How to use Individualized Education Programs (IEP)

As an outdoor educator in IslandWood’s School Overnight Program, I have only four days to lead a group of students through an outdoor experiential field day. Before teaching in the School Overnight Program, we are given a list of the students in our group, how many chaperones we will have with us, dietary/medication information, and occasionally an Individualized Education Program statement or IEP.   These IEP statements are often ambiguous in their interpretation of a student, and are only so helpful in preparing you for your week ahead.

When on one particular week we were tasked with reflecting upon one student from a childhood development lens, I selected a student with an IEP statement.  It is not often that we are given IEP’s for our students, so I took this as an opportunity to take the information given to help me understand and perhaps modify my own behavior around said child (i.e. being patient if I saw him disengage). The boy’s IEP stated that his areas of possible improvement were in his “behavior, organization, writing, and social;” his challenges included: “motivation, self-starting, interacting with peers;” and lastly, suggested the following: “give him updates on agenda, modify his assignments (less quantity); check in with him to make sure he is on task.  I was not aware of how his daily school life is structured, whether perhaps, he spent the majority of his day in a special needs class working independently with one-on-one instruction, or if he spent most of his day with non-special needs students in a larger classroom setting.  

As I observed the student throughout the week I noticed the following things: he had a tendency to wander and retreat into reading a fantasy book he kept with him, he had trouble interacting with peers in a positive way (i.e. aggressive and also reclusive at times), and lastly, he seemed to want to learn independently.  In an effort to keep him motivated and on-task that week I attempted to highlight his achievements and used positive attribution to effectively show him what positive outcomes arise when he participates, socializes, or perhaps shares what’s on his mind with the group.  

It can be quite challenging to prepare in advance when you haven’t met your students, and even more challenging to meet the academic and behavioral needs of each student in a short amount of time. Furthermore, it is often the case that a students behavior changes when they join a smaller field group learning outdoors.   I have made it a practice to briefly reflect on each individual student at the close of the first field day.  The practice of following a particular student in depth can be challenging when given such a short amount of time. That said, I can reflect as I mentioned earlier in more manageable ways (i.e. taking a list of notes on the students in my field group) to adapt my instruction the next day.

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