5 Tips to Help Develop Common-Core-Aligned IEPs

One challenge for teachers that is not going away this year is figuring out efficient ways to incorporate Common Core State Standards (CCSS). To help, Edudemic has assembled this step-by-step guide with 5 tips for developing Common Core-aligned IEPs.

1. Acceptance: Embrace the Shift

The only thing in life that remains constant is change. If you’ve been in education long enough, you know how well that adage applies to your profession. Common Core represents one of the biggest focus shifts we’ve seen in the last several decades of education. Your first step to writing Common Core IEPs is a mental one: Embrace the shift.

That being said, change is hard. Many professional educators are suspicious of government-induced changes like IDEA, otherwise known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Since President Bush signed IDEA into law in December 2004, teachers have been skeptical that a politician, even a president, could possess the insight to create a realistic education law for the entire nation.

When it first was introduced, the legislation forced seasoned special education teachers to do an about-face in their thinking. For years, these well-meaning folks operated under the assumption that their students needed to “master life skills before moving on to academics,” according to Education Week’s recent interview with University of North Carolina professor Diane M. Browder. Thanks to IDEA and CCSS, life skills have taken a backseat to academics. It’s truly a conundrum, and manyspecial ed teachers have expressed frustration and stress regarding the resultant hodgepodge of teacher evaluation systems.

Nevertheless, as educators, we must strive to overcome the CCSS hurdle by embracing the shift and making it work for our students. Adaptability, after all, is one of the most important character traits for teachers in the 21st century.

2. Simplification: Boil Down the Standards

CCSS are easier to understand and digest when boiled down to their essence. When setting goals for special ed students, ask yourself what is the core purpose of each standard.

Here is an example of a first-grade standard for operations and algebraic thinking: “Solve word problems that call for addition of three whole numbers whose sum is less than or equal to 20 [...] by using objects, drawings, and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.”

This standard could be boiled down as such: “Use symbols to solve story problems.” By condensing the standard down, you get a short, actionable statement summarizing what needs to be done. Do this for each standard, and you likely will find the process much easier to swallow.

3. Brainstorming: Find S.M.A.R.T. Ideas

Specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related (S.M.A.R.T.) goals aren’t really anything new. Business professionals have been using this principle since 1981, when business entrepreneur George Doran introduced the concept. You may have heard about S.M.A.R.T. goals in your own work environment. When these goals are applied to writing an IEP, though, you’ll find they’re an effective way to address the Common Core needs of a special ed child.

The process of creating a S.M.A.R.T. goal for an IEP can be nerve-wracking, especially when you consider that this small bit of paperwork could make or break you during an audit or evaluation. Your school district may or may not offer you help in this arena. According to a recent Twitter chat between teachers and education reporter Christina Samuels, many schools districts have yet to educate their teachers on how to create IEPs that target Common Core standards.

Brainstorm your S.M.A.R.T. goal ideas. Jot down notes, scribble thoughts. But don’t stop there. Once you’ve created a rough draft of your goal, polish it up for prime time with the help of a template.

4. Writing: Fill Out a Template

Your district might not provide you with a goal template. Fortunately, plenty of respected educational groups offer free, online, step-by-step templates to help you clarify the details of your goal. Try using the Ohio Dept. of Ed goal-setting template, the Boston Public Schools SMART goal template, or even the CDC Smart Objectives template.

Word it well

If you’re not sure how to word a S.M.A.R.T. goal, check out this comprehensive resource guide created in 2009 by British Columbian Ministry of Education. It also helps to consult your peers. Does your school provide time for you to interact with a professional learning community?

5. Sharing: Find a Professional Learning Community

There’s no reason to feel alone when writing CCSS IEPs. Over the past decade, Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, have popped up in schools across the country. A PLC is a group of peers who collaborate on everything from playground rules to strategies for improving test scores.

If your school doesn’t have a formal PLC, you can find opportunities to collaborate and share with other teachers online. Most online PLCs often offer free webinars and other helpful learning opportunities. Last August, the U.S. Dept. of Education unveiled a new online community calledCommit to Lead, in which educators from across the country can connect with each other on a professional, pedagogical level.

Learning from Peers Through Video Sharing

Sometimes the best way to find inspiration is to watch a video of a colleague in action. This brief presentation by Sean Paris shows him simplifying three Common Core standards — ELA.RI.8.1, ELA.SL.8.1a, and ELA.SL.8.1d — in a lesson about the pros and cons of teen driving. Paris’ overarching goal is to address three ELA standards, but from these standards he derives an even simpler goal: to help students develop the ability to discuss their ideas with their peers.

Accept. Simplify. Brainstorm. Write. Share. These are the steps to modern IEP creation. With a little thought and no small amount of effort, you should be able to embrace these standards while providing differentiated education for your students.

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