Need to Know
- The IEP evaluation process is lengthy, and students demonstrating learning challenges need ongoing instructional support between an initial special education referral and IEP implementation.
- Excellent teaching strategies are a key lever in supporting neurodivergent learners, as well as neurotypical students.
A Closer Look
As educators know, students struggle for a wide range of reasons. The special education evaluation process is in place to help determine whether a challenged learner has a learning disability, but it’s a long and complicated process. For mostly understandable reasons, the process conducted between the initial referral date and the implementation of an IEP can take months (or for strained districts and systems, years can pass). Meanwhile struggling students fall further behind.
So, what can a teacher to do in those passing months? The truth is, special education is truly just excellent teaching. What benefits students labeled by an IEP or specific learning disorder often also benefits the neurotypical learner. Read on for five strategies that will support students in “IEP limbo.”
- Focus on abilities, not disabilities. By emphasizing students’ strengths and abilities, you build their self-confidence as learners, better setting them up for motivated engagement. This blog post from IDL Solutions (creators of proven literacy and numeracy software for students facing learning challenges) discusses the sometimes hidden superpowers of students with learning differences. Provide a choice board with options for student work outputs so learners can represent their learning in the way that best suits their strengths. When giving students feedback, strive for a five-to-one ratio of around five pieces of affirming feedback for every piece of adjusting feedback.
- Get up and move! The more tactile and kinesthetic you can make your lessons, the better, particularly for neurodivergent learners. Try incorporating hand motions for vocabulary terms, getting out manipulatives to represent concepts, and incorporating brain breaks midway or between lessons.
- Gather data. Data collection is an essential component of the IEP evaluation and implementation process. Gather data points through observation, checkpoints, or screeners. While individual screeners offer helpful insight, they can be time-consuming depending on the steps required to administer them. However, the literacy screener and numeracy screener from IDL can be administered in one fell swoop with the whole class (or individually, if you choose) and are an easy online task. These screeners provide you with immediate data and information across literacy and numeracy competencies to guide your instruction accordingly. Plus, these screeners are completely free!
- Give learners a leg up with pre-teaching. Pre-teaching is an exceptionally high-impact strategy to support struggling students. The concept is a simple one: before teaching new content to your class, pull struggling students individually or in a small group to review key concepts, vocabulary, or pre-read a text. Be sure to pull students at a time that does not take away from their free or preferred activities (i.e., do not pull during recess) so students keep a positive attitude and open mind. Read more about this instructional strategy here.
- Lean on your network, in person and virtually. Seek the guidance, expertise, and thought partnership of like-minded colleagues. Every educator knows the heartbreaking feeling of wanting to help a child but not being sure of how to help. If a struggling learner excels in other content areas or classrooms (like a special or elective class), ask those colleagues for tips and observe them working with your student. Further, call on the help of your online network – podcasts, online courses, and social media platforms like Twitter, Tiktok, and Instagram all offer helpful teacher communities that are chock-full of instructional guidance (like these 25 Twitter accounts every educator should follow). Check out this ExPloration (free teacher workshop with PD credit!) for ways to incorporate digital resources that accommodate a variety of learning difficulties like dyslexia and dyscalculia.
Put IDL Solutions to Work for You and Your Students
Educators working with struggling students need a combination of high-impact instructional strategies and proven tools that meet neurodivergent learners’ needs. Educators worldwide rely on IDL Solutions to diagnose learning gaps, tailor instruction, and accelerate learning through their award-winning literacy and numeracy software programs. Complete with a user-friendly interface, a portfolio of free resources, comprehensive progress reporting, and tablet and mobile device compatibility, the IDL Literacy and IDL Numeracy software are trusted by thousands of educators working with struggling learners.
Ready to take the next step? Visit IDL in the EdCuration marketplace to schedule a demo or inquire about their free six-month pilot!