Teaching our students with learning disabilities requires specialized instruction from a specialized instructor. Special Education teachers are able to masterfully design lessons that include an abundance of multi-sensory tools because as we know - this is how our students with learning disabilities learn best. But now all teachers are being asked to instruct from their computer screens, and multi-sensory instruction seems virtually impossible - pun intended!
I’m sure this won’t surprise you, but - teachers are amazing! They have been able to transition to distance learning virtually (pun intended) without any professional development and little to no distance learning resources.
But what we do continue to have are goals for our students.
We will be able to …
-keep our students’ skills fresh
-prevent regression and
Even virtual relationships are important!
And here are 5+ Ideas for achieving those goals for Distance Learning with Learning Disabilities:
1. Phonemic Awareness
Related Phonemic Awareness Resources:
Related Decoding Resources:
Related Spelling & Decoding Resources:
Related Comprehension Resources:
Related Decoding Spelling & Comprehension Resources:
6. Social Emotional Learning
And make sure you are checking in on your students every day. Ask them how they are feeling. Let them know that it's okay to feel how they are feeling.
Happy & Healthy Teaching!
Related blog posts...
Don't forget about students with disabilities when COVID-19 closes our schools.
Teachers all over are scrambling to transition from delivering instruction in their classroom to delivering it online. But is this equitable for ALL students?
The U.S. Department of Education gave some guidance to K-12 districts about closing for COVID-19. They told districts that if they close due to COVID-19 AND continue to offer instruction remotely, they MUST make that learning accessible to ALL students. This includes students with disabilities. And for students with disabilities, this means that services outlined in IEPs must be offered “to the greatest extent possible.” When schools re-open, Special Education teams will need to meet to determine if students with disabilities who missed services are entitled to make them up.
Are schools ready for this? Are us teachers ready for this? Are our students with disabilities ready for this? And more importantly, is remote learning beneficial for our students with disabilities?
If we cancel school and implement distance learning that can be accessed by some, but not all, of our students, it's unethical.
On the other hand, if schools close and do not move to distance learning, the federal education department stated that schools are then NOT required to provide services to students with disabilities during that time.
I know what you are all thinking... 'We have to continue teaching. Students have to keep learning. What about the regression they will show when schools re-open?'
We can offer suggested activities for ALL students.
These activities should not be graded or required!
We can offer summer school for our students. We can extend our learning time when we return. We can offer extra instruction or after school tutoring.
We are stressed right now. And our students are smart. They can read us. They can read the world. They are feeling the stress of the world too - no matter how much we protect them. It's most important for our students to stay healthy and safe.
By Miss Rae
So what really is the difference between an ACCOMMODATION and a MODIFICATION? Aren't they the same thing?
No. Accommodations and modifications are different from each other!
An accommodation is a way to help students learn the same material or take the same test in a different way.
A modification is a change to what the student is expected to learn.
By: Miss Rae
When we start to think about Specially Designed Reading Instruction, I think it is helpful to start by viewing it in light of the continuum of instruction...or the RTI triangle!
Let's look at each Tier a little more closely...
IDEA tends to be our course textbook in Special Education - if you will. So what does IDEA say about Specially Designed Instruction?
Using a student's evaluations, determine the areas of reading in which the student demonstrates lagging skills and/or a disability. Incorporate those targeted areas into a student's IEP goals, and then, instruction. Now, we can check off the first component of some pricey packaged curriculum!
The next step in designing Specially Designed Reading Instruction is to be explicit in your instruction. Click the slideshow below for Explicit teaching tips!
To be systematic, you should follow a scope and sequence for your instruction. This should be a logical sequence to get a student closer to a grade level standard.
So let's say the student's grade level standard is to read CVCe words. The following would be a logical progression to mastery of that standard:
1. advanced phonemic awareness skills
2. letter identification
3. letter/sound identification
4. VC words (decoding and encoding)
5. CVC words (decoding and encoding)
6. CVCe words (decoding and encoding)
Below is another example of a scope and sequence...
In order to help students achieve these steps to mastery (and oh, you know, try to do it while simultaneously learning other new curriculum like their general education peers), employ multi-sensory learning! Make sure to always include a spiraling review of previously learned skills for reinforcement, and most importantly, teach all components of reading, just focus more time and intensity on a students lagging skill areas AND do it all through multi-sensory learning!
It is essential that this instruction be applied in the classroom to generalize the skill. When Specially Designed Reading Instruction is paired with reading time in the classroom with a general education teacher, a student will make faster progress!
Lastly, I know I probably don't have to say this, but I wouldn't feel right not saying it - as with all Special Education students, the most important step in designing Specially Designed Reading Instruction is to Adapt & Modify for individual student needs!
Also, don't forget that a student eligible for Special Education services may not require distinctly different methodologies or interventions, but rather increased intensity. Or a student may require both! But ultimately, we should be giving a student what they need, not just because we can offer it. Our goal for Special Education should be to teach independent application of skills and strategies.
By Miss Rae
Grab this FREEBIE to help you plan Specially Designed Instruction!
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Yes, a student can have a 504 plan and an IEP.
For example, a student with an IEP comes to school needing a temporary medical plan, should receive a 504 plan. This would be a short term 504 plan for short term accommodations. A broken hand would require a student to have the accommodation of a scribe (someone to write for the student).
These instances are few and far, though.
In general, everything that is included in a 504 plan can be included in an IEP so there is not typically a need for both.
Identify The Problem!
*Understand that interests may conflict. In the end, decisions should be made based upon the needs to be about the student
*Identify the conflict or problem that is causing disagreement Ask ‘Why?” and “Why not?” to look for a cause and for a purpose to move forward.
*Discover how the conflicts have developed...sometimes things have happened in the past, and these experiences are shaping the parent’s presentation and beliefs. Beliefs can be misinterpretations and misrepresentations as well. So make sure the facts of the dispute are accurate.
*Know that parents might be fearful! They want to feel confident that their child is getting the best.
*Ask questions and pause to actively listen to the answers
*Establish objective criteria - all meetings should use fair standards and fair procedures (AKA federal and state laws) when designing the IEP. Some of what may be causing the issue is beyond the school’s level of control.
*Actively listen-listen to the other side too, instead of trying to be one step ahead
*Allow time for venting - to be heard. This may help you identify the true cause for conflict.
*Don't lose control by reacting to outbursts; instead, actively listen to what is being said. This may also help you identify the true cause for conflict.
*Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate. Say “I understand that you are feeling hurt (angry, etc.), and I feel terrible that you feel that way.”
*Remember that an apology can diffuse emotions
*Every team member is of equal and utmost importance. Each team member’s voice is equal.
*Interests can help to define the problem. If we look for a parent’s interests, we can help to solve the conflict by coming up with compromises. Say “We are all invested in the best interest of (student’s name).” Sometimes behind conflict lies the shared and compatible interests.
*Be hard on the problem, but soft on the people. If you know this student should receive specially designed curriculum, but the parent does not want the student to, try to understand where the parent is coming from, but stick to what the student needs. You want to solve the problem, but not attack the parent and/or break the working relationship.
*Teaching students is an integrated experience (one’s behavior impacts the behavior of the others and vice versa). Due to this, it is important to have a positive working relationship with a student’s family.
*Remember - unlike your students, you may not be able to “solve” the parent so - don't try to solve the people, but rather the problem.
*Put yourself in the parent’s shoes. When conflict arises, separate the conflict from the parent. Typically, conflict is rooted in people's thinking and/or perception. Openly discuss other's perceptions and then...
*Use a surprise attack! Look for chances to act inconsistently with their perceptions. Show data, when they have said you don’t know their child.
*Make your proposals consistent with their values. For example, if their goal for the child is academics, propose the programming you are recommending by discussing how it will support the student’s academics.
*Draft the IEP together! Agreement is easier when both all parties feel ownership in the idea.
*Sit side-by-side and work as partners.
*Do not be confrontational!
*Don’t defend your ideas with belief, but rather, with data.
*Document the data together.
*Reason and be open to reason. Ask parents to state their reasonings and suggest applicable objective criteria. Say “I’m suggesting that Special Education services be received in the classroom, and you want the services to be delivered outside of the general education classroom. Let’s look at what the law says about the least restrictive environment decisions.”
*Be open to criticism and advice.
*Know that understanding is not agreeing.
*Speak to be understood.
*Speak for purpose.
*Use “I” statements.
*Understand the power of emotion! Do not personalize anything that happens or gets said in the meeting. Always remember that all members of the team are here for the student!
The data of the disability’s impact
on academic performance and
related service needs should drive
the IEP decisions!
Plan the Purpose!
*The teacher and the parent want the same thing!
*Ask for parent preferences. Ask “What is it that you are looking for?”
-Look for mutual gains and shared interests. Say “We both want the same thing for your child. The reason I am suggesting XXX is because the data shows XXX and research supports XXX.”
*Invent different options for the meeting: * separate judgment from options * create a wide range of option choices * search for mutual gains (put yourself in their shoes and see how the “problem” looks from their perspective) * generate options to their “problem” * generate consequences to each option (some can be negative, but don’t threaten) * invent ways to make their decision easy
*Agreement is often based on disagreement. Be inventive about ways to join differences. Say “I’m suggesting that Special Education services be received in the classroom, and you want the services to be delivered outside of the general education classroom. The law says that students who receive special education should learn in the least restrictive environment. However, I understand your reasoning so let’s have the student receive services in the classroom 4 days per week, and one day per week, I will teach the student outside of the general education classroom, focusing on lagging skills.”
The purpose of every meeting should be...
*Build a working relationship - independent of agreement or disagreement - with parents before the meeting. In this way, you deal with the “people problem” before it becomes a “people problem”.
*Remember perceptions should not drive the IEP decisions. The data of the disability’s impact on academic performance and related service needs should drive the IEP decisions!
By Miss Rae
Special education teachers are more likely to depart than any other group of teachers. Studies have demonstrated that an average of 13.2% of us leave the job each year.
The job of a Special Education Teacher can be overwhelming. Trust me - sometimes I feel like I had an IEP written just for me with a team that supports my needs and goals... But since that's not going to happen, the only way to not become a statistic is to start your year organized to stay organized for a successful year!
Take these steps during the first few days of the school year as a Special Education Teacher for stress free year!
Now, take another minute to think of yourself as a child. Think of the teenage you. And now, think of the adult you. Have you changed over the years? Of course you have! We all change, and our students change too. They change developmentally. They change from their experiences. And they change from their interactions with others, including you, as their teacher!
A student’s IEP should report the facts about a student. No one’s interpretation nor opinion should sway the IEP. But we are human, and this does happen. Plus, we never know how the previous student and teacher relationship influenced a student’s progress.
So because change is normal, because data can be subjective, and because everyone should be given a second chance, on your first read of the IEP, just read it for the facts.
After years working in an urban school district therapeutic middle school classroom setting for students with emotional and mental health challenges, I transitioned into an inclusion classroom in the suburbs. It was a second grade classroom of possibly the nicest children I thought I had ever encountered! The general education teacher that I co-taught with would often tell me things like, “You can discipline them you know” or “It’s okay to raise your voice once and awhile.” And every time she would say things like this, I would think, “What for? These kids are great! They say words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. None of their sentences ever include a swear word, and they don’t even know what having an attitude is.” It felt like I had died and gone to teaching heaven.
Then, in October, we got word we were getting a new student who our Assistant Principal said looked like a “heavy hitter.” Ugh! The good times are over!
A very think IEP was in my mailbox the next morning. I read through it immediately. It told the tale of a boy who was deaf in one ear and extremely violent. The narrative spoke of desks being thrown at teachers, students being attacked, and constant work refusal.
When this boy entered our classroom on the first day, I was immediately terrified. His history looked like any other that I had previously worked with, but this second grader towered over me and was easily three times as strong as me!
Are you expecting me to tell the story of how we built a strong relationship and as a result, he never demonstrated any of these behaviors? Well, I’m not going to tell you that story. He just never showed any of those behaviors. He was homeless, living in a shelter, during most of the time that he was with us, and he still never even showed a symptom of trauma.
We did form a good bond, but I cannot take credit for him acting as a role model student. He was a great kid, affable, polite, and a hard worker. He never showed a drop of anger or violence.
We re-wrote the IEP, and as a result, his story was re-written. But he did that by himself.
As a result of that experience, I don’t even read any of the narrative portions, including the current performance on the IEP so I am not persuaded - or jaded - by others’ views. I want to meet a student as he/she is. I want to give the student a chance to show me who they are and who they will be for me! Because every child should be given the chance to be who they want to be!
Just like you don’t judge a book by it’s cover, don’t judge a student on the opinion of other teachers!
After the first week, I complete the close reading strategy. I read students’ IEPs for comprehension of the full text. I read them to fully understand the main idea and key details. At this point, I know the student well enough to not let their previous story change my view of them.
While reading student IEPs, review their goals. You will get a better sense of them as you create IEP at a Glance sheets, which we will discuss next, and again, as you match progress monitoring assessments to them, which we will discuss later.
On your first of the IEP, just read through them to get a general sense of what your instruction will need to look like during the year. For example, if you are reading a number of decoding goals, you will know that your instruction will need to be phonics heavy!
You can read more about how I write IEP goals HERE!
If you are not expected to schedule these meetings, you should still mark the date on your calendar. As the student’s Special Education case manager or liaison, it is your responsibility to alert your school’s Special Education coordinator or IEP team chair if the date is approaching and you have not received a confirmation of the meeting date yet. It will also be your responsibility to attend the meeting and update the IEP, including the IEP goals.
In terms of the three year re-evaluation, most districts do not have the Special Education Teacher schedule and chair these meetings. Instead, your school’s Special Education coordinator or IEP team chair will most likely obtain consent for testing as well as schedule and chair the meeting. However, again, as the case manager or liaison, it is your responsibility to alert your school’s Special Education coordinator or IEP team chair if the date is approaching and you have not received a confirmation of the meeting date yet.
Typically, an IEP’s expiration date coincides with the annual review date. However, you should double check this when reviewing IEPs. If an IEP expires prior to the annual review date, you should make note of the expiration date on your calendar. This is because regardless of the annual review date, the IEP team will need to meet before the IEP expires.
Copy the IEP at a Glance sheets and...
Provide one copy of IEP at a Glances and student IEPs to all staff providing services to the student
Ask staff members to sign off on the date that the IEP was received. The IEP is a legal document, and each teacher working with a student on an IEP has the responsibility for understanding required IEP classroom modifications and accommodations.
If all teachers have access to the IEP through the database, I save some precious resources - paper and time! I only give teachers the IEP at a Glance with the understanding - or note - that they will look at the full IEP in the school’s online database.
Staff members such as Physical Education and music teachers should be aware of classroom modifications and accommodations as well as medical needs, behavior intervention plans and more.
Classroom teachers have a bit more involvement in the IEP process. Therefore, their responsibilities include familiarity with the student's IEP, implementation of PLEP A modifications and accommodations, adherence to confidentiality regulations, consultation with specialist(s) such as Occupational Therapists or Speech and Language Pathologists, attendance at Team meetings, and participation in the development of the IEP.
After each IEP meeting, a new IEP will be proposed, once the proposed IEP is signed, it becomes the active IEP. Once we have an active IEP, distribute the new IEP to all teachers and ask them to sign and date that they have received it. I also give them a copy of the new IEP at a Glance as well.
Here’s how each section of my binder is typically organized:
-IEP at a Glance
-Progress monitoring data
I like to use plastic pocket dividers for each student’s tabbed section. In this way, I can keep any notes, etc. in the pockets.
However, as caseloads sometimes grow over the years, it has become more efficient to have the sections organized by assessments. So when my Google Calendar alerts me that I need to test math fact fluency, I can quickly flip to the section containing the sight word assessments and tracking forms for that probe.
I also keep reference sheets in my binder for easy access. For example, I always keep a reference page that correlates reading levels to lexile levels. I keep the DIBELS' grade level correlation chart as well.
Some data needs to be tracked more frequently. For example, lagging skills in executive functioning, behavior, attention, and social emotional capacities often needs to be tracked within a 30 minute time period or during one subject area.
The binder can become too cumbersome when to employ for frequent data tracking. Often times, I clip my forms to clipboards for easy access. The forms I use can be copied onto cardstock and cut smaller to be placed on a key rings for easy access as well.
If I have access to an iPad or tablet, I use Google Forms. You can make a simple form that enables you to just hit a button each time the data needs to be recorded. Google Forms will save the data, and when needed, Google Forms will compile the data into one spreadsheet for analysis when it’s needed.
And there you have it! Your data is tracked! Now, you can continue on with just being a teaching rockstar and start to plan for the first few weeks of school!
You can learn more about my binders HERE!
Send a liaison/case manager letter to student families (Hi! I will be your child’s IEP case manager)
Send an introduction letter to all families of students on your caseload. This letter should explain your role as the student’s liaison:
“I will be your child’s special education teacher this school year. I will be working with your child on his/her Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals.”
Similar to building positive relationships with your students, you want to get off on the right foot with your students’ families.
You also want to infuse your teaching philosophy into your letter in order to help families understand your teaching style and the goals you have for their children:
“I am excited to be working with your child, and I look forward to seeing the progress that will be made. My goals for your child this year include maintaining high expectations by learning strategies and making modifications, creating a community of lifelong learners, and learning how to be good citizens and students.”
Let your families know you are always available for them as well as their children, and give them the best ways to reach you such as email or your direct phone number at school:
“Please feel free to contact me if you have any concerns, questions, or comments regarding your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or special education services.
I can be reached via…”
Lastly, set a goal in the form of a call to action for your families:
“Let’s work together to make this a successful year!”
If you send these immediately, you may not know the times that students’ services are scheduled yet, but if you wait to send this until the second week of school, you could also include a schedule of their IEP services. Oftentimes, related service providers send their own letters with the days and times that they will see a child; however, families may appreciate having this listed all in one place!
“Your child’s services have been scheduled as follows:
Monday - Speech 9:30-10:00, Reading 1:00-1:45
Tuesday - Reading 1:00-1:45
Wednesday - Speech 9:30-10:00, Reading 1:00-1:45
Thursday - Reading 1:00-1:45
Friday - Reading 1:00-1:45”
And don’t forget to have the letter translated into families’ home language!
Grab a FREE Special Education Teacher Welcome Letter HERE!
Now, here is the rewarding part! These are the reasons that you will cite for staying in the role of a Special Education Teacher!
You can grab all of the forms in the images in my Special Education Teacher Binder by clicking HERE!
And that's it! You have built a strong foundation for a successful year as a Special Education Teacher!
Happy & Healthy Teaching!
Ingersoll, R. (2001). Teacher turnover, teacher shortages, and the organization of schools. Seattle: University of Washington, Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy.
Plash, S., & Piotrowski, C. (2006). Retention issues: A study of Alabama special education teachers. Education, 127, 125-128.
Click HERE to learn how to tackle this list!
"Without data, you're just another person with an opinion."
Being a Special Education Teacher is a rewarding, and an albeit exhausting, job. However, the rewards far outweigh the exhaustion!
As Special Education teachers, we work with the highest needs student population. These fragile students require loving and learning, and when you give this to them, they will return it threefold with the greatest rewards. Our Special Education students can make the greatest gains and be the proudest of them! We became Special Education Teachers to give our students the tools to manifest their ability over their disability. We challenge our students to achieve beyond their wildest dreams, and in turn, they will challenge us to do the same!
The Special Education Teacher wears many hats. This is honestly why I love being a Special Education Teacher! You will NEVER be bored!
However, despite all of the roles that you will play on a daily basis from hallway monitor to team member to recess duty teacher, there are a few roles that are actually in your job description.
Apply for open positions on Indeed, SchoolSpring, your local school districts’ sites, and your state’s Department of Education. Then, follow-up with a personalized email, selling yourself as the BEST Special Education Teacher that anyone has ever met. Visit schools in person to drop off your resume and shake hands with the principal.
Do this in the interview, and then, be prepared to answer some interview questions!
Common Special Education Teacher Interview Questions:
Tell us more about yourself.
What is your teaching philosophy?
What is your teaching experience?
Do you have any experience or certifications with specialized curriculum (i.e. Wilson Reading, Orton Gillingham, LiPS)?
What is one of your biggest strengths? Weaknesses?
What makes you the best fit for this position?
Why do you want to work for this district/school?
Why did you want to become a special education teacher?
What is your experience with the IEP process? Writing an IEP?
What is your experience with evaluating students as part of the Special Education process? What tests are you familiar with?
How do you implement inclusive practices?
What is your classroom management style?
How do you foster positive behavior in your classroom?
What has been your most difficult moment or day teaching so far?
Describe your lesson planning process.
How do you incorporate technology in your lessons? In the classroom?
Describe one of your best lessons.
Describe a lesson that you thought was going to be great, but failed. How did you handle it?
What is your experience with co-teaching? What is your opinion of co-teaching?
How do you engage students in their learning?
How would you handle a student who refuses to complete work? Follow directions?
Explain how you differentiate for your students.
How do you modify lessons to allow your students to access grade level content? Meet state standards?
How do you foster communication with parents? How do you foster positive relationships with parents?
How would you handle a parent who disagrees with you at an IEP meeting?
How would you handle a parent who calls or emails you upset about a situation?
What will you bring to the Special Education team?
How will you communicate with services (OT, PT, Speech, etc.)?
How do you monitor students’ progress?
How do you use data to drive instruction? For IEPs?
How do you work with support staff (paraprofessionals)?
How do you handle a disagreement with support staff (paraprofessionals)?
How would you de-escalate a situation? How you would de-escalate a crisis situation?
Do you have any experience with writing a Manifestation Determination or a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)?
What is the last professional development book you read or are currently reading? What conference or course have you recently taken?
Questions for a Special Education Teacher to Ask the Interviewer or Team:
What is the philosophy of the district’s Special Education department?
What is the philosophy on Special Education in the school?
What is the school culture like, and how is it fostered?
What technology does the school have?
Does the district provide any type of mentor program?
What professional development opportunities are available for teacher growth?
How does administration support the teachers?
What is the typical caseload of a Special Education Teacher?
Who is responsible for scheduling and chairing the IEP meetings?
Take your time in responding to these questions. Be positive in your answers and support each answer with a story that demonstrates this answer’s reality in your classroom!
Practice interviewing with your friends, family, and fellow teachers. Reflect upon their feedback to hone your interview skills!
And most importantly, believe in yourself! You are a great teacher who will change the lives of each of your students!
By: Miss Rae
All 504 Academic Testing Academic Testing Reports Back To School B/d Reversals Coronavirus COVID-19 Discrepancy Model Distance Learning Distance Learning With LD ELL Executive Functioning First Year Special Education Teacher Advice FREEBIES Goal Tracking IEP IEP Goals IEP Meetings Learning Disability Progress Monitoring Reading Remote Learning RTI Rubrics SEL For Learning Disabilities Special Ed Teacher Interview Questions Special Ed Teacher Job Description Special Education Special Education Reading Special Education Reading Programs Special Education Teacher Tips Special Education Websites Specially Designed Reading Instruction Teaching Strategy Wilson Reading Writer's Workshop