Monday, April 6, 2015

Student Involvement in the IEP

Although there is still cold weather in the forecast here in Massachusetts, I’m told it’s spring!  Along with the potentially warmer weather, spring also means end-of-the- year reports and for many of my students, IEP and 504 meetings. Decisions made in these meetings impact our students for the next year so careful planning is critical. Along with the academic goals, self-awareness and self-advocacy are important areas to consider. It’s never too early to involve students in the IEP and 504 process and this specific instruction can be written into the IEP as well.

Two factors that impact such lessons are the student's level of maturity and parent consent. I often start talking with my students about the IEP in kindergarten or first grade. I communicate with the families about the purpose of such lessons as well as my plan (whether I'll use the actual document, just show the goals, or present a simplified version for younger students). Some parents don't want their children to see the original document, feeling that what is written focuses on the deficits and could make the child feel bad. In those cases, I can usually work with the parent and create a modified document for instruction purposes that emphasizes growth and success, such as the self-evaluations which I described in a previous post. By late elementary/early middle school, my students and I talk about the IEP and the meeting in more detail. By then, parents are usually comfortable and familiar with the process and its benefits. Even though students are not required to attend the meetings at that age, some may stop in for an introduction at the beginning, or if they will not make an appearance, I bring the material we've worked on such as a statement from my student with what they want included under Strengths, Vision Statement, and Current Performance for each goal. By the time students start attending meetings in high school, it's all very familiar. 

There are many kid friendly IEP guides on the internet which I often modify to fit the needs of my individual student. In addition, I emphasize that because the student has hearing loss, adults want to make sure they are successful in school and an IEP is a document that makes sure they get what they need. We talk about accommodations and highlight the skills we work on in individual sessions as well as the carryover I look for when I observe in class. Whenever I observe in class, I share my notes with students no matter how young they are and we always bring it back to the IEP. We set goals together which keeps the student involved and informed (e.g. When I observe, I want to see you raise your hand two times, and tell the teacher to mute/un-mute the microphone ...). 

While the teams that I work with generally value such relevant, experiential learning, it still must be “measurable” in order to get written into the IEP. A sample objective under the Self Advocacy goal might read:

Student will demonstrate an understanding of her IEP accommodations by advocating for their application in all school settings with decreasing adult support. 

This allows me to work 1:1 with my student, to help the student  apply skills in the classroom with appropriate observational documentation, and move the student  towards independence. Then I can work on applying the accommodations in other school settings and involve the student in refining what is written or adding to the accommodations for the next IEP period. 

Similarly, objectives such as the two below, allow me to formally work with my student on self-evaluation and move from the highly supported to more open-ended evaluations that I described in an earlier post. In reports, I state specifically what supports I start with and where we end up. This documents the decreasing adult modeling, and is therefore "measurable."

Student will demonstrate increasing responsibility for her academic progress by formally reviewing her IEP objectives on a quarterly basis with decreasing adult modeling.

Student will explain how hearing loss impacts her ability to access her education by participating in monthly / quarterly / weekly (you decide) formal progress monitoring with decreasing adult support. 

The IEP may take up only a small percentage of the total time working with students, but it influences the entire process. The more engaged and involved students can be early on, the more ready they will be to actively participate when the time comes.

Links to Student IEP Guides:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Silver Lining

You’re so lucky you’re deaf. You can just turn everyone off.” My head whipped up just in time to notice the look of dismay briefly cross my seventh-grade student’s face. He recovered quickly, smiled hesitantly, and muttered, “Yeahas he muted the DynaMic. He needed to concentrate on his independent work in the noisier than usual classroom where students were completing a variety of assignments before the end of the term.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a comment like this or seen such a reaction. Technology is such an integrated part of our world and everyday experiences that well-intentioned peers (and adults) may overlook that fact that using this technology is a necessity rather than a perk for our students with hearing loss. The majority of students that we work with are in mainstream classrooms with typically hearing peers. This was an innocent comment referring to how the student with hearing loss can mute his microphone and work in quiet whereas the typically hearing student can’t block out the noise in the classroom in the same way. What the hearing student didn’t realize was the effect his comment of being lucky could have on his peer with hearing loss. He has an acceptance of his hearing loss, but this boy would not describe himself as “lucky.” Even though PowerPoint presentations related to hearing loss, inviting peers to join individual sessions, and ongoing advocacy work with our students can all help raise awareness of hearing loss in the mainstream classroom, others still forget. We work so hard on teaching our students to speak up and advocate but there are still days they decide to let it go or get annoyed, and that’s part of being a regular kid.  It’s unrealistic to expect our students to advocate in every single opportunity.

Helping students think of a response they can use when someone makes a similar comment to them can be helpful. As a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, I continue to learn the best way to respond, too. After a science teacher that I work with reported overhearing a similar comment in her classroom, the parent of the child with hearing loss responded to the group email by describing how she spoke with her child about the difference between being “lucky” and in seeing the silver lining. While it may not always feel “lucky” to have hearing loss, there are those silver linings –  in this case, the mute button.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why Does It Matter How We Hear?

“Oh! Here…nope, not this one. It says, ‘hammer, anvil, and stirrup.’ I want one with the scientific words –malleus, incus, and stapes,” my eighth grader softly explains as he scans internet images of the ear on my computer, looking for just the right color scheme as well as correct labeling of the parts. We’ve been talking in great detail about how hearing works and how hearing loss impacts comprehension of spoken language. He’s fascinated and wants to put together a presentation to share with his classmates so that they can better understand how he perceives and processes sound. Finally, he selects the image below, inserts in into his presentation, and says, “perfect.”

Why does it matter how hearing works? Kids (and adults, too!) want explanations for how and why things work the way they do. Without concrete explanations, students often feel that misunderstandings are always their own fault. Many students express moments in school and in social situations of feeling dumb, confused, lost, or on the outside of the group. Helping them to understand how hearing works and how hearing loss impacts comprehension can alleviate some of the self-blame and negative feelings and instead empower students to advocate. All my students have self-advocacy goals and objectives in their IEPs, and learning about hearing fits right into those objectives. Even with my youngest students, we study diagrams of the ear, create our own diagrams and label the parts, and trace the path of sound up to the brain (what a great opportunity to include sequential language instruction!). Recently, my first grader was overheard telling a classmate who asked about her hearing aids, “Don’t you know already? Hearing aids make sounds louder and help sounds get to my brain.” 

As students get older, they are able to explore in more depth how hearing impacts language. One parent emailed me saying that my fourth-grade student drew a diagram of the ear during a family gathering and used it to explain to her grandmother who also has hearing loss, why dinner conversations are difficult to follow. Another middle school student showed me sketches of the ear and hearing aid that she had drawn while on the bus, explaining to her friends how she hears when they asked. As for my student creating his presentation? The change in him has been remarkable –once sitting in class unsure of what was going on and having few strategies to figure it out, he now advocates for information to be written on the board, alerts teachers when the FM is muted or muffled, and explains what he needs to new adults and peers. He can quickly sketch a drawing of the ear and explain where the breakdown occurs for him based on the cause of his hearing loss. He understands that it is not his fault when he misses what was said but that it is his responsibility to get the information. My student confidently presented his PowerPoint to his classmates, responded to questions, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.  He no longer blames himself or feels badly when misunderstandings occur because he understands why; there’s a scientific explanation for mishearing.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Including Students in the Assessment Process

It’s January! Along with the bitter cold, snow, and ice here in Massachusetts come the quarterly and mid-year progress reports. As teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing, we spend hours each quarter reviewing data from individual sessions with each student, analyzing observation notes, and compiling a semesters worth of information and work samples into a comprehensive report showing how we’ve addressed or met specific IEP goals and objectives. A few years ago a student who was in sixth grade at the time told me that his mom had shared my progress report with him. He was aware of his IEP but didn't know that I wrote reports about him each quarter. He had so many questions and stated that now he understood why I wrote so much in my notebook while we were working. This experience was eye opening for me as well – why shouldn’t students know about progress reports?  Better yet, why not include them in the process?

We all know the importance of including students in the IEP process, but including them in ongoing assessment throughout the year is equally as important. When students are familiar with their IEP goals and objectives and participate in regular self-assessment, their ability to advocate and actively participate in their educational programs improves. In addition, it helps students become more aware that our lessons have context; what we do together relates to their short and long term goals. It is important for students to understand why they receive support services from a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. Involvement in quarterly self-assessment is one way to approach this need as students become participants in the planning and assessment of their entire academic and social school programming rather than passive recipients of support services.

All of my junior high and high school students, and many of my upper elementary students (depending on individual readiness and ability), formally assess their own progress quarterly. I use my progress report due dates as a guide. During individual sessions, each student is given a print out of their IEP goals and objectives that we have targeted during the term, and with my support, they write a short narrative of how they feel they have progressed in each area. I encourage students to provide examples, discuss what was easy and what was challenging, what they feel they can now do independently and areas where they feel they need continued support, and what they see as the next steps. Sound familiar? These are the same aspects targeted in our quarterly reports! Not only do students become involved, but it’s also an opportunity for me to assess my own teaching:  Can my student articulate what we’ve worked on? Were my examples and lessons clear or is my student confused or off track?  Do my student and I agree about his independent and guided abilities? In my own progress narrative, I often cite examples from student self-assessment as this data is valuable not only to me, but to everyone working with the student. 

Here are a few tips for including students in quarterly self-assessment:

Discuss the purpose and process for quarterly self-assessment with the student’s parents. If parents have concerns, they can be addressed prior to beginning the process with the student.

Help the student understand the purpose of the self-assessment. When students understand that self-assessment is part of looking at growth and progress rather than focusing on deficits, they are more willing to participate honestly.

Structure the assessment according to student needs. I find creating a table with the objective in one column and space for the student to write is the most organized. For some objectives, I simplify the language in parentheses beside the formally written objective to be sure my student understands. I also include prompts for the criteria I want students to write about.

Make the self-assessment applicable. When students indicate areas where they want more support, I am sure to include those areas in our individual sessions and explicitly refer to their self-assessment notes. Sharing the assessment with other service providers and teachers (with the student’s permission) can help the student to see the benefit and carryover as well.

How do you include students in on-going assessments?