Thursday, August 8, 2013

Seeking Parent Involvement in the IEP Process

I think that promoting parent involvement is the key to success for an IEP meeting. I've had parents who really want to take part in the process, parents who are timid and unsure of themselves, and parents who are overwhelmed with raising a child with special needs, never mind taking part in the educational process. No matter what parent "type" you find yourself with, you are responsible for making their participation successful. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Consider sending home a questionnaire before the meeting to have the parents fill out. This might include strengths and weaknesses they are seeing in academics, home life, social skills, behaviors, etc. This may guide you in your IEP prep work for the meeting. Its great to come to a meeting with ideas for the IEP, and if you have already received written parent input, you can even get started drafting the IEP. With a lot of Team members at a meeting, this prep work will save you from going into overtime.
  • For particularly involved parents, I have met beforehand 1:1 to go over my goal ideas. this brief meeting allows us to be on the same page for academics os that I can briefly summarize these goals during the meeting and let other service providers focus on their goals during the Team meeting. Sometimes I have kids whose behaviors seem to take the focus of our Team process so this can be a great strategy to actually talk about academics with moms and dads. 
  • If you are not going to put in the leg work before the meeting, consider coming in with a few choices for parents. This is really great for the timid parents who want to be involved but they would not even know where to start. 
  • Consider asking parents what the one thing we could work on at school would make a considerable difference for them at home. Is it transitioning, hand washing, making seasonally appropriate clothing choices, folding laundry, using a key in a front door, sustained independent play, etc. This list could go on forever! I teach children in middle school and many of them seem so typical. Then I took them to a theme park and I was shocked, my students had no sense of money handling. Yea they could identify coins and dollars or add money with paper and pen. However, one child handed all her cash to the cashier to figure out how much she owed. Another child kept all of the bills stuffed in his pocket without any sort of organization system and when trying to pay, he took forever finding the right bills. I had never known! Don't forget how much the parents can be of use to tell you these "little" details. 
I want to summarize with saying that you may have this child for 1, 2, or even 3 years of his or her life but the parents have him or her for the rest of their lives. Many of the children I work with will never be fully independent. That being said, the educational goals you write is going to GREATLY affect the lives of the parents you are working with. Let them take part in making decisions for educational planning. It is not supposed to be a few curriculum standards: it is an individualized education plan to fill in the holes that the typical curriculum is not fully fulfilling. Woo tongue twister. 

Hope this helps you take the first steps in parent involvement!

My Best,


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Making the IEP Accessible to General Educators

I am sure I am not the only special educator out there who has to battle against the stigma of the IEP in the general education classroom. Inclusion is another pendulum swing of education that I believe is here to stay for many, if not eventually all children with special needs. That being said, it is a very different classroom than many of my colleagues knew when they first began teaching. Expectations are ever growing and demanding of all teachers (without proper compensation ;). Sometimes in my job I can't just do it all for my kiddos. I have to rely on the general educators to maintain a learning environment that affords the best possible learning opportunities for the diverse needs. I have found that a little early preperation made by me can be immensely useful for my general education colleagues . This can help make our working relationship easier in the long run! At the start of every year we, as special educators, are required to make copies of IEPs for general education teachers who will be teaching our kiddos. Since I know that the best case scenario is a skimming of these IEPs once or twice, I try to make a document that is more useful and practical for the general education teacher. I start by making a list of the students in the classroom of the general education teacher. Then I open to each IEP accommodations and modifications list. I make a table with all of the students names in the first column. Across the top I list all of the accommodations and modifications they receive in the classroom. Then across each child's row I "x" off the accommodations and modifications that they individually require. Here's an example:

Now when the general educator plans a writing lesson, he/she can look in the "Allow use of word processor for writing assignment" column, and count how many student computers should be available. I have heard from general educators that this grid is time-saving and functional for their planning needs. Many teachers have kept multiple copies for home and school etc. for the planning on the go that every teacher has to do! As the special educator, I can feel satisfied that these services will be met throughout the year. Do you have any special things you do to make general educators feel supported teaching an inclusion classroom?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

IEP Tips and Resources for the Special Educator

Happy Tuesday! I am thrilled about the topic of my upcoming posts on the IEP. If you go into Special Education, you cannot be shy at completing paperwork. This is a necessary evil in the field. The perfectionist in me really loves the challenge of sitting down and writing an IEP. You have to ask, who is the child? What are his or her skills? What does he or she need to be successful this year, next year, and in life? This is not a one person job! This is why we call it a "Team process". However, if you are anything like me, you like to be prepared. You like to go into an IEP meeting having already formulated an outline for the goals and objectives. However, this does NOT mean that you did this all by yourself! This week I will be going over the process of writing the IEP as well as how to make it a true and valuable resource for Team members. Here are the plans for this weeks bloggie posts:

Notice teachers, tomorrow I will be focusing on general educators. I always hear moans and groans from general educators in the teachers room about the "extra" planning it takes to have children with special needs in the classroom. Now I know, thats not everyone. But this post will be specific steps a special educator can make to make a general educators year more manageable and fight off the stigma attached to the IEP. Don't forget to return tomorrow so you can see what I am talking about!

Okay, onto todays post. Writing an IEP is an extremely important process that takes a considerable amount of skill. Its a legally binding document, you need to make sure everything you write is relevant, practical, and backed by data. I found this book an excellent resource for myself as I write IEPs. It would be equally helpful for parents who are invested in learning about the process of writing an IEP and becoming active Team members. 

Planning an IEP for a child with severe special needs can be even more challenging. I always think about what will make the difference between living on their own or living in a residential home. This question takes a different shape for each child, but it is nice to think of that long term, best living situation. What is going to make his or her life just a little easier, more interesting, rewarding? Sometimes our goals take more than a year to accomplish, how can I break this apart into manageable pieces? The following book has some great ideas on creating a functional curriculum for children with special needs. It guides you into setting up a curriculum and when this plan is made, you have a goal in mind. In the appendix there  are pages and pages worth of scope and sequence lesson planning ideas for age/grade level. IEP goals are practically handed to you along with a perfect curriculum plan to accomplish the goal. It was recommended reading for a graduate course I took and I use it for practically every IEP I write.

You may or may not be a Massachusetts resident as I am. However, Massachusetts also has an excellent resource to help you write an IEP. It is based on the Massachusetts state standards, which is an adoption of CCSS. I don't know how much/little Massachusetts adjusted the frameworks to create state standards, however, I use this resource regularly to consider grade appropriate IEP goals. If your students are in any inclusion, having some curriculum in common is pretty important. This is the resource guide for teachers when creating the MCAS alternative portfolio. This is our state testing alternative for students with severe disabilities. It takes each curriculum standard and provides multiple simplified skills that are considered making progress towards the same standard. It is a big resource, but the charts provided for each standard are extremely helpful. All four subjects are included, however, only ELA and Math are CCSS (ELA is being released this fall, stay tuned). Check out these resource guides. 

These are my three go-to's for the beginning stages of planning an IEP. On Friday I will have a few more resources for you to specifically help you write an IEP goal. I will even model some of my favorite goals for my junior high life skills kiddos!

My Best,


Friday, August 2, 2013

Technology for Teachers and a Freebie!

Yay for Friday! I have compiled some great sites for teachers. If your a new teacher, this list is going to be gold. If your a veteran teacher, I hope the list reminds you of a resource your forgot about, or maybe, just maybe, I found something new to share with you. Before I share my technology for teachers though, I am linking up with Teaching Blog Addict for Freebie Friday, don't forget to click the link and check out all of the fun freebies!

Freebie Fridays Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

What I love most about this product is the awesome slider choice maker I crafted (if you look in the product picture above, the finger will slide to 1,2,3 depending on what type of problem it is!) Here are the directions to DIY!

Moving along to Technology for Teachers. Here I want to share the multitude of websites and apps that help me plan, create materials and print worksheets from. 
These sites are my yearly subscriptions and well worth the investment. I share with a few other SPED teachers. All of them offer all subject areas as well as some themed topic activities and worksheets. Teacher File Box includes all of the resources you might find in purchasing an Evan Moore curriculum book. love that I can search by grade level, subject, and CCSS. 
Reading A-Z is great for printable leveled readers. If you read Thursday when I mentioned RAZ Kids then you may have already found out about Reading A-Z. Unfortunately, they are separate subscriptions, however, purchasing both can reduce the price. This is a great leveled reader series. 
News2You is specifically made for children with special needs. This visual news series is amazing! Love the leveled readers and the fact the we can keep up with current events, hello social studies curriculum. Whats even better is that every week they release a boatload of new worksheets  to cover: Current Events, Vocabulary, Recipe, Interactive PowerPoint, Joke, Puzzles / Games, Assessment, Skill Worksheets, Sports News, Holidays, Communication Board, Science Experiment. Couldn't be more awesome! The readers even come in a high, medium, and low reading level. Love how easy it is to differentiate!

  1. Super Teacher Worksheets $19.95
  2. EdHelper $19.99
  3. Teacher File Box by Evan Moore $99.95
  4. Reading A-Z $89.95
  5. Enchanted Learning $20.00
  6. News2You $149.00
  1. Have Fun Teaching
  2. Common Core Sheets
  3. A to Z Teacher Stuff
  4. Kid Zone
  5. DLTK Crafts for Kids
  6. ABC Teach
  7. Education
  8. TLS books
  9. Worksheet Fun
  10. Kids Pages
  11. Worksheet Works
  12. Worksheet Genius
  13. Kids Learning Station
  14. Kids Front
  15. SchoolSparks
  1. Boggles World ESL
  2. Florida Center for Reading Research
  3. Free Phonics Worksheets
  1. Boardmaker Share
  2. Do2Learn
  4. Tinsnips
  5. Cindy's Autistic Support
  6. Building Blox (Visual worktask ideas)
  7. Ms. Sue's OT Room
  8. Speaking of Speech Materials Exchange
  1. Kids Tube
  2. BrainPop (Not all free)
Hope this list helps! Thanks for reading and don't forget to go back up and get your Problem Solving Freebie!

My Best,


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Educational Websites

If you've been reading all week, I hope you have found a few new resources! If today is your fist day checking out my blog, don't forget to look back at all of the technology posts I have shared this week! Today I will be talking about my go-to websites for on-line learning. A few of these have a subscription cost, but not many. If you like the site, check your local library website to see if they have a subscription already. This is how I access 2 of the sites below! Since I want this to be a resource for you, I am not going to bulk this post down with my blah blah. Most of the sites I will simply list and let you explore. I will talk about my two favorites though, I just can't resist! I even added a video for my favorite math site below, hopefully since I didn't talk too much you will watch the video. 

 Don't forget to stay tuned tomorrow for a Freebie Friday :D


This online leveled books reading library is a great way to target independent reading. A classroom subscription is $89.95 for the year for up to 36 students. I think it is well worth the price since it requires very little upkeep and can be used daily. As the books are correlated with many major reading assessments, it can be used for appropriate skill building. There is even individual student data collection embedded into the program for comprehension and fluency progress! I love assigning reading on this site for nightly homework, now parents don't have the additional job of finding appropriate reading for their child! This is an easy way to differentiate reading tasks without the kids noticing. 


  1. Math Playground
  2. Cookie   (This is all subjects!!)
  3. IXL Math
  4. AplusMath
  5. LearningPlanet
  6. Khan Academy

This is my go-to for math. If you've ever wondered about the flipped classroom, this is where to start. This free site offers teachers and students a whole new way to engage in the act of learning. This resource has a video library on a wide range of math topics, a very wide range. I've had kids working on addition and subtraction, but the skills go all the way through 12th grade. This is a site that can literally grow with the student. After the videos, there are practice problems to support your practical learning of the concepts. If your not getting it, the site will provide hints. It won't "pass you" until you have really shown an understanding.  For my students who prefer to learn independently, this site really works for them. I worked with a student with Autism this past school year who was particularly successful learning math on this site. Teachers can see student data, and even get a summary of class performance. How cool is that? Here is the creator giving a Ted talk on Khan Academy:

My Best,


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Apps for Math

Having some good math apps is really important to me. I hate giving math worksheets to the kiddos. The amount of busywork that this leads into for me to grade all of those problems on each worksheet is a nightmare. I hate grading. However, I know the kids need to practice. Especially when it comes to learning the facts. I can't do discrete trials all day though, so here is where the iPad becomes my best friend. I love the apps that collect data, work on skills in a meaningful way, and make the kiddos enjoy it and actually want to play! These are my tried and true math app successes. 

Do you remember yesterday when I said that I had one app that mixed literacy and math? This app is my all time favorite app I have ever purchased. I know, I know, lots of great free apps out there but give this one a moments thought. 

Here it is, the TeachMe apps. I have the Kindergarten level and the second grade level. Purchased separately, levels range from toddler-third grade, each $1.99. What I love about them is that you can add up to 40 students and the data collects for each when independently. Each app has different subjects, and they do build upon each other. Teachers can go in and turn on or off different subjects if you want the child to be focusing on  a specific skill. The data is golden, you can pick how many questions in a row the child needs to answer correctly in order to identify the question as learned. I think thats a great feature that goes well with my IEP goals. I always write something like "over 3 consecutive trials" and this aligns perfectly with the app. All I have to do is set it up to match my goals and  I have a perfect independent center going. The sight words are done in discrete trials (see picture below) the math has digital counters at this level as well as multiple choice! In the second grade app there is long addition and subtraction. These subjects have a virtual chalkboard and the app has a smart reader to analyze the child's answer for accuracy. A few of my kiddos with poor handwriting skills had a problem with this, just to bear in mind. 

The kiddos love the app because not only is it engaging, but there is a coin reward center. When they earn enough coins they can "purchase stickers" for a virtual sticker board. How cool?

When I am not using this app for addition and subtraction, I have the kids use the Hungry Fish app. This app challenges kids to think of the different ways to create a sum of a given number. It is free, however there are in app purchases for subtraction levels and negative levels. I just go with the free version, and I love it! Simple, fun, and engaging, it doesn't even seem like work!

This app works perfect for learning number order and its free. This is much easier than taking out a velcro number line. The numbers go through 199, and you can pick from 10-20 tiles. 

Another free app and the final one I am going to recommend. Of course I need to mention multiplication and here is a fun, game like, way to work on the facts. What is interesting about this one is that the answer is given to the child, and he or she needs to pick the numbers (from a small field of 4 numbers to start but it does get larger) that multiply to the given product. Certainly the child already needs to have some skill with his or her facts to be successful in this app. There is also an addition level, same idea. 

Thats all the apps I use in my classroom regularly! I do have a few others I pull out during specific lessons, however, I try to stick to these as often as I can so that the students begin making progress within the apps that collect data. What apps do you use, do you have any recommendations for me? 

Don't forget to come back and check out my tried and true educational websites!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Apps for Literacy

I love teaching literacy. I have a few apps that I could not say enough about and they are all I really use.  I am going to recommend apps for fluency, sight words, comprehension, and spelling. A few good apps are much more important than a lot of free ones. A few of these cost money but they give me great data and seem to truly support practice and and learning of the skills they cover. 

FluencyK12 Timed Reading Practice By K12 Inc.

This App is a great app to practice reading fluency for learners who are reading at k-4th grade reading levels. It costs $1.99 In the settings you can add multiple students and choose their starting reading level. Once chosen, the child or teacher clicks on his or her name and begins reading a short story. The timer is set, and on the last page the child clicks done to mark the end of the reading. Finally the following screen is shown giving you the wpm of the students reading. Data can be saved on the reader within the app.

Sight Words: Sight Words by Photo Touch by

     This App is perfect for sight word discrete trials and free! It has a simple and clean format, and it is highly customizable. You can choose which word group library to work on from preschool to third grade or even be working on multiple grade word lists. There is a feature where you can select a maximum and/or minimum of word choices will be displayed. You can even go into a word list and turn on/off selected words. Further, you can change the audio of the word to your own voice. In SpEd, I spend so much time working on sight words. This makes it so easy to customize a quick trial without writing out endless light words on flashcards. Not to mention the electronic format is highly motivating to my kiddos 😉

       This is my favorite app so far. I love working on question answering! Unfortunately you can only collect data on one student at a time and the data does not build over time. That being said, I love that you can target one specific wh/how question or a random selection. There are three levels of questioning. All levels have a question and a picture to examine in order to answer. In level one, you can select from 3 answers. By level 3, you are selecting from 5 answers. You need to listen to the question carefully in order to pick the best answer. You can select color code, text, and/or audio reinforcement. My kids crack up at the graphics when the get an answer correct.  This is a pricey app at $5.99 but I would say it is well worth the price. If you look at the final image you can even see the students stats on specific questions. Great data collection!

Spelling: Rocket Speller By Little Big Thinkers

My kids love practicing spelling. This app looks more like a game then it does a learning task and it means that it is favored by my kiddos. They love the space theme and its totally free. There is an alien who does all the audio reinforcement, what a hoot! There are 5 levels in this app:

1: 3-6 letter words. Place letters in any order. Audible and visual hints.

2: 3-10 letter words. Order required. Audible and visual hints.
3: 3-4 letter words. Order required. Audible hints. Adaptive assistance.
4: 5-6 letter words. Correct order required. Adaptive assistance only.
5: 7-10 letter words. Correct order required. Adaptive assistance only.

The visual hints means that you drag the letter to its spot by matching. There is also a picture of each word as it is requested.Adaptive assistance is smart technology that recognizes when a player is struggling and provides audible hints. It is a fun and simple spelling app for kids, and they are now offering a "Plus" app for 2.99 that includes phonics and sight words. As you go you earn parts to a rocket ship and once its built (I think after 12 words?) the student plays a mini-game by steering it through space to collect stars. Pretty awesome. 

Well I love literacy so much that tomorrow, during Apps for Math, I am going to share an app that has both literacy AND math. I know I love the apps I've shared so far. But I will say this is my ultimate favorite of all the apps I am going to share. So don't forget to come back for more!

My Best,