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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 ways IEPs are changing teaching

Today’s teachers are increasingly being asked to tailor their lessons for kids with special needs, and part of that often means implementing individualized education programs (IEPs). In fact, IEPs are so common that a teacher might oversee as many as five in a class of 25 students.

Requirements of IEPs, part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also have changed how educators approach instruction for all students. Here are five things teachers must do:

Recognize individual abilities

Recognize individual abilities.

“In the past, special education teachers chose their profession because they had a disposition for helping children with special needs,” says Becky Kappus, chair for the College of Education at the University of Phoenix New Mexico Campus.

But as more students with learning disabilities are included in regular classrooms, she says, instructors must teach students across a broad spectrum of abilities. Teachers take on a kind of in-class observational role to help distinguish between the needs of struggling students and their classmates to determine what’s best for everyone.

Keep abreast of laws

Keep abreast of laws.

Laws protecting students with special needs have been on the books for decades, but they’re ever changing. “Higher education needs to help [new] teachers understand the law, to be more aware of IEPs,” says Lora Bonney, an instructor of special education courses at the University and an IEP specialist in the Albuquerque Public School System.

In-service training and continuing education, she says, are musts, even for veteran teachers.

Employ a range of instructional strategies

Employ a range of instructional strategies.

To ensure that all students’ rights are protected and that every student has an opportunity to thrive, teachers must try different approaches and tailor lesson plans to individuals and their educational needs. “They’re not being asked to change how they teach,” Bonney points out, “but they might have to alter the environment, the workload or the time it takes for a student to complete a task.”

Even when it comes to discipline, she adds, teachers must consider what works for each student. Bad behavior doesn’t always signal a learning disability, but it could, she notes. An IEP might be appropriate in such a case.

Think of classrooms as research labs

Think of classrooms as research labs.

While trying various ways to help ensure individual learning success, teachers must document what they do. “I can’t emphasize that enough,” Kappus says. The documentation on what works or fails is essential. “It’s become a science,” Kappus adds. “Teachers need to approach the classroom as if it’s a laboratory for learning.”

Embrace collaboration

Embrace collaboration.

By partnering with special education providers, case managers, administrators and parents, the regular classroom teacher is an active participant on a student’s IEP team.

“The process leading up to an IEP meeting might take months,” Bonney emphasizes, “but the development of the plan is dispensed within a single meeting, with everyone at the table considering what’s best for the student.”

Kappus suggests that perhaps one day every student will have an IEP. “After all,” she says, “every child is an individual. Taking this approach to instruction is just a good teaching practice.”

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