Guest Blog: Terri Mitchell – Talking to Parents about IEP Goals

This post is authored by Terri Mitchell; a HighScope field consultant who currently serves as the Early Childhood Administrator in Canyons School District in Sandy, Utah. Terri is a certified teacher in special education and early childhood special education. She has contributed her experience with instructional coaching, assessment, and systems change to the development of several high-quality early childhood programs. She co-authored the book I Belong: Active Learning for Children with Special Needs (HighScope Press).
Talking to Parents about IEP Goals

Sharing with parents how their child’s Individual Education Program (IEP) will be implemented in the classroom can help alleviate their concerns about how their child’s goals and development will be supported and monitored.

In this article, we’ll look at information a teacher shared with the parents of a child named Alysia. The teacher explained how Alysia’s parents’ communication goals would be supported and embedded within the daily routine of the classroom.

A Conversation with Alysia’s Parents

The teacher begins by confirming that one of Alysia’s communication goals is to use a two- to three-word phrase. The parents agree and ask, “When can Alysia practice this in your classroom, and how will you practice this with her?” The teacher responds, “Alysia will have many opportunities to communicate within our daily routine.”

Then the teacher walks the parents through each part of the day and shares the following examples:

• Greeting Time: “We sing a greeting song every day and discuss what is written on the message board. Often children call out the messages and say what they think they mean. I will encourage Alysia to share her own ideas, whether it is by a single word or gesture, or even repeating what one of her classmates has stated, as a way of helping her understand how verbal and nonverbal communication carries meaning.”

• Planning Time: “Alysia will be able to use a variety of props, photos, and drawings to share her choices. For example, she might indicate where she plans to play by choosing a toy from that area. As she becomes more comfortable using words, I will encourage her to describe the materials and how she plans to use them.”

• Work Time: “This is the time Alysia is able to carry out her plans and interact freely with adults, peers, and materials in the classroom. Adults will be supporting and expanding the words Alysia uses. For example, if she says, ‘book,’ I might say, ‘You want me to read you this book.’ Later Alysia herself might be able to say, ‘Read book’ or ‘Read me a book.’ I can also help with interpreting for peers as needed. For example, if Alysia says ‘red’ and points, I might say, ‘Jonah, I think Alysia is asking you to move the red crayon closer to her.’ Suppose Jonah does this and Alysia smiles in response — the two of them are then forming their own bond. At a later time, Alysia may use a short phrase when addressing Jonah directly. Moreover, if Jonah speaks to her in short sentences, she might be motivated to do the same with him. Sometimes, children learn more from one another than they do from adults!”

• Cleanup Time: “Alysia is very good at matching pictures — she will be able to help her peers put items away by matching the labels on the toys with the labels on the shelves. By adults and children occasionally attaching words to the labels (for example, I might say, ‘you put the puzzle on the shelf’), Alysia will gradually learn new words and simple phrases.”

• Recall Time: “This is when Alysia can share what she did during work time, including talking about the materials she used and peers she interacted with. Again, she can use the words she has but I will have props and pictures to support her communication.”

• Snack Time: “Often at snack time children continue their conversations about what they have done at work time. This is also a wonderful time to initiate new conversations. Children share the responsibilities of passing out napkins, cups, and milk, and they talk about what they are doing with one another. We eat together family style, which provides a nice atmosphere for conversations. You can help me involve Alysia by telling me things that Alysia has done recently at home, and I can introduce those ideas into conversations. You’ve already told me some of her favorite foods. By serving these at snack time now and then, she might comment on the fact that she likes them or eats them at home.”

• Large-Group Time: “Everyone meets together as a whole group in our block area. We sing songs and move in different ways. Children who want can take turns being leaders in these activities. We encourage children to change the words in songs and will ask Alysia for her ideas. We will also encourage Alysia to name and demonstrate movement ideas, for example, patting their shoulders. We can provide picture cards of the movements until she is able to name the movements.”

• Small-Group Time: “This is when children work in small groups to explore materials, practice skills, and form concepts. As I move among the children, I will also have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Alysia. Alysia will have many opportunities to describe the materials and how she is using them, as well as to exchange ideas with me and her peers. These activities will support her vocabulary growth, and gradually she will begin to combine the new words she is learning into short phrases and then simple sentences.”

This example illustrates how focusing on parents’ concerns about their children with special needs within the context of the daily routine and learning environment can help to create a vision for family members that their young children can participate, belong, and thrive in a HighScope classroom!

From: Extensions Newsletter (p.9) authored by Terri Mitchell, Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press. © Year High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. Used with permission.
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