How to Approach Technology with Your Child’s Teacher

Every year I have parents call and ask how to approach the subject of assistive technology with their child’s teacher. Many parents are nervous to advocate for their child when it pertains to teachers implementing technology into lessons and classroom activities. Most parents will loudly protest to their child not getting enough time for a test, but become shy navigating the grey world of technology.

Parents have told me that teachers misunderstand how assistive technology is truly individualized. Many teachers feel that their lesson plans already include using the Chromebook and that the individual student’s needs will adequately be met with the presence of technology. Parents should ask the teacher to demonstrate the technology he or she will be using during instruction. Allowing the teacher to share their perspective and insights will help the parent and the teacher start a discussion.

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In schools where the student is transitioning from one classroom to the next, the teachers often do not permit the technology to be used in a consistent manner. Some can even omit the technology from the classroom during classes that are considered electives. Health classes, music, and art are often overlooked the most. This can be helped by creating a list of the technology your child uses and when they benefit from the support. For example, the type of audio program used when your child needs access to a textbook. You may need to have your case manager or teacher from the previous year create this document.

Parents must become more comfortable speaking up and sharing what their child needs and how it impacts their learning. Begin each school year with a meeting with all teachers that interact with your child. Bring the technology and demonstrate how your child uses it best. Point out times when your child was more successful or gained confidence with the supports you are demonstrating. Explain that your child already knows how to use the technology and can work independently once they understand the assignment. Having a teacher from the previous year provide a testimonial may increase the probability of the new teachers buying into the potential of success with technology supports.

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Keep in mind that many teachers want their students to be successful and independent. Do not confuse their lack of comfort with your child’s technology with their unwillingness to meet the needs of your child. Assistive technology supports for children eligible for special education services includes training for the child and staff at no cost to the parents. Individual evaluations should also be conducted to determine which technology will have the largest impact.

As always, Learning for Tomorrow NJ is here to provide evaluations, staff training, and individualized instruction. Feel free to call or email for additional support.

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Top 5 Special Education Placement Myths

Special education was once considered a place or location, but that misconception is no longer true. Special education is individualized, research-based services and instructional techniques. Below are the top 5 placement misconceptions.

What is Least Restrictive Environment?

“When determining the restrictiveness of particular program option, such determinations are based solely on the amount of time student with disabilities is 
educated outside the general education setting.”N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.2(a)(11)

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) ensures that all students spend as much of the school day as possible with their peers. While this may be a great fit for a majority of students with disabilities, the general education classroom is not always a perfect choice. As an administrator, teachers often explained that a student was placed in their general education classroom just to justify moving him or her back to a pull-out resource program later. This was done because of the belief that the student needs to not be successful in order to be placed in a more restrictive environment. Placing a special education in a least restictive envornment involves a discussion about the student’s strengths and weaknesses, along with past successful experiances. Placing a student in a placement that is not appropriate just to check a placement off a list of options is NEVER appropriate.

Modifications Do NOT Limit Placement

Do not make placement choices based on the modifications a student receives. A student can receive any curriculum modifications in any placement. There is no “threshold of requirements for entrance” to be educated with non-disabled peers.

According to N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.2(a)(9) the law requires that student will not be removed from an age-appropriategeneral education classroom solely because he/she requires modifications to the general education curriculum. N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.6(i) removes the previous requirement that student must meet the regular education curriculum requirements to be in an in-class resource program.

All Learners with ___________ Classification Should be Together, Always!

Placing students that have a specific disability in the same class often leads to lumping students together rather than creating individual goals and objectives. There are even educators that will write the same goals and objectives for all students based on the need of their classmates. Please remember to have the IEP team focus on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than a classification. The focus should always be on individual programs!

We Don’t Do THAT!

This belief removes the brainstorming process and freedom of special education planning. There is no support that should be ignored. If the service provides an opportunity for success and is researched based, it should be considered.

N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.3(a)requires that“all students”must be considered for placement in the general education classroom with supplementary aids and services and provides list of supports to be considered, 
pointing out the list is not exhaustive.
A sample of supplementary supports (N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.3):
  •  Curricularorinstructionalmodificationsor specialized instruction strategies
  •  Individual instruction
  •  AssistiveTechnologydevicesandservices
  •  Teacher aides
  •  Related services
  •  Integrated therapies
  •  Consultation services
  •  In-class resource programs
He Was in a Self-Contained Classroom Last Year
A student’s past placement cannot be the sole reason for their placement the following year.
IEP teams must annually “consider activities necessary to transition student to less
restrictive placement.”N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.2(a)(4)
This requires all IEP team members to be aware of a variety of placements available for a student. The student’s needs may change as the curriculum and transition process impacts a student’s future. Be open to exploring new options in and out of the school district.
Placement options are one of the highest IEP team disagreements. Parents feel a lot of pressure to ensure that their child is learning in the correct environment and the school wants to feel confident that the placement option is in the best interest of the child. Take time to visit a variety of placement options together with the CST team so that you can discuss your observations and create a dialogue about fears and misconceptions.

Does Your Child Have A Positive Behavior Plan?

Does your child struggle with behaviors that others may not understand? Is your child constantly being punished?

All IEPs allocate a portion to discuss behavior plans that may be needed for a student. More often than not, many of the strategies are progressively punitive. This means that the first step is moving from green to red, the the next consequence will result in removing a portion of the day that the student finds enjoyable, and so on. While a small group of students may find this effective, there is very little research that punitive actions will replace bad behavior.

Here are tips to consider if your child’s behavior is impacting their education.

  • What is the function of the behavior? Many behavioralist would argue that all behaviors have an antecedent. This means that behaviors (good or bad) are done for a reason. In and ideal situation, if the antecedents are addressed, the behaviors should no longer be present. Consider having an Functional Behavior Analysis done to help identify the function of the behavior. These assessments can be done by a behavioralist and can be paid for by the school district. The observation component will be done in various settings.
  • Is the behavior a result of the child’s disability? Many factors should be considered when making this determination. Do not wait until the behavior has become an issue and the student is now being considered for school-wide consequences. This can be considered during an FBA and sharing information about the disability that impacts your child’s behavior can be helpful. This is when a good relationship with the CST helps. Don’t be afraid to provide additional research to parents, teachers, and case managers. No one can possibly read every piece of research that is available. Having discussions prior to a manifestation determination meetings can be very impactful.
  • Is your child ever rewarded for doing what is right? More and more schools are moving towards Multi-teired Systems of Supports (MTSS). One of the models is Positive Behavior Supports in Schools (PBSIS). This program should be done on a school-wide level and then additional supports should be provided to students, classified or not, to help them find strategies for replacing negative behavior with positive. Many schools use a token reward system where students are provided with a ticket when they are “caught” following the school rules. This reinforces positive choices.
  • Be consistent! One of the major struggles with parents and teachers is to find balance between everyday unavoidable occurrences and structure. If the behavior was wrong yesterday, it is wrong today, and it will be wrong tomorrow. Work with a behavioralist to determine the best method of building continuity between home and school.
  • Teach your expectations. Teaching expected behavior is often over looked, especially as children become older. It is assumed that they should know appropriate behavior. Teachers, school staff, and family members should teach and model appropriate behaviors in a variety of environments.

To help your child, communication is invaluable. Sharing inform about your child and how their disability impacts their behavior will help to avoid unnecessary punitive consequences. Focus on your child’s strengths and reinforce when they exhibit appropriate behavior.

Remember that a child’s worth is not determined through their behavior. Identify the behavior as good or bad, if necessary, but never the child.

What is ESY and is it Right for My Child?

ESY or Extended School Year is an option for many children with specialized education plans.  Many people think of ESY as a form of summer school or tutoring to better prepare their child for September and maybe even make gains! This is not always accurate.

What is ESY?

While ESY is designed to prepare your child for September, it is not an expectation that students will make significant gains. In fact, ESY is designed to help students maintain skills that were taught throughout the year. This decision to attend ESY is made by the IEP team on an individual basis. The ESY services should be at no cost to the parents. Preschoolers that are classified as Preschool Disabled are also eligible to attend. According to NJ State Code,

 

“An extended school year program is provided in accordance with the student’s IEP when an interruption in educational programming causes the student’s performance to revert to a lower level of functioning and recoupment cannot be expected in a reasonable length of time.” 
Is your child eligible for ESY?
If you feel that your child would benefit from ESY, the IEP team will consider all relevant factors. One of the larger considerations will be the amount of time your child needs to recoup information after an extended break. How many hours does it take your child to relearn December’s lessons after winter break? Is your child struggling with June’s mastered goals September through November?
Please note, districts cannot limit ESY services to particular categories of disability or limit the type, amount, or duration of those services. Your child does not have to receive services in a specific placement to be eligible for ESY. Related services and transportation should be considered as an additional supports throughout the ESY session.

 

From the point of view of the district, if you agree to attend ESY it is in the best interest of your child and the program to attend as much as possible. Children often benefit from routine. ESY programs tend to run on shortened days and with different students. Attendance every day will ensure a comfortable learning environment. Classes without 1-2 students that are scheduled to have 10 waste school funds by having extra teachers on staff and ordering excessive materials.
For more information one ESY for this summer, contact your district, case manager, or teacher.

 

 

Why Start a Blog about Special Education?

As an employee in private and public schools, I have attended many child study team meets. Too many to count, actually. I always looked forward to walking through the door, taking a seat at the table, laying out my data, and planning supports that I feel would be beneficial for a student.

When I became an administrator, the tension grew. I was not only there to advocate for the student, but had to balance the district’s responsibilities, as well. It was equivalent to having to feed 5 children a well-balanced meal and only having $3 to do so. When I was able to pull off the miracle, I was on top of the world!

To be honest, I did not look forward to all meetings with the same vigor because I knew that I would have to make hard decisions that would impact the life of a child. I knew that the parents would be worried and scared, and I didn’t always have the perfect answer. In fact, nothing ever seemed to work perfectly. At best, I was able to walk away knowing that the child would benefit from the services we agreed upon and that they would be successful in life after leaving our district. I often left meetings with a heavy heart or pure exhaustion.

These experiences did not prepare me for the ball of nerves that would overcome me the minute my child started the special education process. I am lucky to live in a district that loves children and does their very best to ensure that every one of them feels loved and is growing academically. The case manager is a mother, herself and she deeply cares about her job and wants to do what is right for my daughter. For that, I will be eternally grateful. This knowledge, however, did not stop me from frantically reading and rereading every evaluation that I could get my hands on. It did not stop me from losing sleep the night before the meeting and the utter feeling of losing control. I was a mess. My first time on the opposite side of the table was a true learning experience that I will never forget.

The reality is that I was able to understand the reports that were presented. I had the education and experience to identify a variety of instructional resources and ask the right questions. My understanding of special education law helped me to request meaningful, research-driven interventions and accommodations.

I thought that once I left the meeting I would feel better. Everything that needed to be addressed was discussed and the child study team and I were on the same page. However, I still felt sick to my stomach. I wasn’t sleeping and was still worried about my child. I will always worry about my child’s education and future. That is a reality for all parents.

I did realize that I must share my knowledge of special education with more parents. I went into the meeting understanding what was going to happen. Many parents do not have that luxury. Many parents are confused, scared, and don’t know where to begin when asking for help. They attend the meetings asking little, if any, questions and feel as though they are not part of the team.

I also wanted to share the perspectives of the people on the child study team. Tension rises easily in meetings where people are planning the future of a child and do not stop to consider why emotions or statements are made. My hope is that through this blog, educators, administrators, parents, and specialist can build empathy and patience for one another. I was once told, “No one every wakes up with the intention of harming a child”. That simple statement is very important to remember. Everyone must work in collaboration to develop a plan that will meet the individual needs of every child. With more information and kindness, the process can be much easier.

Please feel free to share your experiences and questions at any time. Be respectful of each other and let’s create an environment of growth and compassion.