, their desires, their role and the next steps. Furthermore, this is a good time for the school team and the parents to collaborate in order to develop a document that includes relevant information from both sides of the school-family relationship. It has been pointed out that it is increasingly common for IEP meetings with parents to take place virtually. The choice of how and where to meet should nevertheless be discussed with the family and should not be considered as a default. Virtual meetings can make it easier for parents or guardians to participate by eliminating the constraints associated with transportation and scheduling. However, some students and families feel less engaged in virtual meetings and will remain passive. Other students who experience anxiety or sensory overstimulation in a more formal framework could benefit from virtual participation. Consider the different factors relevant to all participants to identify the most appropriate meeting modality for the family or the student.
Similarly, it may be pertinent to meet separately with students using technological accommodations, for a more targeted meeting on optimizing their use of assistive technology. Ideally, educators will help develop self-advocacy skills in students so that they are able to recognize needs as they emerge and are equipped with strategies to mitigate the impact of these needs. By building self-advocacy skills, the student will be better able to identify their options and make their own informed choices.
Presenting the IEP
To help ensure parents and students understand each step of the IEP process, consider using visual. During IEP meetings, a huge amount of information is conveyed and educational jargon is used, which can lead to moments of uncertainty, confusion or inattention. Some students with LDs and even parents may have trouble maintaining their attention or discerning meaning from a lengthy verbal discourse. Whether it is a graphic organizer or an illustrated metaphor, visual aids can ease understanding of the discourse and will create a mental anchor to represent more abstract concepts, such as educational differentiation. For example, the image below of three children watching a baseball game illustrates equity versus equality. This image is often used to illustrate why supports may be different from one person to another.
Such practices will help create a constructive climate between the school and the home during the IEP process.
The development of an IEP is an essential process in the continuous progress of students with special education needs. It is important to involve, include and support parents throughout this process in order to ensure that they understand it and are comfortable with the support provided by educators. The suggestions and strategies proposed in this article seek to facilitate collaboration between parents and the school team, and to ensure that parents feel engaged, listened to and valued in this most important step in the school life of their child.
Alloprof Parents, À quoi sert le plan d’intervention : https://www.alloprof.qc.ca/fr/parents/articles/difficultes-ecole/a-quoi-sert-plan-d-intervention-k1280?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIx9nNtay09gIVociUCR1m8QBuEAAYBCAAEgL58_D_BwE
Alloprof Parents, Guide pour la préparation d’un plan d’intervention :https://cms.alloprof.qc.ca/sites/default/files/2021-02/guide-preparation-plan-intervention.pdf
TA@lecole, Le soutien au développement de l’autodétermination :https://www.taalecole.ca/le-soutien-developpement-autodetermination/
About the Authors:
Allyson Cousineau-Grant has worked at the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO) with children and adolescents who have identified difficulties in speech, language, reading and writing for over 14 years. She also provides assessment and intervention services with preschool- and school-aged children through private consultation. In varied contexts, she collaborates with teachers and special education technicians (SETs) to support them in the classroom in their interventions with special needs students. This strong collaboration allows her to identify and integrate winning strategies for supporting such students. In recent years, as part of the Master’s Program in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Ottawa, she has had the opportunity to teach the following courses: Troubles du développement du langage en milieu scolaire (Language development disorders in a school setting), Développement et fonctionnement typique de la communication (Development and typical functioning of communication), and Troubles de la communication liés aux troubles de l’audition (Communication disabilities associated with hearing disorders). In addition, for the past few years, she has taught the online course Développement de la lecture et de l’écriture, évaluation et intervention en milieu francophone (Reading and writing development, assessment and intervention in a Francophone setting) for the University of Alberta. While she has many areas of interest as a speech-language pathologist, Allyson focuses her efforts on language, reading and writing disabilities, as well as on augmentative and alternative communication.
Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger is a Francophone Learning Disabilities Consultant with the LD@school team. She is completing a Master’s degree in Educational Sciences at Université du Québec à Rimouski. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education in School and Social Adaptation from this same university and a Certificate in Integration of Computer Technologies in Education (TÉLUQ). She is a sessional instructor in the field of integration of information and computer technologies (ICTs) in education. She practices primarily as a remedial teacher at the Polyvalente de Charlesbourg and very much enjoys working with adolescents who have a variety of learning disabilities. Nathalie is delighted to add her strengths to the wonderful LD@school team and to network with teachers who are passionate about helping students with LDs to achieve success