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As a new teacher, I had more than a dozen IEPs in my classroom. Depending on where you teach in the world these may be called something different, but IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs or IPPs, Individualized Program Plans – can be completely overwhelming.
So today, we’re going to talk today all about the tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years to not only manage this high number of IEPs in my classroom, but to show you that it truly does take a village to help these kids!
However, before we dive into today’s topic, I want to invite you to participate in a challenge to win a scholarship for the Academy! 👇
All right, now let’s dive in and talk about today’s topic: the tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years to support struggling students in your classroom, especially when you have a high number of interventions.
Now right off the bat, I can tell you that the secret to supporting your students who need extra help is to not rely solely on only pulling small groups to give your students the support they need.
I was able to better support all of my students once I shifted my expectation away from only small group interventions and towards community responsibility and care in my classroom. Here's what I mean:
There are clearly stronger kids in each subject area in your classroom. We talked often in my classroom about how we each have different strengths, and that what is fair in our classroom is not the same for everyone.
So, that might mean that although Steven really struggles in reading and writing, he’s incredibly gifted athletically and is the one everyone wants on their team in gym class.
Because of this, Steven might need a little extra help completing his work in some subject areas, but then he can be a real help to his classmates in other areas.
In our classroom, we work together as a team to help each other when we need help in different subject areas.
I set the expectation that everyone will work together as a community to support each other. t is a privilege to have a gift or talent in a particular subject area, and it is our responsibility to use those gifts to help others.
I also lavishly praised and rewarded my students who stepped up to help their peers in any way possible.
I created a half-dozen "Student Teacher" or "Teacher's Assistant" lanyards, and I always made them very special. Sometimes I made them all sparkly or rainbow colored, or one year, I even made them look like Olympic medals so my students would really want to wear them.
And, my students knew that if they completed their work early and well, I would be so super impressed and grateful to them for stepping up to help Team Friesen.
But most importantly, it earned my respect for them and I would praise them up and down in front of the class for choosing to help their classmates and for demonstrating kindness and compassion.
In fact, I also had something in my classroom called my Three C Award which I gave to students for demonstrating Strength of Character, Consideration, and Caring in Our Classroom. Giving out one of these certificates was not a regular event because I wanted to ensure it was an authentic experience for my kids, but I tried to award one of these every week or two.
If you’d like a free copy of this certificate, I include inside my Ultimate Classroom Management Checklist, which you can download by clicking the link below:
Now you might be thinking – how am I supposed to have kids help each other when they have to stay 6 feet apart in the classroom?
My hope is that you have at least 1 or 2 plexiglass shields set up inside your classroom so kids can at least be across from each other to work together. I know it isn’t optimal, but it would at least give kids that peer interaction that they are craving so much to work this into your classroom if it’s possible.
Another way that I ensured that I ensured that I gave students the attention they needed in terms of interventions was to keep a basket called "Work in Progress" in my classroom.
Anytime we had extra moments, I invited peers to pair up to help each other complete their work or to work on a specific skill.
Because here’s the thing I finally got clear about when it comes to children who need extra support:
It doesn’t have to always be you to be providing the intervention support.
Once you take the time to show your students how to be helpers and teachers, you will be amazed by what children are capable of.
I’ll never forget the first time I really experienced this in action, and like most lessons I learned in the classroom, it happened purely by accident.
I really wanted Tyler to get some extra help practicing his spelling words for that week. I knew he wasn’t getting the help he needed at home, so I asked one of my stronger students, Avery, if he would be willing to work with Tyler to play a game and help Tyler to practice his words.
It was so funny because it was like I was watching a mini-me when I overheard Avery teaching Tyler.
You just don’t realize how much children internalize in terms of HOW you teach until you hear them teaching someone else. I could almost hear my own voice – he even had my cadence down, and I heard him ask things like,
“Well that’s a good try. What else would make sense there, Tyler? You did a great job on that part. Do you see where you might need to make a change?”
It was crazy – and here’s the thing – I could hear Avery mastering the content he was teaching to Tyler, because we all know that the best way to really learn something is to teach it to someone else.
Once I realized the incredible value for BOTH students in peer teaching, I was hooked, and I used this strategy whenever I could in my classroom.
The other side benefit for those kids who are maybe naturally gifted in some areas was that it really helped them to develop compassion and patience, and more gratitude and awareness of the gifts that they had.
And here’s the thing: Even if you’re teaching online right now, you can still pair kids up and have them work together to complete activities or to work on projects.
You can still have kids volunteer to help their classmates by calling each other or by using breakout rooms to have kids work in small groups.
I know it’s more challenging to do things this way, but kids are natural helpers, and especially when they know how much you value kindness and compassion for each other – once you’ve set the tone for that - kids will take your lead because they know that you think it’s really awesome when they do kind things for each other.
The next way that I really helped my students to get the help and support they needed in terms of interventions was to fully involve my parent volunteers.
My parent volunteers knew that if they came into my classroom, one of the first things I wanted them to do was to check the Work in Progress basket and to work with kiddos who might need extra help and support completing their work.
If you’re part of my R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, I walk you through how to set up your parent volunteer station so that parents always know what you’d like them to do when they’re in your room. This was one thing I made very clear from the beginning of the year – again, it’s one of the things I show you how to do at Meet the Teacher Night so you’re setting the tone for the year. I never had parents come in unannounced and just sit around observing in my classroom.
Again, we are in very strange times at the time of writing this post, so you might be thinking, "Hold on Lori, I can’t have parent volunteers in my classroom."
If that’s true for you right now, I wonder if it’s possible for you to have parent volunteers on Zoom sessions with your students each week.
I know that this might sound strange, but I had one parent volunteer who would come in every week just to spend some time reading with some of my students who really needed extra reading practice. I wonder if setting up times when some parents would be available to just have kids spend 15- or 20-minutes reading with them over the screen.
It isn’t optimal, I know. But in these weird times, I think it’s worth getting creative to try to find ways to give kids more attention without you having to do it all. It may be worth emailing the parents of the students in your class to find out if any of them would want to do something like this.
If you’re teaching in person, look for times in your day when you can pull kids for a little extra support outside of your regularly scheduled intervention times.
For example, I scheduled silent reading time every day for about 15 minutes, during which I would often pull small groups or individual kids who needed some extra support or who needed a little extra help completing some of their work.
Finally, every time my class did centers in either math or language arts, one of those centers was to meet with me to work on or complete any work or interventions they needed help with.
If they didn't need anything from me, they got to use our free time center while I worked with other students who needed support.
If there’s one thing I learned about supporting your struggling students and giving your students who need interventions the extra help they need, It's really about remaining creative and about stealing all of the small moments you can – because they really do add up over time!
All of these strategies together really helped my students to feel supported while helping our class to develop more of a feeling of family and community.
I hope this has been helpful for you and has stirred your imagination for ways that you might be able to give your students the intervention support that they need.
What is one strategy that works for you to support students who need more intervention assistance? I'd love to hear from you - please share your ideas in the comments below!
P.S. I just created this very special freebie that I designed especially to help you start feeling more confident about your teaching. Grab your copy now by clicking the button below - it's what I used to help myself start believing more in my own teaching abilities, and I'm confident it will help you as well.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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