I Have an IEP, so I Can’t…. Yes you CAN!
Note: In the cases described below the students’ names have been changed for the purposes of privacy. Also, the descriptions would fit many of the students I have seen over the years.
Individualized Education Program
Just because you (or your child) have been identified or have been placed on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) it is not time to stop, relax, and do nothing to improve.
In fact, given the right resources and effort, many students can overcome the obstacles and challenges facing them. The concept of an IEP is to aid one in getting a solid education.
It is NOT an excuse.
It is NOT a way out!
I know that many students do not see it this way, but too many do.
I have had many students in twenty years tell me, “I can’t do _______ because I have _______.”
Fill-in-the-blank: ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Autism, Asperger’s, Downs Syndrome, etc.
To which the reply is, “Let’s see how you can do this regardless of _______.”
There are always many paths to achieve a similar result. A student might need a scribe for final products, but he/she can still work at improving his/her ability to print or write.
(This is only one of many I have seen that are similar.)
Meet Phil. Phil came to our initial free information meeting with his mom and dad. He was a very quiet young man, aged 12 in grade 8. I couldn’t quite tell whether he was naturally quiet or simply unhappy about meeting a tutor (it happens). He seemed preoccupied with the extra long strand of hair that hung over his face. Both parents were fairly certain that he would not be able to physically print or write any of his assignments. At the time, I did most of my work on paper, although I did not have any issue with his working on a computer if it became necessary. He was being heavily accommodated at school, and they didn’t see much potential for any near term change in the writing department. Once I started working with Phil, he did not request a computer, so I proceeded as I normally would. On a longer writing task, I asked if he would like to use the computer, but he said he was fine with paper as long as he could do it his way. No problem.
Was he a good writer / printer? No – terrible in fact. His handwriting was legible but barely. There were loads of technical details that needed to be addressed, but these existed even when he sent me items that had been done on a computer for school. For example, sentence structure, logical development, spelling (spellcheck and Grammarly® don’t catch them all!), punctuation, etc.
Over time, he rarely wanted to use the computer. He learned to use a dictionary (a book). He learned to double space and tidied up his writing to a point that it was acceptable for most people. He learned how to compose different kinds of sentences and use them in various articles. He became a bit of a stickler on some occasions with correctness and checking his own work.
Was he perfect? No – of course not. The point is that Phil was a student who was not expected to write, so he didn’t. When he was offered the challenge and given the support, he did!
It CAN happen.
A student might need more time to complete a quiz or test, but he/she can practice picking up the pace on less important tasks. Of course, not everyone is the same, so you might never be the fastest, neatest, most organized student, but you can be the best that you can be. The whole point of education, in my humble opinion, is to improve oneself and to reach personal goals. With no effort (or reduced expectations), you will never strive to attain the highest levels that you could reach.
One of my grade 10 students, Sarah, needed to write the Grade 10 Literacy Test. All students in Ontario are required to pass this test to receive their high school diploma. I had been working with Sarah for a couple of years by this time, and I had a lot of confidence that she would have no issues with the test. She was a bright girl in many respects, and she was extremely entertaining with her stories. She was on an IEP and was given extra time and a recording of the texts to help her with this test. After the test, I asked how she had done. Of course, the scores were not available, yet – but I just wanted to know how she felt. She was disappointed because she couldn’t get the recording to work and spent a lot of time with the machine. Even with the extra time, she ran out of time because of the failing recording. I asked her why she didn’t just read the stories herself because her reading skills were much improved, and she was quite capable of reading them. She laughed and said, “I know, I know, but I was supposed to be able to use these recordings, so I just kept trying.”
She failed that part of the test and had to redo it the next year. On the next try, she refused the option of having the recordings, and she passed with no difficulty – finishing the test in about the same time as everyone else!
Students often strive to reach the expectations set for them – high or low.
Let’s set them high enough. Not out of reach – but high enough.
Use the Individualized Education Program to help you get more – not less – education.
Think of the accommodations and extra resources as temporary tools to help you bring up your game. (Although some tools might be necessary for longer or forever in the end.)
If you see yourself as a living, breathing, learning machine – albeit with flaws you will have success. By the way, we all have flaws or learning challenges of one kind or another. I would definitely have been identified in school if they did such things at the time.
In over twenty years, I have never, ever, seen a student who tried his or her best lose ground. He or she always grows and advances.
You aren’t your brother or sister
- or mother, father, friend, enemy, Johnny down the street, etc.
You are You!
Your learning styles will be different. Your goals will be different. The methods you use could be very different. But you can achieve a lot; and, usually what appeared to be so different at first begins to look quite familiar.
Those multiplication questions don’t scare you.
That essay was tough but…wait a minute, you got a better grade than you expected and it put you at par with others who used to be so far ahead.
Yes, it happens!
Do not allow the IEP to go stagnant.
Be sure to attend the meetings and question – challenge if necessary the goals and methods and any needed changes.
If your daughter is now finding it easy to finish the 75% math expectation, maybe it is time to increase the volume.
If you son finds concentrating far less of a chore, it might be time to reduce the extra time allowance.
Individual Education Program’s (IEP’s) should be dynamic and able to change.
Children don’t stay the same! They go through multiple changes, some slowly, some quickly. Children also mature at different rates. The “so-called” windows are not the same for everyone.
Meet Sal. He started as a young boy. He was shy at first but a very personable guy once he got to know people. Quite a talker and very interested in music, television, and media in general.
Sal didn’t read in grade three or grade four, five, or six. Most professionals at the time said he had missed the “window” for reading. However, in grade seven, almost at once he began to read – not children’s books, but novels.
My guess is that all the teaching at school and the tutoring (done by yours truly), and the attention of parents, was in fact having an effect all the way along. It just was not showing. (In fact, he had a bad habit of ripping the pages out of books while he was “reading” before he was actually reading, and this was at an age when most people don’t destroy books.)
Sal went on to read all kinds of magazines, books, newspapers, etc. He fell in love with doing crosswords. Nobody would have predicted this in the year or even a few months before it happened.
I admit, this is the first and only time I have seen such a case – but if it can happen once, it can happen again.
Unfortunately, this rapid change did not occur for Sal’s math skills. He never could quite grasp the idea of numbers and how they worked even in everyday situations. He did manage to memorize what he needed to know, but he did not truly understand why or how numbers and math operations work the way they do.
If you go the route of an Individualized Education Program, treat it as a tool for expanding your learning, not limiting it.
Look to push the boundaries – and possibly break through the goals of the IEP.
Don’t worry, there are always new, higher goals to achieve!
I have absolute faith in you and your ability to learn.
If you want some extra coaching for yourself or your child, here is a great place to start.
I would love to help you on your journey.
This week’s video:
IEP – Not a Destination
Writing: Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Time: Photo by Eder Pozo Pérez on Unsplash
Reading: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash