I am both a parent and an educator. Like most parents, I am trying to navigate the school system as well as I can- clear as mud?!
As an educator, I am trying to teach all my students something new :) Seriously, I have a group of amazing & unique individuals. My aim for each year is to support and guide my students forward in their educational journey.
As a 'teacher' parent, I try really hard to leave my insider knowledge at the door when I am wearing my parent hat. THIS IS IMPORTANT- I have to let myself trust my children's teachers. I do check in daily with one teacher (see Inclusive Education: A Parent's Guide to Inclusion), but I leave my teacher hat at school. It is common to hear me say I know a lot about teaching until it has to do with my kiddos.
Anyway, the aim of this post is to provide a little insider knowledge on program planning for parents from a teacher. Teachers need parents: we need your help, we need your insight, we need your perspective, and we need you on the team. It does not matter who your child is, where your child is, if your child requires significant support or not, teachers & parents need to work together.
In the next section of this post, I will outline a few key terms thrown around in program planning and what they all mean. As well, I will try to give you a few areas to think about when starting to navigate the school system.
In this section, I am going to outline a few terms starting with the broadest (in terms of support) and narrowing in individualization. Before I move along to the next term, I will provide you with a few points to think about. This post is a brief overview. As this series progresses, I will explore each area in more detail. It is important to note that different jurisdictions refer to terms differently, I have tried to keep this post as an inclusive overview. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com if you have any personalized questions or want further clarity.
Core curriculum covers all subjects. It includes all relevant information (benchmarks, instructional resources, continuum) to course content for specific grades. Core curriculum is the foundation for all student learning in any school.
Parents & Guardians, you should be aware of the core curriculum since it will drive your child's education. Assessments, reports, and assignments will be based on these documents. If your child requires adapting or modifying, it means that the core curriculum is adapted or modified. If your child requires individualized programming, it means that the core curriculum is not appropriate at this time.
Universal Design For Learning (UDL)
UDL is the design of all aspects of the school so it is accessible, accommodating, and fair for all members of the school community. UDL is an educational framework based on research that encompasses 3 principles:
- provide multiple means of REPRESENTATION
- provide multiple means of ACTION & EXPRESSION
- provide multiple means of ENGAGEMENT
In other words, choice and accessibility for all are key features of UDL.
Parents & Guardians, this means for you that you should be able to enter your child's school or classroom and instantly 'see' your child working in the classroom. In a UDL setting, all children feel welcomed, valued, included, and a part of. No one setting is the same because the environment is created based on the needs of the community members (the students).
Differentiation is similar to UDL in that it aims to provide a framework for supporting all learners. Differentiation is an approach to presenting concepts, activities, evaluations, and lessons in a variety of ways in order to support diverse learners. In other words, differentiation is the tailoring of instruction & evaluation to meet individual needs.
Differentiation is a responsive and effective instructional approach. It is inclusive of a student's readiness, interests, and learning preferences. It allows teachers to build on students' background knowledge in order to make connections to their new learning.
Parents & Guardians, differentiation is what allows your child to learn in a way comfortable to them while being a part of a group. So, when you see choice in assignments or assessments or instruction please understand that this an instructional method aiming to target diversity within the class.
Adapted Learning Materials
Adapted learning materials are materials that aim to increase access and reduce barriers to learning in order to meet diverse student needs. Unlike Assistive technology, adapted materials aim to target a wider spectrum of learners.
Parents & Guardians, what you need to know about adapted learning materials is that they exist to help your child and other children. Their purpose is to reinforce learning for a variety of students.
Assistive Technology (AT)
Assistive technology is a product, piece of equipment, or a system that enhances the functional capabilities of an individual. Unlike Adapted learning materials AT is specific to an individual and their unique needs.
Parents & Guardians, you should be aware of any AT your child is using at school as it may be of benefit to them at home. Consistency is key!
Resource support is designed to help support students who require additional support with an aspect or aspects of the school program. It is individual to each student and the duration varies depending on the needs. Remember, all students require support at different times in their school- BUT they all require some support (different levels of intensity and different levels of support).
Parents & Guardians, it is important to understand resource support whether or not your child receives this support at this time. Resource is not a bad thing! It is a helpful thing. We all struggle from time to time, resource support is there to help students get explicit and focused support in an area of challenge. The idea is that a resource teachers' caseload is fluid and ever changing....as the students gain a deep understanding of the concepts with which they struggle, they will exit the caseload and new students will come on. If your child has been followed by resource for a prolonged period or without much discussion with you, then follow up with this. Resource can be a double edged sword- especially when students remain on the caseload for too long.
Program Assistants or Teacher Assistants (TA) or Paraprofessionals
Program Assistants are there to support certain students with specific areas. The goal is to help increase access to the school program for students. Most TAs support specific students who require individual attention in the areas of safety, hygiene, daily living skills, and behaviour. However, they may support any student within the school based on programming and the context of the day. TAs are a part of the school team!
Parents & Guardians, program assistants are an integral part of some students' support teams. They are full members of the school staff who are necessary in supporting some of our most vulnerable students. You have every right to find out how they are supporting your child, who is supporting your child, and if the support is appropriate. Often, TAs are expected to have little communication with parents & guardians. However, if your child receives any amount of allocation for a program assistant, you should understand how they are supporting the development of your child.
Adaptations are best practice for your child. Adaptations are a tool, resource, strategy, or aid that benefits your child in accessing the school program. Adaptations are designed to accommodate a student's unique learning style so they can achieve learning outcomes. Ideally, adaptations ensure a student is not unfairly penalized for falling outside of the class 'middle' or mainstream.
Parents & Guardians, you need to understand your child's adaptations. You need to request feedback on how they are working, how they are being implemented, and they are being revised. Like resource support, adaptations are fluid and should be viewed as such. Far too often adaptations are rolled over year after year without reflection or understanding in what is working or is not working.
Individualized Program Plans (IPP) or Individualized Education Plans (IEP)
The IEP or IPP is necessary when students require some, partial, or full individualizing of the school curriculum. It is created through collaboration and reviewed regularly.
Parents & Guardians, you are an equal member at the table for this process. Show up! You know your child better than anyone, you know what they can do, what they are capable of, and where they can go. Your voice is necessary in shaping the IPP. Education professionals will know your child as a learner which is incredibly valuable, but you know your child as a child. You need to work collaboratively to ensure the IEP represents your whole child. Ask questions, ask for clarity, share your insight, and work together.
CHECK OUT THIS AWESOME RESOURCE: The Ultimate Parent Planner- it is informative, and it will keep you organized!!!