For students with an individualized education program (IEP), the annual review meeting is an essential part of the process. Each year, members of the IEP team collaborate to discuss a student’s progress and revise the official document. Although family members, teachers, specialists, and other stakeholders are a part of the IEP team, the most important team member is the student.
Although students can attend their IEP meetings, many students do not participate in these annual sessions. Participation in IEP meetings helps students build self-advocacy skills, develop a more in-depth understanding of their classification, and gain awareness of the modifications and accommodations they are receiving. Through student-led IEP meetings, students can take a more active role in the meeting and with their IEP.
When bringing students into an active role in their IEP meeting, it is vital to encourage students to participate in a way that works for them. Every student has different strengths, needs, and comfort levels, so adjusting their role to match their preferences is important.
Make the Introductions
For younger students or students just beginning their journey in the IEP meeting process, a straightforward way to bring students into the conversation is to have them introduce the people in the room. They can introduce their family members and explain their relationship to the staff members present in the room. If a student is already working on communication or social skills goals, these introductions provide an opportunity to practice in those areas.
For students who may be hesitant to begin actively participating in their meetings, making an introduction offers a way to start to contribute and increase their comfort in sharing their voice in a meeting. Even shorter contributions, like sharing future goals or aspirations, allow students to begin sharing in meetings while building their confidence.
For students who may not be able to verbalize these introductions, speaking could be substituted using an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. They could also identify the individual being introduced by gesturing. For example, as the case manager lists the individuals present in the room, the student could point or nod toward them as an adaptation of a verbal introduction.
Share Best Work or a Portfolio
During meetings, teachers typically take out artifacts from the classroom to show student progress. To gain a student-centered focus, students can share classroom assignments and activities that highlight their skills. For students attending their first IEP meeting, they may find a single task, explain it, and discuss why they felt they were successful in the task’s completion.
Students who may feel more comfortable can assemble a slide presentation or showcase elements of a portfolio of their work throughout the year. They can take pictures of their work or link digital artifacts to show their progress over time. As students gain more experience in their IEP meetings, they can link their portfolio or artifacts in a presentation to their specific goals.
Students who may not be able to explain their artifacts can still curate their favorite assignments from the year. A fill-in-the-blanks template can be provided to the students, where they can express their feelings about each assignment by filling in a word or image if they’re using a picture exchange communication system (PECS).
Discuss Beneficial Accommodations and Supports
Even before my students started attending their IEP meetings, I always spent time with them discussing their current accommodations. These conversations offered me the chance to see which supports students believed were beneficial in their success.
These conversations could easily be brought into the actual IEP meeting. Students can review their list of accommodations and indicate whether the supports were used in the classroom and to what extent they felt the supports were helpful to their class performance. This conversation can ensure that the accommodations listed in the IEP are meaningful and impactful.
For example, one of my students was provided the opportunity to dictate their open-ended responses to the teacher aloud instead of writing. During our discussion, the student indicated that they felt this support was not as beneficial and that they felt separated from their peers in the inclusion setting. Instead, the student asked to revise the accommodation to allow for the use of voice typing through the computer, which they found to be a more favorable support.
An alternative to this strategy would be to discuss each accommodation in the IEP. The student could then use an AAC device or another technology tool to select whether they would like to keep this accommodation in their IEP.
Contribute to Goal Setting
Annual goals and objectives are an important part of the IEP. As a student gets older, gaining their input can ensure that their goals match their future aspirations. When a student assumes a more active role in their meetings, they can contribute to creating or revising these goals and objectives.
When the meeting shifts to goal discussions, the student could reflect on their perceived progress toward their objectives. Alongside the data collected in class, the student can identify areas where they have successfully met a goal and areas where they still may need additional support. A student could also pinpoint skills from their content area classes or daily life skills where they would like to make additional gains, which can form the foundation of their new IEP goals.
For students who may need support verbalizing their ideas for goals, they can select an assignment from their class where they felt like they struggled. This selection could be used as the foundation for developing new goals based on student-identified needs.
Although student participation in their IEP meeting may look different, giving them an active role is an important part of the annual review process.