Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Third Time's a Charm: IEP Assignment

Last year, for the second time I attempted an assignment asking students to create their own individualized education plan (IEP).  My first attempt as a student teacher was poorly designed and even more poorly modeled.  Last year, the design was much more in depth (perhaps too much) and the product was modeled extensively.  But the process was not.  The concept of multiple intelligence theory got a 5 to 10 minute overview in class before I threw them into the computer lab to complete their self assessment.  I asked my students to create goals for the semester, but offered no guidance on how to define short-term goals that lead to their long-term ones.  I asked them to consider accommodations that would help them learn, but I never explained fully enough what an accommodation was.

This year was different.

First, I'm broke up the design more.  The first assignment sheet could put anyone in cardiac arrest, particularly a freshmen who just started high school and isn't very pleased that they get to take reading workshop again.  So a toned down some of the reflection questions and broke the thing into parts instead of the menu1.  Turned out this assignment sheet was also confusing, so next year maybe I'll just scrap it, or give students a checklist of all the items they need to turn in when all is done.

Day One - What's an IEP?

I had some terrific help from my special education department where a special education assistant came to the room and gave a little introduction to the federal IEP and some examples of the accommodations students receive.  This was generally well received, though I had a few students this year who thought I was saying they were stupid because they can't read.  Could be because I'm teaching reading workshop this year, or could be because of the longer presentation from special education and the lack of respect some students have for their classmates served by sped.

Days Two through Four - Multiple Intelligence Theory

Multiple intelligences were taught over three days, the first giving an overview of each intelligence and then students experienced a lesson teaching a language arts skill exclusively using one of the intelligences.  This packet was supposed to be their guide as they rotated in groups to the different areas.  In the end though, we went through each exercise together as a class. Putting together the packet turned out to be easier than I expected, as I was able to pull pieces from lessons I've used previously.

Musical Intelligence

For this section I used a lesson on avoiding sentence fragments using the Schoolhouse Rock song "The Tale of Mr. Morton."  I prefer the Skee-Lo version found on the album Schoolhouse Rock Rocks!2  Students listen to the song and then are asked to identify the subjects and predicates of some sample sentences.  In the original lesson some subordinate conjunctions are thrown in and students eventually are asked to fix a couple sentence fragments as well.  For the purposes of the packet, however, I just wanted to give them a taste.

Naturalistic Intelligence

Here I asked students to group like words together, same as you would with the natural world - kingdoms and phylums and everything else.  I'm not satisfied that this is the closest language arts can get to naturalistic intelligence; it seems like Thoreau or Emerson should be involved somehow.

Interpersonal/Intrapersonal Intelligence

Sometimes I ask students to do what I call a multiple intelligence explication on some text that they've read.  They can choose to come up with a soundtrack, a mind map, or write a letter to the character, which is what this activity consists of.  For many of the exercises, we read "Waiting," a piece of microfiction by Peggy McNally from the anthology Micro Fiction edited by Jerome Stern.3  Students were then to write a letter either to the speaker in the story or to the speaker's boyfriend who she wants to see but can't.

Visual/Spatial Intelligence

This mind map activity I stole from Carrie McCallum, another language arts teacher at my school.  Students respond to a text by drawing some of the things that might be going through a character's mind.  We did the same for "Waiting."

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence

For the person who reads this who has discovered how to bring logical/mathematical intelligence into the language arts classroom, you need to comment on this post or e-mail me.  My failed attempt involves translating a formulaic transition statement for essays into some sort of algebraic equation.

Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence

I have a bunch of pieces of green construction paper with random words on them like "hope," "rain," "love," "clouds," and "bagel."  They're cut out in the shape of lily pads, and students hop across the pads writing a poem.

After trying out each of the multiple intelligences, students wrote a short reflection on the activities and which intelligences they thought were strong in them.  Then they took a questionnaire, just as they did last year, to determine which were strong or weak.

Day Five & Six - Reflection Questions

In an effort to prompt more thoughtfulness when deciding on goals and accommodations, I remodeled the reflection questions from last year and came up with these five.

  1. When was the last time you struggled in school or received a grade lower than usual? What do you think made it difficult? Consider all the players: you, teacher, parents, classmates, class subject, outside factors (illness, death in family, divorce). Of the things you or the other players could control, what would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
  2. Describe your favorite lesson you've ever been taught in school and what you learned from it. What about it or the teacher do you think made it so memorable and/or effective?
  3. Who was / is your favorite teacher / role model / mentor? Describe them. What are some of the things they did that made you appreciate them? What did you learn from them and how? If you were going to be a teacher / role model / mentor to someone, what lesson would you take from them on how to do it well?
  4. What specific things help you to study or stay focused in class? Are there techniques you use when learning like mnemonics (like Never Eat Soggy Waffles for remembering the points on a compass), jingles, or rhymes (“i” before “e” except after “c”)? Give a few examples.
  5. Now that you've taken the multiple intelligences and modality strengths self-tests, what are some specific examples of lessons that have helped you in the past that relate to your strong intelligence areas and your modality strengths?
Judging from the responses I received, questions 1 and 2 are the most essential.  Question 3 is definitely out and while some students have good answers for 4 and 5, others haven't done the kind of meta-thinking required to answer those questions.

Day Seven & Eight - Model IEP Summary4

Last, the students received this sheet, which I modeled filling out using my own answers to the questions.  This was an improvement over last year's cover sheet which didn't include the ladders for small steps leading to the ultimate goal.

That first day, students had a lot of difficulty filling out the sheet.  For a brief period of about a day, I was almost convinced that this unit was awash, that I was trying to teach months of material from an IB theory of knowledge course in a couple of weeks and that I was asking too much.  Of course, my students rose to the occasion and expectations and proved me wrong.

After modeling the cover sheet a second time the next day (I didn't change how I modeled it, so I don't know what the difference was; maybe it was that the assignment was worth 100 points pass/fail and one had to turn in all the pieces for credit; maybe they just needed to see it twice), my fears proved to be mostly unfounded.  Last year, out of my 75 students, I received two really good IEPs.  This year, I got almost 30 initially, and I'm hoping the number will grow now that we've had conferences and I've been able to give the assignment to parents as well.  Over the next few weeks I can start to set up my students with the accommodations they've asked for:
  • Spelling instruction
  • Longer time on tests
  • Reminder when work is due
  • Short breaks
  • Preferential seating (away from others)
  • Extra warnings
  • Listen to iPod (to avoid other distractions)
  • Read in the hall
  • Reminder when work is due
  • Organization
  • Additional bathroom passes
  • Preferential seating (Right to Read Anywhere)
  • Read in the hall
  • Don't call when hand isn't raised
  • Grade reports every 2 weeks
  • Time to study before a test
  • Read in library twice/week
  • Extra time to complete assignments
  • Patience and some slack on reflection sheets (the negative end of our positive behavior managment program)
  • Allowed to eat food in class

1. The menu just confused students.  Probably because it was a dumb way to set up an assignment that wasn't really differentiated; I was just trying to make it look that way.  (back)

2.  If you haven't heard Pavement's version of "No More Kings," you have not truly lived.  (back)

3. Stern, J. (Ed.). (1996)  Micro Fiction.  New York, W.W. Norton & Co.  "Waiting" is about a substitute teacher, a story better suited for a room full of teachers.  But there's a lack of young adult microfiction, so I figured that was a pretty relatable piece; we've all had substitute teachers.  (back)

4.  I should point out that for my reading and literature workshop classes, we also took the Scholastic Reading Inventory to get a lexile score and a diagnostic assessment from the 9th grade Holt Literature teacher's suppliment.  (back)

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