Any child with special education services has Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. At least one per calendar year, but most times more.
And in most cases, the child doesn’t attend or have a say in the meeting until middle school when transition services come in to play.
However, we have been seeing a trend in regular ed classrooms where students are leading parent-teacher conferences and taking ownership of their education.
But what about our students with special needs?
Why aren’t we preparing our students for taking ownership of their learning, education, and future when they are in elementary school? Why are they not involved sooner, and what about our students who are nonverbal or even moderately disabled? How can we get them involved, and what does it even look like?
One of my biggest missions as a special education teacher is giving my student’s a voice. Every. single one. They all deserve to have a voice and be heard.
Many times teachers are left to translate student actions and approximations into data, that in turn becomes a progress update or a new IEP goal. And an IEP is the most important document any child with a disability has in regards to school. So why not give the student a chance to tell us, the IEP Team, what they want.
So what does this even look like at the elementary level, for both teacher prep and student work? And how can we make it work across the board?
When I began implementing Student Led IEPs into my classroom, I first created a “starter kit” for each differentiated level.
For Level 1 (the most independent level), I printed each section of the Student Portfolio on cardstock, laminated it, and then had it bound at Staples.
In Level 1 (the most independent level), the student is using the sample letter, questions, and thank you letter to guide them in writing their own. Level 1 is for students who can work independently and only need a model to guide them in their responses.
For Level 2 (the tracing level), I printed it twice.
I created one laminated, cardstock version that I also had bound at Staples.
I plan on using the laminated version for students to practice tracing each part of their portfolio using a dry erase marker. It will wipe off easy, and it will work great as a “rough draft”.
Then I printed a second copy on regular paper, laminated a folder, and will be using this as my Level 2 hard copies.
When I know a student on this level is prepping for an IEP meeting, I can just take the Level 2 folder and copy all of its contents… and be set for that student’s portfolio.
For Level 3 (cut and paste fill in the blank), I laminated a yellow folder and printed all of the Level 3 materials to put inside.
Level 3 is great for students who may have fine motor deficits with writing, or for students who are working on writing complete sentences. To complete their Student Portfolio, they will simply cut and glue words and phrases of the letters and questions.
I do the same for the Level 3 folder as I with the Level 2… grab it and copy all of the contents when it’s time to prep for a student portfolio on this level.
Level 4 is great for students who may be nonverbal or need 1:1 assistance or are using an AAC device to communicate.
Level 4 is similar to Level 3 in that it is a fill in the blank style of work. It does, however, use pictures with text to complete each part of the Student Portfolio.
I, too, use a different colored, laminated folder that I can grab to copy the contents when it’s time to prep for a student’s IEP meeting.
Student Portfolios consist of the Toolkit and a simple, paper folder with the 3-prongs on the inside.
You can purchase the folders here, or you can stock up on them at Back to School time for pennies.
The first thing a parent and the IEP Team sees inside of the Student Portfolio is the Welcome Letter, thanking the parent for coming to the meeting.
Next is two work samples that the child chooses: one work sample the child feels shows exemplary work and the second shows a work sample the child struggled to complete.
Students answer the provided prompts to guide them in reflecting on their work. I use clear sleeves to house the work samples, and to protect the full integrity of the child’s work. They fit perfect inside of the 3-prong folder too.
You can purchase sheet protectors here.
The Student Portfolio then molds into a type of student-self-made present levels of performance. Students answer provided questions that help guide them in informing parents and the IEP Team about how and what the child feels he is doing in school and at home.
Last is a thank you letter written by the student. It can either be included in the Student Portfolio, or sent home in the child’s backpack after the IEP Meeting. I always give my students the choice… after all, it is their IEP meeting.
This will all depend on your district and/or your school. While I have never experienced an elementary student attending an IEP meeting, it is a possibility. You’ll want to discuss the options and logistics with your administration, even if the child attends the meeting only to present his or her Student Portfolio and then goes back to class.
Prior to any IEP meeting, the Prior Written Notice must legally be sent home. As the child’s teacher, I will also send home the Parent Letter, letting the parent know that their child is working on a Student Portfolio that will be shown and discussed at the IEP Meeting.
The child also writes a letter to the parent, asking them to attend the meeting. We will work on this letter and send it home after a parent has agreed to attend the meeting, and it goes home in a child’s backpack.
During the IEP meeting, when an elementary child is not present to present his or her Student Portfolio, the teacher will share the child’s Student Portfolio when asked how the child is performing in class. Not only is this the perfect time for teachers to share strengths and weaknesses they have observed in the classroom, it is also the perfect opportunity for a student to share his point of view on his education and learning.
The Student Portfolio goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to an IEP Meeting. It bridges the gap between school and home, allowing parents to see exactly what their child is and is not capable of, and their child’s point of view from no one else but the child.
Portfolios can be saved to show progress from year to year, or sent home with the parent.
I love sending the Student Portfolio home with the parent, along with a set of conversation starters and questions that the parent can ask the child.
Getting the parent involved with the child’s portfolio at home completes the teacher-parent-student triangle of any child’s education, and solidifies that we are all on the same team.
You’ve made the right choice for your students and for the families that you work with. To get started, you can grab the Student Led IEP Meeting Toolkit here.
If you have any questions along the way, feel free to reach out to me.