Sunday, February 27, 2011

Getting Organized

Regardless if you have just had your child evaluated for special education services or you are about to attend your 8th IEP meeting, being organized it critical in obtaining services for your child.  The issues and tasks that you have to deal with and the multitudes of data you will gather over a period of time is, quite frankly, overwhelming.  If you have not done so by the time you are securing services for your child, obtain a copy of your child's cumulative file from the school office assistant.  You are entitled to see this file any number of times, and you should annually review this file and obtain copies of materials you did not see in times you reviewed the file previously. This is often the place to start when organizing information.  The purpose of organizing materials related to your child is to keep all information in a central location and very user-friendly.  It will help you be most efficient in planning, attending, and following up with meeting details.

Many parents find a 3-ring binder a sufficient resource for organization of materials.  Clearly label the sections of the binder.  Labels may look different depending on your child's needs.  An accordion-style file may also be an efficient choice.  Include in this central place all important IEP documents.  An important document is anything that contains substantive information about your child or procedural information concerning how and when things happen in the IEP process (The Complete IEP Guide, Siegel, 2009).

Some of the most important documents include the following:
  • evaluations
  • notes from teachers or other service providers
  • communications from the school about your child
  • past IEPs
  • any notes you have kept on particular observations
  • any forms or materials you have completed for the school
  • outside agency information (i.e. medical doctor notes, psychologist notes)
  • current IEP
  • a blank IEP form from your child's school
  • parent rights handbook
  • a list of contact information of resources for support and assistance inside and outside the district
As your child progresses through school, a single binder will not be enough for storage of cumulative information.  Consider a file drawer for materials over the years.  The binder should be reserved for foundational information (i.e. parent rights materials or current evaluation items).  This is the information you will need readily available. 
An organizational method is critical for keeping track of the multitude of documents associated with having a special needs child.  Not having one is likely to result in your child receiving less than adequate services.

Information such as this can be obtained in the book referenced above:  The Complete IEP Guide, by Attorney Lawrence M. Siegel.  This is a wonderful reference tool with practical advice and sample forms that you can use as you need.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is Using a Hightlighter a Good Study Tool?

I have seen many students use a highlighter to the point that it is difficult to tell exactly what the student determines to be valuable information. I've learned over the years and by own personal experience that a highlighter is not a necessary  or productive study tool.  With the direct connection between the hand and the brain, writing is still the bests tool for learning new material.  The key is to read and reread.  Sometimes it appears that all the information in a text is important, and, it is or it would note be included, but the key is to know what content is necessary to help a student understand the essential learnings of the material.  The only way to understand content fully is to read it over and over.

If you feel the need to highlight, mark  only what you need to learn for the quizzes or tests. If you highlight too much of the book, the markings will be useless because of the excess of information. Only highlight specific terms and their definitions, as well as items that the teacher says is important or will be on the test.
When you have finished highlighting go over the information you highlighted. Go over the text one more time to see that  you did not skip anything important. This will also give you a chance to review the text and understand the things that are important. Afterwards, you can study your textbook and just focus on the important points that you have already highlighted.
The key to highlighting is not to overuse the marker.  In the long run, there is no quick way to learn new information.  Thes best way, however, is to read and then get out the pen and paper.  Write things out. 


Monday, February 14, 2011

Organizing Scholarship Search Information

Organization of the scholarship journey is important.  Lost documents can mean lost money.  Unsaved information may mean missing out on a scholarship in the future.  To organize the materials that can save you thousands of dollars in college costs, choose a simple process by purchasing an accordion style file holder.  This system is very portable and allows for safe storage of much information because of the numerous compartments.  Keep labeling the accordion file simple as well.  Since the accordion (expandable) file folder has so many individual folders, try the following to help maximize its use.

  • Divide internal folders into 5 sections.  This will provide plenty of filing space for each tab you will need to use.
  •  Label the first tab "Scholarships to Research."  This section of folders should be used to store scholarships you want to research or scholarships you ran across that you have started to read about but have not finished.  It is likened to a "to do" file.
  • The next tab should be labeled "Applications in Process."  This section is to be used to keep track of those applications you have started to complete.  You may be putting together documents such as references or financial information.  At any rate, you can keep track of scholarships you are currently working on completing.
  • A third tab should be labeled "Scholarships Sent."  This is, obviously, where you place a copy of those scholarships (and all accompanying documents) for which you have applied.  An additional complete copy will be beneficial if you find your materials did not arrive for a particular scholarship.  Without this section, you may find yourself filling out the information all over again, if you even have time to do that.
  •  A fourth tab should be labeled "Scholarships Awarded."  This section will help you keep track of all of your award letters and have a confirmation receipt.  This may be helpful if a scholarship is delayed for some reason and you have to have proof you will receive it.
  • While this next tab is not popular, it is important.  Label a 5th tab "Rejections."  Keep a copy of the rejection letter.  These letters sometimes contain information for why you did not receive the scholarship.  You can use that information to help you on other scholarships.  Also, you may find you are eligible for that same scholarship in the future.  Keeping the information will only help you the next time you apply for this particular scholarship.
  • A final 6th tab should be labeled "Miscellaneous."  It is here you can file scholarship information that you may use to help you in other ways.  For example, you could file this document in this respective section. 
There are many ways to organize scholarship information.  This is just a simple way to get started if you are not sure where to begin.  The key is to find a tool that is user-friendly and can keep documents in a central location.

My Teacher is NOT Teaching Note Taking...What Can I Do?

As educators, we often assume students automatically know how to take notes on something we choose to lecture about in class.  We also assume students, regardless of age, know how to the use those notes to study for a test.  This is absolutely WRONG!  Note taking must be explicitly taught and modeled in order for students to meaningfully construct knowledge (Marzano, 2001. Classroom Instruction That Works).  The process of note taking requires listening, writing, comprehension, sequencing, spelling, and problem solving to name only the major skill sets. 

Our 9th grade son started reading To Kill A Mockingbird in his English class a couple of weeks ago.  He has always struggled with taking notes and has voiced this many times to us and to his classroom teachers.  His English teacher noted his concern (which was also shared by others in the classroom) and she took a class period to walk the students through the first chapter in the novel, showing them how to take notes.  Fine and dandy, right?  No.  While her efforts are appreciated and no doubt go beyond to what extent most secondary teachers go, it is not enough.  A single dose of "note taking 101" is not going to cure the illness for anymore than that single chapter.  Note taking skills must be approached as more than a single lesson in the classroom.  So, until the classroom teacher recognizes the important role he/she plays in helping students be successful in taking notes, what can students do to help themselves?

First, continue to make your concern about taking notes known to every teacher, every time notes are taken.  Also, don't hesitate to ask your teacher to model for the class how to take notes for a respective class or even chapter.  The more the process is modeled and reviewed, the more likely students will model the expectation as they become more independent in their own note taking skills

Second, be prepared to take notes at any given time.  Keep a notebook for each class in which you can write notes down.  Carry that with you to that respective class every day.  Use a different color for each class if this helps you grab the right notebook from your locker quickly.  Use this notebook only for that respective class.  Be sure to have writing materials with you as well.

Third, be sure to listen carefully to what the teacher says. If the teacher gives you an outline of the topic or reading, use these to write your own notes on and create more detailed notes from the outline. If there is not outline, ask for one before you begin taking notes. 

Fourth, recognize when the discussion or lecture has gone off focus.  This often happens when someone in the class brings up a personal scenario about what you are learning.  For example, maybe you are talking about the anatomy the eye in Anatomy class, and a student brings up that a sibling has a rare eye disease which is then discussed in class for ten minutes.  It is doubtful any of this discussion will be important additions to your notes.

Fifth, use pictures to help you make connections between the content and how parts of the content relate to one another.  Draw a picture that makes sense to you, but make drawings meaningful.  This serves as a "trigger" for you when you are reviewing the information.  For example, if your biology teacher is talking about osmosis, be sure to draw a quick picture of the process. 

In the long run, taking good notes directly parallels good study skills.  If you take bad notes, your performance will be directly impacted.  So until teachers realize their role in helping students develop strong note taking skills, do your best to educate yourself.

The Parental Role in the IEP Meeting

Prepare for Meetings
woman studyingYou should treat the IEP meeting as if it is the first step towards a due process hearing by preparing for the meeting and building a record. If you do this, you make it less likely that you will end up at a due process hearing. If you do end up at a hearing, you will be in a stronger position.
2. Prioritize Your Child's Needs
Everything you want for your child is not equally important. Make a list of what your child really needs, what you want for your child (but may be willing to compromise on), and what would be nice to have but that you would definitely be willing to give up.
Think about the evidence you have to support each requested item (i.e., reports, assessments, experts, other documents). If you prioritize your issues and have facts and evidence that support what you want, it is more likely that you will be taken seriously.
3. Build Good Relationships
Develop positive relationships with school personnel, to the greatest extent possible. Ask questions. Ask your child's team to explain things you do not understand.
Take the high road. As hard as this may be to do, being polite and courteous is always better than being rude and nasty. If a meeting is deteriorating with nasty comments or behavior from any team member, ask for a break or ask that the meeting be continued to a later date and time.
Good relationships with school personnel and central office staff to the extent possible, will generally ensure that issues you bring up will be taken seriously.
4. Document Issues & Concerns
Ask that items and issues you feel strongly about be documented in the meeting summary or notes. Review the summary before you leave the meeting. Know your rights about amending your child’s records.
5. Use Advocacy Strategies
Use advocacy strategies. Meetings do not have to be drawn out to the point of battle. For example, if the team cannot reach an agreement about the type or amount of service, suggest that the issue be tabled in order to obtain additional information from consultation or conversation(s) between your child’s private therapist (if there is one) and the school therapist.
Rather than immediately asking for an independent assessment, disputes can sometimes be resolved by asking that an assessment be conducted by a school district evaluator who does not know your child.
What Parents Should Not Do
1. Complain Loudly & Often
Parents should not complain about every issue that comes up over the course of their child’s school life. This is the equivalent of crying wolf, and ensures that when a serious issue does arise, you will not be taken seriously. This is because you are expending the same amount of complaint energy on the serious issue as you expended on trivial issues.
2. Assume the Worst
Parents should not assume that the school district is out to get their child and deny services. While the reality is that the school district is a bureaucracy with its own interests to protect, most individuals in the district enter the field because they care about children.
While you need to enter the special education process with knowledge to protect your child’s rights, you should treat the professionals with whom you deal as if those professionals have your child’s best interests at heart.
3. Have a Closed Mind
You need to be have an open mind at at IEP meetings. If your child's team proposes a placement with which you disagree, do not dismiss it, or refuse to observe it, or refuse to consider it. This is especially true if you may challenge the appropriateness of the proposed placement.
Again, the IEP meeting is important for record-building purposes. If the case goes to a due process hearing, it is important that you present as a cooperative person who thoughtfully considered the team’s program, personally observed the program, and can explain why you believe the program does not meet your child’s needs.
4. Stint on Experts
Do not try to save money by stinting on experts. You need to find experts who can provide sound professional opinions and evidence. Experts are critical to successful cases, especially if parents are unrepresented.
If you truly cannot find experts, either through your children’s medical service providers or otherwise, you need to think about how to use supportive (or even hostile) school personnel to your advantage.

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About the Author

Leslie Seid Margolis, Esq. is a managing attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center (MDLC), a private, non-profit organization staffed by attorneys and paralegals. MDLC is the Protection and Advocacy organization for Maryland.