Script of the Audio Program | Helping Students Develop Their IEPs

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Audio Program: Helping Students Develop Their IEPs
A component of the Student’s Guide to the IEP  package
September 1995

 

Below, you’ll find the script of the audio program that accompanies NICHCY’s publication A Technical Assistance Guide: Helping Students Develop Their IEPs. The audio program is designed especially for families and school staff who are helping students with disabilities become involved in the IEP process. The program features the experiences, suggestions, and observations of teachers and parents who discuss how they have helped students become active participants in the IEP process.

The audio program for families and teachers is available online in MP3 format, for your convenience. Simply download it and you can play it on a computer, an MP3 player, or other mobile device. We’ve listed this, and the other components to the Student Guide set, below:

Student’s Guide to the IEP package (St1) includes these parts:

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Script of the Audio Program for Those Helping Students Become Involved in the IEP Process

Narrator:
Today we’re going to school We’re eavesdropping on a special education class taught by Marcy McGahee. As we enter, Marcy is standing at the front of the class as her students take their seats.

Marcy (talking to a student in the class):
Could you pull that down for me?

Narrator:
Using a projector, Marcy puts a form up on a large screen, a blank copy of an Individualized Education Program, more commonly known as an IEP.

Marcy McGahee:
The IEP describes your educational plan. In the IEP it also describes what your present level of functioning is, it talks about what goals and objectives you and your teachers have decided to work on for the next 12 months, and it also talks about your transition from high school into college or high school into a career.

Narrator:
The six students in Marcy’s class are all in high school. Some look a little lost, but all are curious as Marcy asks them to look at the papers on their desks.

Marcy McGahee:
Today we’re going to be beginning an IEP unit. You’re gonna be doing a pre-test on what definitions do you know about the IEP and what is it that I need to be teaching you. What am I going to be expecting from you leading your IEP meeting this year? Each one of you will take an active role in your IEP process. Antoine will be going this Thursday, and Antoine, you stood me up one more time…

Narrator:
On each desk is a completed IEP, each student’s own IEP from last year. Marcy moves around the room, helping her students look at their own forms. She wants each of them to know who signed it — and if that signature is not their own…

Marcy McGahee:
That means that somebody else is planning your life for you.. And let’s see what they’ve decided to say and plan for you, without your consent, or without your knowledge, or without your input.

Narrator:
Marcy’s got the class’ attention now, and she’ll have their attention for the next several months. She’ll work with her students, individually and as a group, as they think about, plan, and write their own IEPs for the coming year. Marcy has been working with students for years.

Marcy McGahee:
Four things I’d like to see students do if they’re going to participate in an IEP conference. First thing is to describe their disability. What is their disability? Even if it’s one sentence, that this is my disability. The second thing is to state what accommodations they would like to have because of that disability. The third thing, and they don’t have to be able to go into great detail, is to state what their goals and objectives are. And it may be, for a student who cannot read very well, it’s just that my goal and objective is to become a better reader, or my goal and objective is to become a better writer. And the final thing I’d like for students, the minimal for students to do, is to state what they plan to do in the future and how do they plan to get to that point.

Narrator:
But learning to do these things takes time. It’s a long journey, sometimes filled with the road blocks of self-doubt, poor self-esteem, and the fear of the unknown.

Marcy McGahee (talking to a student, who answers softly at times):
Okay…did you finish all…this stuff is due today. All right, basic skills, you didn’t have any, history, rules of… you got that to turn in today? Good. Science, what about that? (Student: Information and use of water, I already did that.) And your English, study vocabulary…did you write things down on cards yet? Great. Great, great, great. Spanish. Finish your worksheet? How’s that going, Edmond? (Student: It’s going okay. We took some quizzes, but we haven’t gotten them back yet.)

Narrator:
Marcy’s role is part teacher, part cheerleader, part advocate, as she tries to convince her students why they shouldn’t keep relying on someone else to fill out the IEP forms and make crucial decisions for them.

Marcy McGahee:
When I’m working with students and they want to know why it’s important that they participate, I tell them, Is it okay for me to decide what you’re going to be doing in the future? I’ve never had a student to say, sure it’s okay that you plan my future. They want to be in on planning their own future. And for them to do that, they need to be part of this process.

Narrator:
Assistant Principal, Carol Cash.

Carol Cash:
I think administrators expect the students tobe involved at this level or should expect them to be when they read the rules that talk about development of IEPs and student participation in that process.

Narrator:
On this tape, you’ll hear some ways to help students participate in developing their own IEPs. Much more detailed information about this process is given in the guidebook that accompanies this tape.

Marcy McGahee (talking to a student):
When’s this test? (Student: Today.) Today? You have English. What’s this say?

Narrator:
Marcy’s students are probably no different than your own. Some have learning disabilities, some have traumatic brain injuries, some have emotional problems. All have participated in developing their own IEP. But it was a participation they had to learn and that Marcy is determined to teach.

Marcy McGahee (talking to the class):
All right, right now, what we’re going to do is we’re going to go, I’m going to give you a pretest to see what you do know about the IEP process. You may know a lot of this information, or you may not know this information. Write down what you think the answers are. You all get an A for effort, if I see that you’ve definitely given this your best.

Narrator:
Marcy begins by giving her students a pre-test to find out just how much they already know about themselves, their disabilities, and the laws that entitle them to the services they receive. This pre-test asks students questions such as, What’s a disability? What is a reasonable accommodation? And what’s an IEP?

Marcy McGahee:
(Talking to the class) Okay, I’ll give you about…let’s say, 8 minutes to finish this. Raise your hand when you’re finished so I’ll have an idea of how you’re doing.

(Talking to the interviewer) As it turned out, most of the students didn’t know the information, so I started from scratch.

Tape:
My name Alex Ripley. I no see no good. I no talk so good sometime, too. Sometime…

Narrator:
Early in the year, Marcy shows her students films about disabilities, their disabilities, to help them understand their special needs better.

Marcy McGahee:
What I’ve found with teaching high school learning disabled students is we don’t want to talk down to them, we don’t want to show them a little cutsey film that would be insulting to them.

Narrator:
And often, Marcy says, when you choose the right material…

Marcy McGahee:
(Talking to the interviewer) Kids get a lot of information, that’s real helpful, because sometimes they see themselves.

(Talking to the class) Everybody’s ready now? Okay. Jose, can I ask you to please come and sit back down? Okay, first thing I want to do is, uh, have somebody tell me what do you think a learning disability is. Jose, what do you think a learning disability is? You don’t know? Antoine.

Antoine:
If you have, like, a weakness in a class.

Marcy McGahee:
Okay. Sophia, what… He got it? Anybody else have a different idea? Rhett?

Rhett:
A person that has a problem learning, or learning slower.

Narrator:
Marcy’s goal is to have each student look at himself or herself with honesty…and with pride. She wants each student to understand his or her disability as much as possible and what that disability means in practical terms, all the while keeping in mind that one is not bad or inadequate because one has a disability. Some students initially find this hard to believe, because of painful memories of past teachers or past incidences in their lives. Sometimes students will spontaneously share their experiences.

Marcy McGahee:
So here there might be a real tender moment with kids, and so you need to be aware that this might happen.

Jean Francoise:
My name is Jean Francoise. I’m 16 years old.

Narrator:
Jean Francoise, or J.F., as he is affectionately known, is one of Marcy McGahee’s star pupils. It’s only been four years since an accident left him with a traumatic brain injury. He’s had, and still had, a lot to overcome, but J.F.’s come a long, long way as he’s learned to deal with seizures, architectural barriers, and prejudice in the classroom.

Jean Francoise:
The teacher at first didn’t want me in his class, because he just didn’t like me. He thought that I shouldn’t be in school, but I didn’t want to, I wanted to be in school. So he had to put up with me all year round.

Narrator:
Through his work in Marcy’s class, J.F. can now describe his disabilities with ease and ask for what he needs to be successful in school.

Jean Francoise:
What I requested was an extra set of books, one for home and one for here at school; five minutes extra time between floors. I also need to use a computer for writing, I go faster, because I’m slow for writing with my hands. And stay after for assistance only on Thursday, because I go to physical therapy every other day. Extra time on tests and quizzes. I thought of some of these myself. Every teacher felt it was good, it made a big difference, because the stuff is spelled out and people understand.

Narrator:
Assistant Principal Carol Cash feels that there are many benefits of students being involved in the IEP process.

Carol Cash:
They understand their handicap, which makes it a whole lot easier for them to be advocates for themselves. They understand what they need as far as accommodations, they’ve participated in the process and accept their responsibilities. They understand that people are working towards certain goals, and I think that if they’re more aware of what the goals and objectives are, they’re more willing to work toward them, or more able to work toward them, because they know where they’re headed, just like if we know what we’re supposed to complete in a job, it’s a whole lot easier for us to be successful.

Narrator:
Knowing what you need and being able to ask for it appropriately, says this assistant principal, is a big first step toward change and growth.

Carol Cash:
I think that when they become comfortable with what their needs are, then they can readily express those needs to somebody else without getting angry or showing any kind of outburst in class that would be a behavior issue. I think that if they understand that there are accommodations to be made and they learn appropriately how to say that and to become self-advocates in an appropriate manner, then that probably does diminish any kind of behavior problems that are associated with the frustration you have if you can’t express that.

Narrator:
To help J.F. and her other students articulate their needs and goals, Marcy first tells her class about the laws that have been passed to ensure they get an education suitable to their needs.

Marcy McGahee:
Laws, you have to kind of be brief, because you don’t want to turn the kids off. I have found that if you kinda just let them know that there are some basic laws, like 94-142, or IDEA…. one of the most important laws students need to understand, and that teachers need to understand, what Section 504 of the Rehab Act is. And that they are entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Narrator:
More specific information about these laws is given in the guide that accompanies this tape.

Marcy McGahee (to her class):
Another thing that we’re gonna be doing is…we’re gonna be talking about the laws. There are three laws I feel are very important that you know about and that you’re able to discuss. What we’re going to do…

Narrator:
Preparation in class is the key to success. Marcy helps her students become organized on a daily basis.

Marcy McGahee:
First thing we’re going to do is get out your calendar book and let’s get organized.

Narrator:
She wants her students to make the connection between being prepared and asking for what they need to success, every day in class. (Marcy talking in background) One of the chief areas that Marcy likes to focus on is what she, and the law, both call reasonable accommodations. Marcy makes sure that each student has an accommodation sheet which lists the most common acccommodations that schools can make to help students with disabilities.

Marcy McGahee:
Writing and note-taking accommodations that might be helpful… such as the use of a tape recorder in the classroom, to have students’ notes. Test-taking accommodations, which would be extended time on tests and quizzes, to take tests orally, would it be more helpful to take tests written in a quiet place? Additional accommodations that I have found helpful over the years depends on different students’ disabilities, such as a student with a physical disability might benefit from having an extra set of books. And these are reasonable accommodations.

Of course, not all students can understand even general information about the laws or articulate their needs. Some of your students may be more like Erin Connolly’s….

Erin Connolly:
(Talking to her class) Remember, you’re not going to see the floor today, because you’re eating the pizza out, remember? Have a seat. Did you finish your juice? Okay, let’s go ahead. Suzy’s not going to be here. What? (talking to a student, who makes sounds) Take your coat off, find a chair, that’s fine.

(Talking to the interviewer) In my class, I have 6 students, one of which is a Spanish deaf student and another one who is basically learning English for the first time, she’s only been here for 6 months and she’s also a child that is mentally retarded. And the others range… two have Down Syndrome and one is a severely mentally retarded young adult.

My students can read survival words, stop, go, restaurant, menus. A few can read short, small paragraphs, like 2, 3, 4 sentences, and they can answer factual questions, like how many? Who is there? Those kind of questions. But they can’t write a complete sentence, they can’t abstractly think, oh down the road, what do I want to work on? For them, it’s here and now, the present, they take each day as a new day.

(Talking to the class) What’s today? (Student grunts.) Tuesday?

Narrator:
Like Marcy, Erin works with her students all year, so they can participate in their own IEP meetings.

Erin Connolly:
All have attended their IEPs. They participate fully in the meeting. They tell me through the year what they want. I take notes on what they want, and before I write the IEP, I sit down with them, casually, formally, and say, this is what you mentioned, do you still want, this is a good idea for you, this is what I would like, what do you think we should do? Generally, it’s whatever I say, but I definitely want their input. But I incorporate what they want into the IEP.

Narrator:
The goals that Erin wants her students to achieve are much like Marcy’s…self-worth and independence, even though it is quite possible that many of Erin’s students may not leave home or live on their own.

Erin Connolly:
But they could still help their parents. The key thing for me is the independence, and all of them, all of my students, can get jobs, and they will get jobs, but they still need to feel independent. And to me, if they’re living at home but still can help Mom and Dad grocery shopping or checking the oil, as long as the parents are comfortable and as long as the students, which are now a working adult, as long as they have learned a skill that can make them independent, then my goal has been reached. But if they’re living at home and can’t help anybody, then they’re not independent.

Narrator:
Both Marcy and Erin have used the structure of the IEP form and the regularly scheduled, yearly IEP meeting to help their students focus on themselves and their education.

Erin Connolly:
(Talking to the class) Remember how we did this the other day, the fraction stuff gate? Okay. Take a handful, take a handful, but don’t eat them, not yet. Take a handful. Keep going. This is one at a time, Kate, just get in there, yeah. Dig your hand in there, and grab a whole bunch.

Narrator:
Again, preparation is the key. Of course, the type of preparation may vary depending upon the needs and capabilities of the students. Erin’s students need the most basic of preparations, from her work with them throughout the year, to the reminders she gives them as the meetings approach.

Erin Connolly:
(Talking to the class) Remember how we did it the other day? Let’s look at the yellow ones. Do your Ms. Monday. Do your Ts. Tuesday. Do your W. Do your W, like that. Wednesday. Do your H. Thursday. One more. Fri- fingers up, Friday. Today’s Monday, like you told me. Monday. Okay?

(Talking to the interviewer) And I try to prepare them, like, way ahead of time, you know, it’s in 2 weeks, it’s in a week, it’s this week, it’s tomorrow, those kind of things, cos the more they know the better, because I find that the students need to be prepared.

Narrator:
Marcy uses much more detailed tools to prepare her students in her class. One favorite is a skills assessment sheet, which asks the students to list their strengths and weaknesses.

Marcy McGahee:
(Talking to the class) What’s a strength you have, Ann?
Ann: I don’t know.

Marcy McGahee:
(Talking to the interviewer) And some kids don’t know, like what, are your strengths and weaknesses? Many kids can tell you everything about their weaknesses, but they can’t think of any strengths that they have.

Marcy McGahee:
(Talking to the class) Ashonte, can you think of a strength that you have?

Ashonte:
Keeping things organized.

Marcy McGahee:
And a weakness?

Ashonte:
Geometry.

Marcy McGahee:
Kenda. What’s a strength that you have?

Kenda:
Nothing.

Marcy McGahee:
Oh come on. You’re in Spanish 3. Is Spanish a strength?

Kenda:
No, it’s a weak–

Marcy McGahee:
It’s a weakness?

Kenda:
Kind of.

Marcy McGahee:
Well, what’s a strength?

Kenda:
Geometry. Math.

Marcy McGahee:
Math is a strength. Sophia?

Narrator:
To help her students think about and list what they are good at, Marcy often asks them a series of questions.

Marcy McGahee:
First, I ask kids, what are your hobbies? What do you do on the weekends? What do you do when you get home? Do you spend time reading, do you go to the mall, do you talk on the phone? Do you hang out with your friends, are you a skater? You know, and then just go from there. Then as the years go on, you can get more in depth, but sometimes you have to start on the very basics, because some kids are very hesitant to open up.

Narrator:
Being able to list what they like about themselves, and also what they think they need to improve, helps prepare students for the give and take of the IEP meeting. Marcy’s strength and weakness sheet starts the process.

Marcy McGahee:
And this, I tell them, is probably the most powerful piece of information they’re gonna be using when they’re participating in their IEPs, because this gives you the first opportunity to share with your teachers and with your mom what those weaknesses might be and what those strengths are, before the teacher has the opportunity to share them.

So…if you know that you are not doing the homework in Ms. Smith’s class, you have the power first to say, well, in Ms. Smith’s class, my strengths is I like the class, I like Ms. Smith, but my weakness is I don’t always do the homework. And see, you’ve empowered, and when it comes back at the end of that conference, and Ms. Smith has the opportunity to talk about what it is she’s dissatisfied with, all she can say is, you know John, I really hope you work on that strength and weakness sheet you talked about and I hope you get that homework done. Cos you’ve already addressed it, so it’s not really a negative, it becomes then a positive.

Narrator:
Marcy believes that, while students need to speak openly about their weaknesses, it is important that teachers and other people in the IEP meeting take care to make their comments constructive and not just critical.
Marcy McGahee:

Teachers are very supportive. What teachers are not used to is that an IEP in the past has kind of been a session where the student hears a lot of negative stuff about him. I try to explain to teachers that if they have something to say, please save it for the end, but please let the student do his presentation on his IEP. And if they could, please put anything they’re having to say, or anything they would like the student to work on, or any concerns, put it in a positive tone, instead of being a negative, that so and so is not doing the work.

Narrator:
Marcy also talks to her students about the realities of the IEP meeting.

Marcy McGahee:
When you’re working one on one with the student, and you’re getting them for that IEP, you want to let them know that situations might come up in an IEP that you need to be aware of. Suppose, during your IEP, one of the teachers, wants to change or add a goal that you did not think about. And you need to be prepared that, because an IEP is a draft, that people can add or change goals. Also, you need to be prepared that maybe people might want to say things that might hurt your feelings. So if something happens in the IEP and you’re very uncomfortable with it, you need to express that, you know, I hear what you’re saying, but — and we role play this before — you know, I hear what you’re saying, but at this time, these are the goals that I would like to work on.

Narrator:
The goals some students set for themselves, says Erin, may seem completely unreachable to those who are teaching them, but then sometimes, a burning desire to do something is the catalyst that makes it happen. Erin remembers Beth, a student who decided that she would pass a literacy test.

Erin Connolly:
No one said she could do this, I mean, it was written that she shouldn’t even do it, because there was no way she could do it.

Narrator:
She didn’t pass the first time she took the test.

Erin Connolly:
The first time she missed it by five.

Narrator:
Student and teacher persisted, because Beth was determined to take the test again and pass.

Erin Connolly:
And she wanted it, and I sat down with her before both tests, and said, you really don’t have to do this, but since you are doing it, just do the best you can. I tried to help her. We got big paper out for her, and she just went to town, and she stayed down there, she stuck with it, and she did the best she could.

Narrator:
Success…

Erin Connolly:
And all of a sudden I heard this scream, and I was like, oh my gosh, what’s going on in there?
And I was like, What’s going on in here? She had wanted to do this for so long. She knew that the math was just way beyond her, but just to see the joy in her eyes when she yelled, “I passed the literacy test! It was only by 5 points, but I passed the literacy test.” I mean, it was just — nice. And I will never forget the joy and the pride in her mother’s eyes. Beth couldn’t wait to get home to call her dad….

Just having expectations for her, it did pay off, and that’s the goal, she wanted it and it was more power to her. And boy did her 9th grade year start off differently because she did so well.

Narrator:
Because the IEP is developed through consensus, says Marcy, students should not be adamant or inflexible. But she recognizes that they may find it hard to hear others talk about them, and in the beginning may find the role of self-advocate a new and strange one. Assistant Principal Carol Cash…

Carol Cash:
Many time they’re uncomfortable, I think, being an active participant with seven adults sitting around and here’s this student and everyone’s looking at him, waiting for an answer.

Narrator:
Like many parents, Suzanne and Scott Ripley were apprehensive when they first decided to bring their teenage son, Joe, to his IEP conference.

Suzanne Ripley:
He’s moderately retarded, he has quite a few behavior problems, and I was very reluctant to bring him. I felt from a philosophical level that I probably really ought to, because I thought it was important for all of us to know what he wanted and for him to know that his ideas were valued and that we were interested in hearing from him. But I was really worried. I thought he might be disruptive, I thought that he wouldn’t sit through the meeting, that he would become a problem and we would have to stop. I thought he would embarrass me, I thought we would embarrass him. I thought he would be really uncomfortable hearing people criticize him or say things about what he couldn’t do, or talk to him in words I thought he might find sort of demoralizing.

And I was also uncomfortable about any comments I might have about the program. I didn’t think that I could talk about concerns I had with teachers or programs in front of him, because I didn’t think I could be critical or in any way negative in front of a student from that school.

But I knew that he needed to be involved and so I took him.

Narrator:
As the meeting progressed, the Ripleys sat, almost waiting for Joe to grow bored or disruptive.

Suzanne Ripley:
Well, he kept quiet the whole time. Then I thought, well maybe he’s just kind of turned us off. But after it was well over an hour, somebody turned to him and asked him a question. He clearly had been listening, and he answered the question. Finally, someone said, well, Joe, what is it that you want us to put in your IEP? And he said, I want to learn to drive a car.

Scott Ripley:
In Joe’s IEP, we discovered, and the school discovered, that his desire to drive was really the biggest thing motivating him this year. I think that was a great insight into a way to relate to Joe, that otherwise the school might not have had. And I think that they were intelligent enough to see that as a means of getting through to Joe, because now they’re using the driver’s manual as his reading book this year.

Narrator:
Teacher Erin.

Erin Connolly:
From student involvement in the IEP, I’ve learned that they do take it seriously. They might not be aware of what’s going on, but boy they really are aware. They really really are aware of what they want, and we need to really really seriously talk to them and get their advice and take it legitimately.

Narrator:
As a facilitator, Marcy does try to calm both the student’s and the parents’ fears as much as possible, before the IEP conference.

Marcy McGahee:
(Talking to the interviewer) One of the things we do prior to the IEP is that the parents know what everything is going to be at the IEP before it happens. Because students practice a lot with their parents prior to the IEP conference — cos they practice with me and then Italk with the parents on the phone –we haven’t had a lot of changes at the IEP conference.

(Talking to the class) What do we do when we have an IEP conference? The evaluation schedule… how often are we evaluated?

Narrator:
Step by step, Marcy is leading her students to greater self-awareness and participation in the educational process.

Marcy McGahee:
I’m getting the feedback from the student. I already will get the feedback from the parent and the IEP committee but the person I think is most important is the kid.

Carol Cash:
Don’t make the IEP development process less important than it is. Show that you support the process, that you understand the process, and show that you support the teachers and the parents and the students when they develop that IEP.

Narrator:
Assistant Principal Carol Cash.

Carol Cash:
First thing I tell an administrator who is getting started as an administrator is to make sure you’re aware of the rules for IEPs, make sure you know what the current regulations are, make sure what your expectations are. Get comfortable with your teachers, so that you can enjoy that IEP process and feel comfortable as you and the teachers discuss it. Make a point of getting to know the parents and the students that you’re dealing with, so that they’re comfortable in the setting with you and that you actually become an active part of that IEP process.

Narrator:
(With background noises from Marcy’s class) As the class ends, Marcy’s students get ready for their next teacher. Right now, it’s the beginning of the year, and many of Marcy McGahee’s students are hesitant to speak up in class. To an outside observer, some of the students, slouched in their seats, look like they won’t get involved this year. But most will.

Over the years, as she’s moved on to another school system, Marcy has even had some students keep up with her and continue to ask for help when it’s time for the IEP conference planning to begin. Looking over her class with an experienced eye, Marcy smiles. She’s optimistic. It will be another busy year.

Marcy McGahee:
Once you empower a student, it will amaze you what some students will do to continue the process. Some students will never want to do the process over again, and some students will just never let anybody else do it for them.

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