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504 vs. IEP for Parents

Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans, while similar in that they support students’ needs, are also quite different when it comes to how they support students and how they are implemented within the school system. Below is a useful outline to help parents, educators, and children differentiate between the two services.

EXPLANATION 504 IEP
In simple terms, what is each plan? An educational outline designed to help students access their learning in school An educational outline designed to map out a student’s special education experiences throughout their schooling
How does each plan work? For students with disabilities or major health impairments, a 504 provides specific modifications or accommodations so that learning is not impeded or interfered with For students with at least one of the specific learning disabilities listed in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP guarantees specialized modifications, accommodations, and instructional services so that learning obstacles are removed
Who qualifies according to the law? A child with a disability, health condition, or medical need that substantially limits or interferes with a student’s daily life functioning qualifies for a 504 under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act A child with a specific learning disability listed in IDEA, including attention difficulties, is affected to the point that their learning needs cannot be met in the general education system alone. A student qualifies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
How does the evaluation work in schools? Students must be evaluated and diagnosed by a professional, but parents typically must acquire the diagnosis on their own Students must be evaluated and diagnosed with a documented learning disability that affects their success in a general education classroom. Students can be evaluated by the school’s psychologist or request a private, outside evaluation
Who has a hand in the creation of each plan? The guidelines for the 504 are less restrictive; typically the parents, teachers, any special educators who are familiar with the child, administration create the plan Legally, the creation of an IEP is more specific, and usually includes the parents, one or more of the child’s general education teachers, a school psychologist or private specialist at the request of the parents, the child’s special education case manager, and usually the schools special education department head
What are the key aspects of each plan? Again, a 504 plan is the less restrictive of the two; it will typically include a list of accommodations, classroom or instructional modifications, health care instructions or details, and how teachers and other school personnel will implement and track the student’s progress Since the IEP is a signed, legal document, it is more extensive; it will include past and current academic data points, test scores, evaluation findings, and any other cognitive, behavioral, or social test results. Based on these score reports and teacher reports, the IEP team will draft academic, social, and/or behavioral goals for the student to work towards. The plan will also include how the progress will be measured/assessed, which instructional and testing accommodations will be used, and supplementary aides and services that the school will provide with the help of the special education department. Finally, the IEP plan will include details about the frequency of the accommodations and how the student will participate in standardized testing.

How to Manage Testing Time: For Elementary Students

With spring break here, the focus for many parents, students, and teachers alike is on the welcomed vacation from the daily grind. No matter the brevity, spring break allows families to rejuvenate and reconnect right before the final stretch of the school year.

Yet, as much as many students would like to avoid the topic, spring break also signifies the soon-to-be start of the testing season. The weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help younger learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Testing can be especially stressful and even anxiety-producing for young students. Their desire to do well, outperform their peers, or surpass a previous score could create unnecessary pressure. To combat nerves, teachers and parents should focus on reassuring students of their successes beyond a simple test score. Talk about how a test score is simply one data point—it does not invalidate a child’s previous accomplishment or dictate the possibility of any future accomplishment.

  • Instead of focusing on reaching a specific score, hitting a certain benchmark, or creating unnecessary competition among peers, help young elementary schoolers set goals for growth or practice positive test-taking habits. Help children by setting goals like aiming to get adequate sleep, eating a healthy, filling breakfast, and spending some time exercising each day—these are positive habits that can help motivate students in the right direction while taking the focus off of the grade or score.

  • Discuss the true purpose of a standardized test and, in turn, remove some of the burden from elementary schoolers. Of course, parents and teachers do not want to convey the message that these exams do not matter; however, we can ease the anxiety by reminding children that a test score is meant to provide data for the school—it is not meant to target or torment the children that may happen to underperform. Again, keep them focused on aspects or contributors that they can control, like sleep, nutrition, self-motivation, and positivity.

  • Parents and teachers can help elementary schoolers by providing them with several different test-taking strategies or tips. Since children in elementary school are just beginning to get a taste of exams or standardized tests, they are likely less familiar with all of the different strategies and practices that they can employ during a lengthy assessment. Encourage them to use the following skills:

    • Tell them they should consider reading the questions first so that they know what they are to be looking out for ahead of beginning the reading or excerpt.
    • Encourage students to take their time when working through the assessment. If they are concerned about running out of time, skip difficult questions or sections and answer the easiest questions first. This will not only help students to knock out portions of the assessment, but it will give them a dose of motivation, self-assurance, and positivity in knowing that some of their answers came easily.
    • Have children practice eliminating answer options that they know are incorrect. This practice helps to remove the distractibility factor that multiple choice questions can have.
    • Teachers should tell students ahead of time that they will provide time updates or occasional countdowns during testing so that students can gauge how diligently they are working throughout the exam. A time check not only tells students how much time is remaining in the session, but also allows students to modify their work pace. This information helps students complete all questions and take more time reading carefully and checking answers if necessary.

How to Manage Testing Time: For Middle School Students

This time of year can be met with mixed emotions from students. Yes, spring break is on the here, which gives students, parents, and teachers a brief, but much-needed reprieve from the stressful school day.

Yet spring is also the time in which schools are gearing up for testing season. For middle schoolers, these tests may include benchmark assessments to gauge math and reading growth, like Map-M and Map-R. Middle schoolers will also be taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment. Because of the “high-stakes” mentality associated with these sorts of exams, the weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students, parents, and teachers. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help middle school learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Remind middle schoolers of strategies and routines that are within their control. Test-taking can be stressful due to the uncertainty and lack of control. To boost confidence and instill beneficial practices, talk to students about how they can put their best foot forward before even sitting down to take the exam.
    • Jumpstart their day with a healthy, filling breakfast that will keep middle schoolers fueled through the morning. Parents and teachers may want to consider providing students with a small snack during testing to keep the hunger edge off. Check with the school about their protocol for snacks while testing and consider packing a water bottle with your child as well. Hunger and thirst can be major distractions when it comes to learning, so a little pick-me-up might go a long way with keeping middle schoolers motivated and attentive during a morning of testing.
    • For any number of reasons, likely technology-related stimuli, middle schoolers are getting less and less sleep these days. Breaking poor sleeping habits can take a while before the body truly adjusts to a new schedule. Take action early by encouraging middle schoolers to adhere to a 7-8 hour sleep schedule leading up to assessment week. A regular sleep and wake time helps the body adjust to a healthy circadian rhythm, which will stave off any fatigue and keep students alert and focused during testing.
    • Think positive thoughts. Remind students that a test is simply one indicator of learning. And while we would like middle schoolers to take their testing seriously, we do not want them to be consumed with anxiety and stress. The mantra “do your best, forget the rest” helps learners to focus more on genuine effort and less on perfection or final scores.

  • Annotating is a practice that middle schoolers have probably been honing throughout the school year. Obviously, close reading and analytical thinking skills are beneficial across content areas—annotating is a practice that students are completing in science, history, English, and even math. Additionally, close reading and annotating can greatly help students during assessments as well.
  • A helpful strategy is to provide students with practices in which they annotate test questions, text excerpts, and written response prompts. The key is to help students identify what a question, answer option, or prompt is truly asking. By highlighting key words, breaking down questions, or rephrasing questions, students are better able to focus their thinking.

  • Parents should also remind middle schoolers about any 504 or IEP accommodations that they should be granted for testing. Some assessments, like PARCC, do not allow for certain accommodations; however, accommodations apply during other tests. Parents, children, and teachers must be on the same page when it comes to testing accommodations for major exams or standardized tests. When in doubt, ask—this way children know what to expect on exam day and are not thrown off by a possible lack of accommodations.

Family Team Time

It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grindwith family team time.

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities—as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly changes students’ lives—but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities that children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes—all of these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities, could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything that the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

  • Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang—not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs. 
  • Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so that children can follow along while listening to the book aloud. 
  • Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud! 
  • As opposed to hustling from game, to recital, to playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children that the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day—what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

Equity

Equity, as far as the Oxford English Dictionary is concerned, is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartial.” Simple enough, right? Yet, at home with children and teens, the concept will probably require further conversation to teach kids not only what equity means, but what it looks like.

One way to begin teaching children about what it means to be equitable is by teaching them what is not equitable. Contrary to what many children believe, equity and equality are not synonymous. By this, we mean that equity does not signify that everyone receives the same thing, whether that be treatment, assistance, gifts, awards, allowance, etc. Instead, equity means that everyone receives the same level of what they need. Again, this concept could be difficult for children to grasp, especially when fairness becomes a point of contention.

When parents need to put the focus on equity, not equality, they can begin by explaining the reason behind certain parental decisions. For example, Alex is 6 years old and Abe is 16 years old. Both boys perform chores around the house for an allowance. However, because the stark age difference significantly distinguishes each child’s ability to perform certain chores, tasks and allowances will not be equal—but they will be equitable. Let’s look at the details: Alex, the 6-year-old, feeds the fish, sorts his laundry, and helps put groceries away. For these age-appropriate tasks, Alex receives $5 a week as his allowance. This amount is enough for Alex to buy a book at the school book fair, which he desperately wants.

Now Abe, the 16-year-old, completes chores for the family, as well. Since Abe is older, he is trusted with the responsibility of walking the dog every evening, mowing the lawn, and helping clean up after dinner. For these tasks Abe receives $30 per week, which he puts towards gas money. While this example is hypothetical, a scenario like this makes sense for explaining equity. Abe and Alex are both contributing to household chores. However, the level of work, and therefore the level of pay, differs to suit each boy’s needs.

Another way to explain equity to children is to use an example that they have likely encountered in every parking lot—the handicapped parking spot. Much like the school accommodations for students with special needs, handicap parking is an accommodation to ensure equity for drivers with disabilities. Obviously, handicap parking spaces are not equal to all of the other spots—they are much closer, more convenient, and sometimes larger. However, equality among parking spaces would mean that the parking lot is inequitable for drivers with special needs. Remember, children need to realize that equity involves everyone getting what they need. An able-bodied person does not need to park closest to the entryway of a building, but a handicapped person does. The designated spaces ensure that they receive what they need, which in this case is an unobstructed parking space that is close in proximity to where they are going.

Key takeaways for children and teens is that fairness, equality, and equity are not synonymous terms. Equity revolves around each person’s individual needs and circumstances. Remind your children that we may not be aware of a person’s individual needs. Therefore, if it appears that someone else is getting “special treatment,” consider the obstacles, limitations, or other factors that may be at play. What appears to be unequal is often equity at work.

Homework Help for Families with Several School-Aged Children: Pt. II

As we have discussed, homework time can be innately chaotic for families, especially when several children need parental guidance at once. Since we really can only be in one place at one time, it helps to have a grab bag of possible solutions for the nights when everyone needs homework help.

In addition to the tips in the previous blog, there are more tricks of the trade to help monitor and manage homework for multiple children under one roof.

Use all available downtime to your advantage. Just as we suggested utilizing alternative times for homework completion, such as a morning routine for your early risers, other downtime can and should also be utilized. For instance, elementary schoolers can squeeze in a little more study time on the commute to school. Whether in the car or on the bus, encourage them to bring multiplication/division flashcards or spelling words along for the drive. Not only does this practice provide a pocket of extra time for review, but the process also helps to boost confidence before going in for a quiz or assessment.

Use class time wisely. In addition to the car ride to and from school, encourage your children to make good use of class time. Often times, teachers will provide anywhere from 5-15 minutes at the close of the lesson for students to begin that night’s assignment. This benefits the teacher, in that she is able to gauge who may have struggled with the day’s objective, or who may have missed important directions or notes during the lesson. This is also a benefit for students, as it allows them to get a jumpstart on or even complete their homework in class. Be sure to stress that your child should be sure to focus on instruction first—homework should be completed only if and when the teacher has allowed the class to do so.

Take advantage of after school help. Another option is to encourage your child to attend after school help sessions on a weeknight. Of course, with athletics and other extracurricular obligations, this could be difficult to manage. However, there are several benefits to the after school homework organizations run by the schools. First, many children are more patient or willing when one of their teachers is providing the homework help, as opposed to a parent. Sometimes, as much as we would not like to admit it, homework becomes a losing battle of tears at the kitchen table. The teacher acts as the mediator of the work, leaving parents free of the stressful battle.

Additionally, since children will be getting help from his/her teacher at the after school work sessions, they will essentially receive additional one-on-one instruction with the teacher who knows exactly how the assignment should be completed. Finally, after school homework programs often provide transportation home via an activity bus. Therefore, the work session can serve as an extended school day, but with no inconvenience to anyone’s schedule.  

Set a few ground rules for your children when they are completing homework assignments. No matter the time of day, ensure that children and teens take a break if and when frustrations flare. Homework is stressful as is, but when the tears or tempers start, it becomes a near impossibility. Instead of insisting on working through the frustration, suggest some cool off time. Anything from 5-10 minutes can help bring down a child’s stress level and allow everyone to get back into a productive mode. Additionally, be sure to enforce time parameters for help. For instance, tell your teen that there will be no late-night, last-minute shopping sprees if he decides that he needs materials for a science project the night before it is due. Similarly, make sure they know to ask for editing or proofreading help well before the paper is to be due. This alleviates any stress from having to cram in a last-minutes work session.

Getting Through Homework Time with Multiple Kids

A child’s homework routine can make all the difference at school. Even at the elementary level, a consistent homework plan helps young students to develop good study skills, as well as a strong foundation for time management, organization, and responsibility. But what happens when homework time becomes a jumbled rush for completion? This is the case for many families when siblings of varying ages need guidance to complete their homework. With the craziness that is the average school night, parents can only do so much when it comes to homework help. Logically, a parent can only help one child at a time—so what are some strategies to ease the stress of homework time for a family with multiple school-age children? Read on to find out!

Keep everyone organized by planning and maintaining a consistent homework routine. This should include specific homework times and areas of the house where homework will be completed. Avoid allowing teens to complete their homework in their bedrooms, as this is likely the least productive place for them. Keeping everyone in the same general vicinity of the house can allow parents to bounce from helping one child to the next. To keep the practice smooth and productive, insist that homework happen without distractions like television, social media, video games, etc.

Set aside time to help the youngest children first. Since their homework assignments will likely be easier and shorter, consider helping them prior to the older kids.This schedule also makes sense since younger children usually have an earlier bedtime, which will allow you to help the teens with their assignments once the younger ones are asleep.

Ask the older children to self-manage and take the initiative to start homework on their own. Depending on afterschool activities, families may be even more limited when it comes time to hit the books. This is a reality for many families, so encourage teens to get a jump start and jot down any questions or difficulties that they run into while working. This way they will have something to refer to when it is their turn for parental help.

Make a homework checklist for elementary-age students to highlight expectations and guide their efforts. For younger learners, parents will likely need to prompt the elementary children to get started, stay focused, and move between tasks or assignments. The checklist also helps children to begin to self-monitor while working.

Encourage older siblings to assist the younger children with their homework assignments. This sort of practice mimics the peer-teaching strategy, in which students build their own knowledge by teaching someone else the concept or skills. The younger sibling is not the only one to benefit from the tutoring assistance. By helping the elementary schooler, teenagers also develop communication skills, interdependence, and self-confidence when demonstrating concepts or tasks in a way that the elementary schooler can grasp.

Utilize alternate times for completing homework. Afternoons can be chaotic, but mornings can be equally stressful. However, if one of your children is an early riser, consider using some of the morning time for homework help, quiz review, or independent reading assignments to free up time later in the day. Just be sure that if you allocate part of the morning for homework that you carve out enough time to complete everything necessary.

Encouraging Effort Until the End: Tips for Parents to Help with Motivation

The final weeks of the school year are often filled with excitement, angst, and a touch of impatience for students, teachers, and parents alike. The quickly-approaching summer months spark joyous anticipation. While many students begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, May and June can prove to be difficult months in terms of maintaining focus and perseverance. It becomes a challenge to keep the attention of children and teens when, truth be told, they are likely daydreaming about their summer vacations.

Below are tips that parents can try at home to promote effort and motivation through the end of the school year.

  • Embrace the outdoors for studying, homework sessions, or leisurely reading. One of the main difficulties towards the end of the school year becomes the allure of the beautiful weather. Gone are the layers and umbrellas, which unfortunately means a bit of focus disperses as well. Allow your child the option to complete school work outside. Be sure that work is still the main focus, but a pleasant backdrop will help make the work time fly by a little quicker. This could mean working on the porch, in the yard, by the pool, etc. 
  • Maintain structure and continuity with the bedtime routine or weekly schedule. No matter the age, kids and teens need consistency. Yes, the days are longer and the weather is more enticing than ever. But this does not mean that bedtime expectations or nightly routines should be left by the wayside. Keep firm in your expectations to ensure that the approaching summer vacation does not derail the routines you have spent all school year building. 
  • Remind your child of his or her academic goals. Do not let vacation anticipation, field trips, pool parties, etc., to take center stage just yet. As they say, “It’s not over until it’s over.” Talk together about how hard he or she has worked this year, and the importance of maintaining that momentum to honor that determination. No one wants to see oneself unravel right at the tail end of the race—the same is true with the school year. 
  • Reflect on the year—both the hardships and the triumphs. This look back is another way to build motivation and drum up a last-minute second wind. Talk about personal growth and how to use everything gained from this school year as a foundation for the next. Looking back, as well as looking to the future, ensures that children keep their eye on the ball. 
  • Provide incentives for a job well-done. Again, we have all been there—the anticipatory angst when praying for summer break to commence. Knowing this, parents and teachers can dig into their bag of tricks to help incentivize the more reluctant or checked-out learners. If you know that your child is lacking motivation, discuss or negotiate incentives for hard work in the remaining weeks of the school year. This can mean an extra playdate, a new skateboard, a trip to the pool, etc. Hold your ground when discussing incentives, however. Children begin to grasp intrinsic motivation when extrinsic deals and expectations are set.

 

 

International Ask a Question Day: Tricks to Try at Home

Befittingly falling on Albert Einstein’s birthday, International Ask a Question Day is meant to encourage inquiry. As parents, you know how curious and naturally inquisitive children can be.  Asking and answering questions is the best way to quench that thirst for information. So besides the go-to, “How was school today?” how else can parents encourage children to practice questioning and answering at home? And, why is the simple practice of asking questions so important to academics?

Depending on your child’s age, he or she may have a smartphone or tablet. These technologies are sometimes seen as distractions when it comes to academics. However, the educational apps available now are greatly beneficial when it comes to asking or answering questions. Apps such as VideoNot.es and Notability allow users to interact with digital or video content while taking notes on a split screen. This is especially helpful if your child struggles with handwriting; instead, children can easily type questions or observations while working through the material. These VideoNot.es will automatically save any notes or questions into a Google doc, as well, keeping all of your child’s questions saved and organized.

Encourage dinnertime questions by discussing a new topic of interest, something that will spur conversation and curiosity. Ask questions like, “If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?” But, don’t just stop there—prod for more information like, “Why that location over somewhere else?” “Who would you take with you and why?” “What types of items would you need to pack?” These questions not only give your child an opportunity to share his or her personal preferences, but they also encourage a higher level of reasoning and explanation.

Another dinner table game is the well-known party game “just questions” in which everyone is only able to communicate using interrogative statements. This improv theater exercise encourages children to practice consciously phrasing and rephrasing questions. Participants must think on their toes and apply knowledge of appropriate word choice and sentence structures in order to continue the conversation.

After a bedtime story prompt your child with broad questions like, “Who is the main character in the story?” Then, elevate the level of inquiry from there. Kick that question up a notch by adding another component or more complex level of thinking. For instance, you might change the original question about the main character to, “What does the main character say or do that shows us his personality?” This practice subtly adds a layer of deeper analysis to the initial, more general question.

There is no doubt about itinquiry is a lifelong practice that spans far outside the realm of the classroom. The ability to ask questions, gather relevant information, and formulate answers is an exercise that will benefit children and teens, not only as they navigate through their schooling, but as they enter adulthood and the workforce, as well. It seems like an obvious and simple skill—especially since children are so eager to ask questions—however, elevating the exercise of asking and answering questions is something that can steadily enhance engagement and learning.