Student-Led IEP Meetings: Technology Puts Teens in the Driverís Seat
By Kristin Stanberry
For the past several years, teachers and parents have been encouraged to let high school students in special education take a more active role in their own IEP meetings. When a high school student participates in this way, he develops and hones his self-advocacy and self-determination skills – skills critical for assuming more control over the direction of his future.
Numerous studies point to the connection between student self-advocacy and achieving one’s goals (Agran & Hughes, 2008; Arndt, Konrad, & Test, 2006; Martin, Van Dycke, Christensen, Greene, Gardner, & Lovett, 2006; Mason, McGahee-Kovac, Johnson, & Stillerman, 2002). For example, among special education students who learned the Self-Advocacy Strategy developed at the University of Kansas, 86 percent of the goals they most valued were found in their IEPs. Students who hadn’t learned the strategy had only 13 percent of their desired goals in their IEPs. And despite a wealth of resources offering practical how-to advice and recommendations (Konrad, 2008; Konrad, & Test, 2004; Mason, McGahee-Kovac, & Johnson, 2004; Torgerson, Miner, & Sehn, 2004; Test, Mason, Hughes, Konrad, Neale, & Wood, 2004), the practice of student-led IEP meetings isn’t as widespread as it might be.
This author proposes that incorporating technology in student-led IEP meetings may motivate tech-savvy teens to assume this new responsibility. The use of mainstream technology and assistive technology (AT) can add substance, structure, and creativity to IEP planning and to the IEP meeting itself (and Section 504 Plan meetings as well). Let’s look at how technology can help students become more involved and innovative in the IEP process.
Ready or Not?
How can you determine if a student is ready to lead his own IEP meeting? And how will you know if using technology in the meeting is right for him? Here are some factors to consider:
- Ideally, the student will have participated in at least one of his IEP meetings and is familiar with the process.
- The student should also be familiar with his IEP and what it means to him and his education.
- Is the student comfortable using AT and/or mainstream technology? If not, don’t force the idea but encourage him to consider one or two technology tools that might support his participation in the IEP meeting.
Since planning the IEP meeting with your student takes time, try to determine his readiness several weeks (if not months) before his next IEP meeting. Getting buy-in from the student and his parents is critical, so allow ample time to discuss the issue thoughtfully with them.
Setting the Stage: Plan and Prepare
Once the student agrees to take part in his IEP meeting, you can start planning together. Your student can take part in each of the basic planning stages:
- Set the meeting date and location, and send invitations. Once you set the date, time, and place for the IEP meeting, send an email invitation to all members of the IEP team. Having the student compose and send the invitation will establish his leadership role in the meeting.
- Review the current IEP with the student and his parents. Have the student decide what parts of the IEP are most important to him, where he’s made progress (and why), and what specific accommodations are helpful (or not). At this point in a student’s education, his long-term goals (such as college and career) should be folded into the IEP in the section called Individualized Transition Program (ITP). Encourage him to ask questions, and to express in his own words what he’d like to see in his IEP. Together, list the new and revised IEP goals and benchmarks.
- Encourage the student to select technology to use in his IEP meeting planning and presentation. Again, suggest that he use technology he’s comfortable with, and share with him the Tech Tips for Teens, (see sidebar). Also, arrange for any audio-visual equipment you’ll need during the IEP meeting.
- Draft the meeting agenda with input from the student. (Have him review the agenda from the previous IEP meeting as an example.) Consider having your student send the agenda to meeting participants, along with a meeting reminder, a week before the meeting.
- Help the student map out his presentation for the IEP meeting, using organizational technology (e.g., graphic organizer) and presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint). Have him rehearse, revise, and refine his presentation as needed.
Sidebar: IEP Meeting Tech Tips for Teens
- Play to your strengths when choosing technology for your IEP meeting. Choose mainstream technology you feel comfortable and confident using. Examples: digital photography, video or audio clips, and PowerPoint presentations.
- Seeing is believing. Plan to demonstrate for your IEP team how you use a certain assistive technology tool to accomplish a specific task. Keep your demo brief but clear, and practice it in front of your teacher and/or parents.
- Upgrade and update. Is there a new version of the AT tool you currently use? Have you discovered a mainstream technology application that might boost your learning and performance? (In today’s ever-expanding technology market, many applications are affordable or even free.) The IEP meeting is an opportunity to educate your teachers about the features and benefits of new technology.
- Build an e-portfolio of your school projects and progress -- a portfolio that reflects your individual talents, challenges, goals, and dreams. Transfer your portfolio to a CD or flash drive. That way you can use it to practice your presentation at school or home – and show it off at the IEP meeting. Add to your portfolio throughout the school year so it’ll be ready for your next IEP meeting.
Student Success Stories
When blazing a new trail (and student-led IEP meetings fall into that category for many), it helps to learn from the experiences of those who’ve gone before. Here are the stories of three students (names changed to protect confidentiality), who led their IEP or Section 504 meetings and used technology to boost their success.
Ramon, a high school sophomore, is in special education because of a reading disability (dyslexia). He’s also a gifted musician and plans to attend a performing arts college.
He and his teacher agreed that when planning and leading his IEP meeting, Ramon should highlight both his strengths and challenges. As soon as they set the date, time, and location for his IEP meeting, Ramon created an eVite with music for the meeting. His teacher was pleased with his initiative and creativity; she approved his customized eVite, which he then sent to everyone on his IEP team.
Next Ramon and his teacher reviewed his improvement in reading comprehension since he began using audiobooks provided by Bookshare.org (an accommodation added to his IEP the previous year). They illustrated his progress with a bar chart during the meeting. Not only did his reading comprehension and test scores improve, but he even started reading for pleasure (mainly biographies of famous musicians). Ramon’s Bookshare membership is free because the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) currently funds membership for individuals with documented print disabilities. Based on his excellent progress using this accommodation, his IEP team agreed to keep it as part of his IEP.
To showcase his musical talent during the IEP meeting, Ramon played a video clip of his recent saxophone solo at a statewide competition. He then described the requirements of the performing arts colleges he hopes to attend. His teachers and school administrators agreed that those requirements – and concrete goals and accommodations to help him meet them – should be addressed in his Individualized Transition Program (ITP).
Karen, a high school freshman, has dyslexia and is enrolled in the veterinary tech program at her school. She has a Section 504 Plan which provides some accommodations. While she didn’t lead the 504 meeting with all her teachers and school administrators early in the school year, she was an active participant.
She and her parents had discovered, Flaschcards Deluxe an affordable application for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad tablet. The program can be customized to help with spelling – one of her greatest challenges. She explained how the application will help her master the Latin vocabulary in her vet tech classes. Because her teachers weren’t familiar with the application, she demonstrated how she customizes each electronic flashcard to show how a word is spelled, have the word read aloud to her, and to display a picture of it. After seeing the application in action, Karen’s teachers and school administrators were sold and agreed to let her use it (on her iPad) as an assistive technology accommodation at school.
After the meeting, Karen said, “I feel more confident now, and I think my participation helped my teachers understand me and my learning needs much better.”
18-year-old Tim has an intellectual disability and attended special education classes at a group home in a rural area. He felt isolated because he had few peers his own age and because the school didn’t have Internet connection (something he enjoys and learns from). Several weeks before his IEP meeting, he told his teacher that he’d rather live and attend school at a group home in an urban area with Internet connectivity, with students closer to his age, and (because he doesn’t drive) where he could get to work on foot or on public transportation.
With his teacher’s help, Tim outlined his preferences and reasoning (tying them to his IEP) in a PowerPoint presentation. Tim found it cumbersome to use a laptop computer and mouse during his practice presentations, so his teacher suggested he present it on an electronic SMART Board. This allowed Tim to stand at the front of the room and simply touch the SMART Board to navigate through his presentation. This strategy empowered Tim to lead his IEP meeting with confidence. His IEP team found his presentation – and his level of self-advocacy – quite powerful; they were easily persuaded to transfer him to a setting more conducive to his social and economic goals.
Agran, M., & Hughes, C. (2008). Students’ opinions regarding their individualized education program involvement. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 31, 69-76.
Arndt, S. A., Konrad, M., & Test, D. W. (2006). Effects of the Self-Directed IEP on student participation in planning meetings. Remedial and Special Education, 27, 194-207.
Konrad, M. (2008). Involve students in the IEP process. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43, 236-239.
Konrad, M., & Test, D. W. (2004). Teaching middle school students with disabilities to use an IEP template. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 27, 101-124.
Martin, J. E., Van Dycke, J. L., Christensen, W. R., Greene, B. A., Gardner, J. E., & Lovett, D. L. (2006). Increasing student participation in IEP meetings: Establishing the Self-Directed IEP as an evidence-based practice. Exceptional Children, 72, 299-316.
Mason, C. Y., McGahee-Kovac, M., & Johnson, L. (2004). How to help students lead their IEP meetings. Teaching Exceptional Children, 36(3), 18-25.
Mason, C. Y., McGahee-Kovac, M., Johnson, L., & Stillerman, S. (2002). Implementing student-led IEPs: Student participation and student and teacher reactions. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 25, 171-192.
Torgerson, C.W., Miner, C.A., & Sehn, H. (2004). Developing student competence in self-directed IEPs. Intervention in School and Clinic, 39(3), 162-167.
Test, D. W., Mason, C., Hughes, C., Konrad, M., Neale, M., & Wood, W. M. (2004). Student involvement in individualized education program meetings. Exceptional Children, 70, 391-412.
The IEP Checklist is a free, downloadable iTunes applications that parents, teachers, and students to can use as they develop a student’s IEP -- and to record the IEP meeting. This tool is sponsored by the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC) Version 2.1 offers special features, such as:
• The ability to record IEP meetings and individual voice notes.
• The option to export IEP Checklist and custom notes.
• Dedicated checklist for easy review of notes and top priorities.
• Access to federal regulation website.
• IEP Checklist walkthrough guide.
About the Author
Kristin Stanberry (email@example.com) is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and ADHD, topics which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and Great Schools.
Source: Stanberry, K. (2010). Student-Led IEP meetings: Technology puts teens in the driverís seat. Special Education Technology Practice, 12(5), 15-18.