Thursday, April 4, 2019

Special #Edtech Tools for #SpecialEducation

All educators want to be organized and efficient.  Each person has their own unique way of accomplishing those things.  Some people have desks and classrooms that look like a tornado blew through, yet they still know where everything is and can get their tasks done.  Others have to have a spotless work area with a specific location for everything.  I fall into the latter category.  I am so organized that colleagues in the past jokingly questioned if I ever taught anything because there was so little clutter and students, knowing that I was a little obsessive-compulsive about my desk, bookshelves, etc. that they would purposely move things, even if it was simply rotating my stapler at a 45 degree angle, knowing that I would move it back as soon as I realized it.  

As a special education teacher, organization and efficiency are even more important.  While I have always had deadlines, the deadlines that I have now have legal implications.  If I don't complete an IEP and hold the meeting by the deadline, I am in violation of district, state, and federal laws.  If I don't take care to ensure my communication and storage of information is confidential and secure, I could also be in violation of laws.  Between my organized-to-a-T nature and these implications, I find it even more important to be as organized as I can be, so I have come up with a short list of Google tools that keep me organized and within the law. 

Now, these tools are not exclusive only to special education.  You can use these tools in the same or similar fashion regardless of your specialty.  However, my descriptions of my usage of these tools are definitely going to be catered to the special education teacher.  If that does not interest, you are free to stop reading now and do something else more productive with your time and energy.  It's ok, I will not judge you! 

What my student information and IEP schedule sheet
 looks like currently toward the end of the school year!
At the beginning of the year when I first received my caseload, I had to determine several things.  I had to figure out when each student's annual IEP was due if the student was due for their three-year evaluation and IEP, whether they were designated as eligible for special education services and limited English proficiency, how to contact their families, and much more.  My first thought was how tedious it was to obtain all of this information in our student information system because I had to look up each student individually, rather than seeing all of my students in one place.  That being said, I created a Google Sheet to organize everything.  In my sheet, I entered each student's name, their grade level, their IEP due date, their limited English proficiency status, and parent/guardian names, phone numbers, and email addresses.  I also created a system of color coding to designate that the student's three-year evaluation was due and when I completed the student's IEP.  As the year has gone on, each student has been highlighted to show that I have completed their plan until next year.  At the time of this writing, I only have one more IEP due before the end of the year!

Once I figured out when my meetings were due, I set out to create a folder for each of my students in Google Drive.  Each folder would contain any evidence that I needed to prepare their IEP, a series of forms for the IEP process (more on this momentarily), and any other information deemed useful for the process of writing the IEP.  I created these folders with the intention of using them for as long as I had the student on my caseload.  Best case scenario, I would have each student for the remainder of their school career and would be able to compare items as they progressed through school.  If a new case manager was to take on one of my students, it would be easy to share my information about the student with the new case manager. 

I also created a series of Google Forms to collect data during the process of building their IEP.  The first form that I created was a parent information form.  In the form, I created a series of questions for parents to answer regarding their child's abilities, struggles, and suggestions for accommodations.  The parent is one of the most integral pieces of the IEP process and sadly, many parents do not participate fully in the process of their child's education.  While I have not received information back from all parents on the form, it has been tremendously helpful in building many of my students' plans this year. 

A second form that I created was designed to be sent to teachers.  The form asks a series of questions regarding teachers perceptions of the student's abilities, struggles, behavior, work ethic, and many others.  Teachers are also asked to provide accommodations that they believe the student would benefit from having in the classroom.  Since I cannot be in a student's classes every day to fully evaluate their abilities, I rely heavily on teachers to provide me with this feedback.

The third form that I created is designed for the student.  I have had students complete it on their own, or I have filled it out while I ask them the questions from the form.  Either way, I sit down with students during the IEP process to ask them their perceptions on their abilities, where they struggle, what has helped them in the past, what they believe may help them in the future, and because I work with high school students, what their plans for after high school may be and what we will need to accomplish in order to meet their post-high school goals.  This is perhaps my favorite part of the process, where I really feel that I can connect with a student on a personal level. 

If you would like to see my forms, please click on the links below.  You will be asked to make a copy of the forms for your own use; use it, modify it, throw it in the trash when you are done, your choice!

A sample of my Google Keep, with some of my
completed checklists for IEP meetings.
When beginning the IEP process, there are several steps that must be taken into consideration, such as contacting parents to schedule a meeting, sending out meeting notices, collecting information from parents, teachers, and the student, working with related services providers like psychologists, speech-language pathologists, counselors, etc.  This is why for each student, I create a checklist note in Google Keep to track each step of the process.  I color code each note to set them apart from other students and pin each one to my page so that they are always at the top.  As I complete each step of the IEP process, I check it off of my list and entering the date in which I completed the step.  While I usually don't set reminders for my calendar, it is a nice option to have, especially if I have several IEPs all due around the same time.  The reminder function allows me to post it to my calendar and notify me when I need to have the process completed. 

This system has served me very well in my first year as a special education teacher.  While it may not work for others, and others may use a different set of tools (I've heard that OneNote is a great IEP organization tool if you are a Microsoft user), but regardless of the tools or the system, as long as the process is completed, then you are in good shape! I would love to hear others tips for the IEP process, so if you have them, share them out on the socials! 

Until next time... 

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