For Paraprofessionals

Supporting Students with IEPs in the Classroom-Series Part 3

Part 3-Putting It All Together

Woo-hoo! You’ve made it to part 3. We’ve talked about all the reasons kids might be struggling with either academics or behavior or both. We’ve talked about what really matters in terms of helpful support for academic delays and how to navigate situations related to behavior. Now its time to consider how putting all that knowledge to use. What happens when you have a little bit of everything in a classroom? How do you help support all the needs?

What To Do In a Class Period

It seems easiest to explain how to support all the needs by telling what I do in a class period. Regardless of the length of the class period, the process would be pretty much the same.

First 5 minutes-Orienting

I’m listening to the teacher, observing the classroom and assessing students needs. I generally ask myself these types of questions:

  • LESSON: What’s the lesson about? What are students expected to do?
  • LESSON: Where are my students in the process? Who needs what today?
  • STUDENT BEHAVIOR CHECK-INS: Who needs sensory items? Who needs a kind word? Who needs to talk briefly? Is anyone missing?
  • STUDENT ORGANIZATION CHECK-INS: Who needs to be directed to their supplies? Who needs paper or pencil?
  • STUDENT ACADEMIC CHECK-INS: Who needs my time to get something accomplished? How can I split my time?

Work Time

Deciding How My Time Will Be Spent

During that first few minutes, I’m checking in with students and seeing where kids are behaviorally and academically. After that, I spend some time talking with the teacher to divvy up our efforts before we get going. 

What I actually do with kids each day is different. Some days I might be working with one student the whole class period out of the room while the classroom teacher checks in with the others. On another day I will check in with all students multiple times to see what they’ve gotten accomplished. Or I might work with a small group for the day. It might be in the room or out of the room. I might need to take a student on a break for part of a period or I might work with a pair of students. Sometimes, a unit will be different and I may take a couple of students for several weeks. The goal is supporting students as they get the work done. 

While I have a plan for getting things done for the day, I also keep my head on a swivel for issues that may come up.

Problem Solving During the Work Time

Here’s where your ability to problem-solve well becomes important. Kids don’t like to problem solve with people they don’t trust. Which is why is so important to put time into building relationships with kids; being a good listener, being consistent and clear, sticking to your word. With good relationships, my problem solving goes much better. Here are some of the most common scenarios I see and how I handle it:

Work avoidance/I’m stuck on the task

Work avoidance and being stuck looks different for different students. They might spend inordinate amounts of time getting ready to work, looking busy but not actually accomplishing anything. They might actually ask to leave the space or work in a different space or find ways to get out of the room, they may not show up at all. They may visit with neighbors or just flat out refuse to work. Whatever the reason, it’s all work avoidance.

The first step is figuring out why the student is stuck. This takes observation and asking questions. My first question is usually “Show me what you have so far.” This will elicit what they have so far, or it will tell me they don’t have much going on. That informs my next questions. If they have something completed, I ask “What’s the next step?” If they don’t have anything done, then the question becomes “How can I help you get started?”

If they are missing information, reteach or restate. Then together, set a reasonable goal for what’s left of the work time. Write it down for the student if that helps. Ex: There are 10 minutes left, let’s get to this part by then. I want you to get 3 sentences written before 10:00. Would it help if I started the writing part for you today? It’s important to be creative and flexible with this so that primary goal #1 ca

Focus issues/breaks

Sometimes, part of the issue with getting work done is that they simply can’t focus. So rather than sit there and be stuck, I encourage students to take a break. I suggest breaks such as going to get a drink, taking a short walk, going to get something from their locker and try to have them work around instruction though if they aren’t focused they aren’t getting the information anyway, so I may allow it anyway. These types of breaks don’t involve you stopping what you need to do.

Some students have specific break plans that involve leaving the classroom and require an adult to accompany them. If a student needs a break like say a sensory room or the resource room, help them take it. Stick to the time. If it is interfering routinely with me being able to do my job with others, I have to rethink how to make it work better..

Attendance issues

It’s important that we know where students are, but it’s also important to support students who are there to work. If the student has attendance issues, follow their plan for addressing it. This might include contacting the administration, so they can help locate the student. Then move on to work. Let the case manager know the student was a no show or was late when you have the chance. If the student does show up, do your best to get the student going on work.

Needing more time

Some students need more time to work. It’s best to determine ahead of time if a project is going to be shortened, so it’s clear at the beginning how much work needs to get done. This sometimes is all that is needed. If that is not enough, talk with the teacher about the issue. He or she may have suggestions for additional work time during lessons. Alternately, suggest the student use ELT, work on it at home, or talk to their case manager about how this will get done.

Last 5 minutes-Wrapping Up

Getting through the work time can be a challenge, but there are always those good days and students who have been super productive. The last 5 minutes is kind of like the first 5 minutes except its figuring out what’s been accomplished, and who needs what for tomorrow. These are the questions I routinely ask myself: 

  • LESSON: Who is behind? Who is on target? What’s coming tomorrow?
  • STUDENT BEHAVIOR: Do I need to contact anyone with concerns?
  • STUDENT ORGANIZATION: What supplies are needed for tomorrow? Does anyone need to turn anything in? 
  • STUDENT ACADEMIC: Who needs what help tomorrow?

I tend to make a game plan for tomorrow right there, so I and everyone else knows what to expect.

This is a team effort

You should be working with both the teacher and the case manager to support all the needs in the classroom. I may have to focus my time more on one student in a class than the others, but I can’t neglect what others need. That said, I can’t simultaneously write a paper with a student while taking someone else on a break in a different location. If two polar opposite things need to happen on a given day, something has to wait or be done by someone else.  We have to be realistic and we have to work together to get the job done. Communication of needs and what’s working and what’s not working is important.

Hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas about how to support students with IEPS in this series. If you have questions I didn’t answer, write them in the comments below.

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