Bringing Student Voice Into IEP Conversations
Asking students questions like these can help educators and parents craft effective individualized education programs.
Let’s face it: At this moment, many questions, concerns, and uncertainties linger in the minds of educators, parents, and students. What will the future bring? Will school ever be the same again? Are we going about this the right way? The truth is, the only thing we know for certain is that everyone is figuring it out together.
One specific area of concern and focus is students with individualized education programs or IEPs. As educators adapt to the new normal, it’s important to keep in mind how the shifts we’re undergoing affect IEP meetings and the way we make and discuss plans. Whether via Zoom or face-to-face, providing students with agency and voice through thoughtful questions can keep them focused, goal-driven, and invested in their learning.
Below are some questions that educators can ask students to make IEP meetings more constructive. These questions are designed to keep long-term goals in mind while also making discussions more self-reflective. Though the language is geared toward middle and high school students, the questions can be adapted for younger students as well.
Helpful Questions to Ask Students
Skills and habits: What habits and skills did you develop (or could you have developed) to best support yourself through the change from in-class to virtual learning? As teachers transition to this new world of learning, it’s critical that they take into consideration the importance of guided skill acquisition and development.
To this end, the group of people at the IEP meeting—including the student, parents or guardians, and educators—might create one column for habits and another for skills. Throughout the meeting, the group might reference how these skills and habits tie into the student’s goals. Consider situations in which these behaviors come into play, and help students visualize what these behaviors look like, sound like, and feel like—when being used both virtually and in a typical classroom situation.
Defining success: What does your plan for success look like, either in school or during distance learning? Asking these questions provides students with an opportunity for future thinking. When this question is posed by a parent, it elicits a sense of nurturing and a “we are in this together” mindset.
The more granular and proactive a plan is, the more inclined all participants will be to follow through as a team. You might even create two plans: an action plan and a coping plan. (A coping plan predicts where things could possibly go wrong within the action plan and how students might proceed.)
Talk about how goals, accommodations, and strategies could all be used to map out plans. Review success stories and failures from this past year while allowing students to respond.
Self-control: When are you your most effective and least effective self? Help students take some time to think about self-control by identifying their “want self” (the kind of person they are when they want to do something) and there “should self” (the kind of person they are when they are doing something because they should—or have to—do it).
You might even open up a dialogue about creating two selves: a named self who controls the “want” aspect of their life, and a named self that controls the “should” aspect. For example: “I am Dan when I ‘want’ to do something and James when I ‘should’ do something.”
Further conversation about how students act and feel when they are most productive versus the way they act and feel when they are least productive can be a great starting point in identifying thought processes.
Workspace: Where is your ideal working station, and what does it look like? Identifying a location where students thrive is imperative. It’s important to allow students to describe what this area looks like, feels like, and even sounds like. In identifying this place, keep in mind the importance of taking breaks.
There could be a few different places, depending on the subject or assignment. For example, when reading a book for English class, it may be most beneficial to read in a quiet, furnished space in the basement where there are no noises or distractions and there’s a comfy beanbag to read in. When doing math, however, it’s essential to be at a desk with access to a computer.
Routines: What’s your ideal working routine? Everyone in the IEP meeting can engage in this process by sharing their own routines. They may share in the form of a drawing, sketch, or outline. Adults might also share the ways they make plans, including using techniques like creating a visual task schedule. Keep in mind that the more accessible a strategy is, the more inclined students will be to use it.