Monday, November 30, 2009

Quick Tips to Support Learning in the Home

Here are some simple things to do at home to promote a positive learning environment in your own home.

1. Remember how important nutrition and sleep are to children to both their physical development and their cognitive/brain development. Limit sugars. Do not allow caffeine after dinner time (2 pm really). Set a consistent bed time. On average, toddlers and preschoolers need 11-13 hours of sleep. Five to twelve year olds need 10-11, and teenagers need 9-10. In general, children who get the proper amount of sleep and proper nutrition will be more attentive, have better memory skills, and are more available for learning.
2. Set aside a quiet, consistent spot for children to do their work.
3. READ to children---often. A good rule of thumb is 15-20 minutes each day. Do this as part of a bed time routine to help structure this time and slow the child down before bed.
4. Model reading yourself. Keep books, magazines, and newspapers in the house. Children should see you reading in a number of different settings.
5. Talk to children about the world around them, the environment, their school day, etc. Encourage questions and exploration.
6. Foster problem solving skills in children at a young age. Don’t do things for children all the time---let them figure out how to put on their shirt, or answer their own questions by responding “What do you think”.
7. Limit TV and video games. Encourage interactive board games and outside play.
8. Expose children to a variety of life experiences. Go to parks, go for nature walks, visit museums, libraries, grocery stores, etc.
9. Be consistent with expectations and discipline, and follow through.
10. When praising a job well done, be “I like how you cleaned your room up right away when I asked you to” or “I like how you did your math homework carefully and corrected your work”

Remember, consistency and structure are key!!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


So, we know that developing the IEP (Individual Education Program) is one of the most important steps in the special ed process, but how do we develop an appropriate one? Many school districts and special ed teachers struggle with this step. Many parents get frustrated at this point in the process because of “the cookie cutter” IEP approach…the one size fits all IEP. Special education is supposed to be individualized instruction in order to meet the unique needs of the child, yet many parents find themselves signing off on the same IEP year after year.

The fine folks at Wrightslaw have written a great book, called “From Emotions to Advocacy”. It is an excellent resource, and I recommend that everyone involved with special education…either a parent or teacher or advocate, read this book and learn from it. One of the things they talk about, in chapter 12, is writing SMART IEPs. S=Specific, M=Measurable, A=Action words, R=realistic and relevant, and T=Time limited.

IEP goals and objectives need to be specific in nature and measurable. How are we going to measure progress if we don’t know specifically what we are going to work on and how we are going to assess it? Many IEP goals are very vague and open… a parent you need to avoid that. An IEP needs to include Action Words….that means it should reflect what the school and the child will actually be able to do…nice strong verbs that describe the desired outcome. Goals and objectives also need to be realistic…can the child realistically work toward that goal and reach it during the current school year. In order to be relevant, the goals need to connect to the real world and to the current curriculum in the classroom, and move the child from their current level of performance to the desired level of performance. IEPs also need to be time limited…objectives need to be completed within a time frame…the first quarter, semester, half a year, the full year.

With these types of goals, the school team can be held accountable for their actions and their implementation. A parent can ask for measurement or assessment of each goal…how far has the child come? If the child has met an objective, then that item can be taken off of the IEP and a new objective can be put in to replace it. Using this method, if a child is making progress, then IEPs should be different each year. If the child is not making progress toward the goals, then the IEP and programming needs to be reviewed. A child with the most significant disabilities should be able to show progress in some area, even if it is a small amount of progress. If assessment reveals no progress is being made at all, go back to the drawing board and rework the IEP. The programming is most likely inappropriate if there isn’t any progress being made.

Questions?? Let me know!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pet Peeve!

Some very interesting research came out of UNH’s Carsey Institute last week, based on something that is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I have a very hard time with school districts’ use of out of school suspension as a disciplinary tactic for kids. For some instances, out of school suspension is a very appropriate strategy, especially when other things have been tried, or when the offense is very serious—such as assaultive behavior, etc, BUT…..many many schools in NH (and I would assume in other states as well) use out of school suspension for other grievances that are not very serious, and for things such as truancy. How does this make any sense? So a child has, for whatever reason, a difficult time getting to school or attending regularly, we finally get him to school, and the punishment for missing school is out of school suspension…….so……wait a minute… we want the kid in school or not? How is out of school suspension going to help a student who has difficulty staying in school? It makes absolutely NO SENSE!

What are some other strategies we could employ to assist these kids who have trouble staying in or getting to school? Well, if you must suspend, let’s first look to an in school suspension, where a child could be supported to get work done in an educational environment. Cut off his social ties for the day, keep him away from friends, etc, as the deterrent piece, but let him be in school getting some work done in a supportive environment. Besides suspension, let’s look at appropriate programming. Many kids who struggle with this issue are those involved with the special education system, or the courts, or have other environmental issues or school based struggles. Let’s try to adjust and individualize the child’s program so that he or she is GETTING WHAT THEY NEED. Most kids act out or skip school for a reason….let’s look a little deeper and see how we can improve their overall educational experience. Maybe they need more vocational training and options, maybe they need more help in learning to read, maybe they need to be placed in an alternative environment. There are MANY options to exhaust before we suspend kids out of school.

Some things found in the Carsey research:
•Out-of-school suspensions were 59 percent of the
total suspension incidents reported.
• The out-of-school suspension rate of 8.3 percent was
higher than the national rate of 6.9 percent reported
by the Office of Civil Rights for 2006.
• Sixty-eight (19 percent) of the schools reporting outof-
school suspensions reported rates higher than the
state rate of 8.3 percent.
• Ninety-two (29 percent) of the schools reporting
in-school suspensions reported rates higher than the
state rate of 5.7 percent.
•Verbal behavior and violence against persons accounted
for 31 percent of the suspensions reported
• Tobacco, alcohol, and other drug-related offenses
were 7 percent of the suspensions in the state.
• Fifty-nine percent of suspensions were categorized by
schools as “other.”
•Schools with the highest rates of FRL-eligible (free and reduced lunch) students
averaged more than four times as many discipline incidents
(20.6 percent) as schools with the lowest rates (4.9 percent).
•Out-of-school suspension was used more than
in-school suspension for all categories of incidents
except “other drugs,” where they were applied equally.
•Over one-third (36 percent) of the total 84 expulsions
in the state were due to offenses related to drugs
other than tobacco and alcohol and weapons-related
•The second most frequent (18 percent) reason reported
for expulsion was “other.”
• The least reported reason for expulsion was firearms,
the only offense for which expulsion is mandatory.
•The large percentage of both suspensions and expulsions
reported by the schools as “other” raises the question as to
what type of incidents are included in this category.

The last point is VERY INTERESTING. What exactly is "other"....we have no way of knowing...and "other" can mean different things in different school districts. And, some school districts might not be as objective when using the "other" category when suspending a student as other districts might be. Seems unfair, and a little too ambiguous for me.

Read the Carsey research and let me know what you think.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let's Talk IEPs!!

Let’s talk IEPs!
Last time I blogged about the very beginnings of the special education process, through the evaluation step. This time, let’s talk about determining eligibility and developing the Individual Education Program (IEP). IEP development is one of the most important, if not the most important step, of the whole process. Without a solid IEP, we can have inappropriate services and placements, both of which can cause real problems for kids, families, and school districts.
First off, we need to look at the evaluation information and determine whether or not a child qualifies, or is eligible, as educationally disabled. There are two prongs to this decision. The team first looks at whether or not the child has a disability, such as a learning disability, ADHD, an emotional disturbance, or a speech and language impairment. Then, the team must consider whether or not the disability impacts the child’s ability to learn and whether or not the child needs “specialized instruction” and “related services” in order to learn. If the child has both a disability and the need for specialized instruction, then the child will qualify as educationally disabled under the federal special education law (IDEA 2004, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act).
Once the team makes the decision that a child is eligible, the next step is developing the IEP. The school has 30 days, once the parent signs agreement to the eligibility decision, to create the IEP. (of course, at any time, if the school and parents disagree, there are dispute resolution mechanisms that families and/or school districts can pursue….I will talk about those in upcoming posts)
So what is an IEP, exactly? Here is the quick version:
IEP stands for “Individualized Education Program”. The IEP is the document that the team creates that describes the strengths and needs of the student, current levels of performance, the goals for the year for the student---what the team thinks the child needs to work on and improve, and the objectives—shorter term benchmarks to measure progress toward the bigger goal. The IEP also includes the services and related services that the school will offer as support and instruction to the child. The IEP will outline things such as whether or not a child will have a one on one aide, whether or not the child will work with other specialists such as a reading specialist, speech and language pathologist, or occupational therapist, and whether or not any special equipment is needed, such as a computer, an FM transmitter system, or books on tape, etc. The IEP also lists any special accommodations or modifications the child needs in the classroom or during the school day. Things like a quiet room to take a test in, having modified homework requirements, having the teacher use a lot of visuals, readings provided at the student’s level, use of a skeletal outline to take notes, etc. A decision about ESY (extended school year) is also a section of the IEP, and one of the most important things in an IEP for older students is the Transition Plan. This HAS to be included in the IEP in NH of a student who is 16 and up. The transition plan, which I will devote a whole other post to later, needs to include activities and supports to prepare students for the world after high school---whether that might be the world of work, college, the military, etc.
Once the team drafts the IEP, a parent has 14 days to sign or consent to the IEP. I always recommend that parents take their time in making the decision on the IEP. Parents shouldn’t be pressured to sign it right away. Parents can sign that they agree to the whole document, they can agree to the IEP with exceptions, or they can disagree with the whole document. Once parents signs the IEP, a decision about the student’s placement will then be made.
Lots of questions and discussion can be had in meetings about IEPs. What makes a good IEP? What are appropriate services? What does the school need to offer to make sure the child has access to FAPE (free appropriate public education)?
Creating a solid, appropriate IEP is paramount in the special ed process. What are your questions surrounding IEPs? More details on how to develop an IEP coming up……..