Planning For Independence

 Part 1: The Planning Cycle - Introduction

For every student identified as exceptional by an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC), the educational staff of the school must undertake a cyclical process of program planning.

During all the phases of the planning cycle, frequent interaction and communication should take place among all the individuals involved in planning the student's program. Co-ordination of efforts is critical and is the responsibility of the principal. By encouraging creativity, co-operation, and flexibility, the principal can ensure that everyone is working to design, implement, and evaluate the most appropriate educational plan.

The Assessment Phase

Assessment is a continuing, systematic, and purposeful process of collecting information about a student to assist in the making of programming decisions. It should tap the social, emotional, physical, cultural, and intellectual aspects of the student's life in the home, school, and community. Assessment should result in a realistic and positive understanding of the student's abilities and needs, from which a learning prof He can be developed.

The principal, the parents, the student, classroom and special education teachers, and support personnel should be involved in the assessment process. A case conference is an efficient means of sharing information. Working as a team, concerned individuals interpret findings and make decisions regarding a student's program and placement.

The assessment process may include, in addition to the activities already mentioned, collecting information about previous educational experiences and arranging a formal educational and/or multidisciplinary assessment.

By means of these activities, educators determine the learning strengths and needs of the student, and a student profile is developed. The profile is a description of the student and his or her learning needs and may include information about:

  • health or medical factors;
  • specialized resources or equipment required to meet the student's educational needs;
  • the need for support personnel;
  • parental expectations;
  • the suitability of various learning environments.

When learning needs and abilities have been identified and a student profile has been completed, program design can begin. It should be emphasized, however, that assessment does not end at this point; rather, it is a continuing process of review.

The Development Phase

The information collected during the assessment phase is used to design the individual educational plan. An educational plan not only identifies what will be taught but also specifies how goals will be reached.

The educational plan is the major vehicle for both short- and long-term planning. The following are some of the items and issues that should be covered in the educational plan:

  • the long- and short-term program goals for the student;
  • the type of learning environment that has been chosen for the student;
  • strategies for individualizing the student's program;
  • the human support services that will be enlisted to support the student's program;
  • special equipment and materials that will be used;
  • specific instructional techniques (e.g., behaviour management or task analysis) that will be used to meet the goals of the student's program;
  • the level of support and program modifications planned for the student in an integrated program;
  • specific staff responsibilities for implementing the plan;
  • the nature and frequency of assessment of the student's progress and the plan's effectiveness.

Regular communication among parents, teachers, and other professionals is crucial throughout the development phase.

The Implementation Phase

At the implementation phase, learning experiences are provided to the student as specified in the educational plan. But successful implementation requires more than just a good instructional plan; it also requires both physical and social support from the school. At this point, therefore, personnel responsible for the student's education must ensure that modifications such as ramps and washroom facilities are provided and that needs for special equipment and transportation are met. To sensitize the school population to the student's special needs, information should be disseminated through staff in-service sessions and/or communication with parents and other students.

Personnel resources specified in the educational plan -health-care providers, educational assistants, familysupport workers - must be hired or assigned as needed. An educational program must be developed or an existing program modified according to the plan conceived in the development phase. School staff must be assigned, and helped to understand, their roles (e.g., program delivery, program evaluation, guidance). Finally, opportunities for rewarding peer interaction must be ensured.

The daily timetable of these students can be similar to that of their non-disabled peers. As a general rule, every student can take part in the major areas of study - communication arts, social sciences, mathematics, physical education, dramatic arts, and visual arts. Students with special needs may require, in addition, involvement in non-academic areas, such as self-care, physical therapy, community access, and work experience.

Although these students may be unable to participate in some activities independently and in the same way as other students, this does not necessarily mean that they should be excluded entirely from these activities or subject areas. In many cases they may be able to participate if programs are modified for them or if they receive the assistance of a peer tutor or a teacher's assistant. The goal is to involve students in regular activities in ways that are relevant to their individual needs and that provide them with enjoyment and skill development.

Consideration should also be given to the provision of out-of-school learning experiences to facilitate students' eventual transition from school to life in the community. On-the-job experience enhances the skills that students learn in the classroom, with the result that students learn to function as independently as possible, both in the community and on the job. It is also important that students develop recreational skills and interests, as well as the social skills required to use facilities such as restaurants, banks, and libraries. These skills can be taught outside the school, through field trips. Finally, learning housekeeping and basic maintenance skills in natural home environments will enable many students to manage in a supported or independent living arrangement.

The Evaluation Phase

Evaluation consists of both continual and periodic assessment procedures. It involves measuring student progress through observation and through other, more formal measures of achievement, The evaluation phase includes program evaluation as well as evaluation of student achievement.

The following are some factors to consider when evaluating the student's achievement and the program's effectiveness:

  • the student's success in completing the learning objectives outlined in the educational plan;
  • the student's areas of strength and weakness, not only in the academic realm but also in social, physical, intellectual, medical, and vocational areas;
  • the program's success in meeting the expectations of the parents and the student;
  • the plan's success in meeting the needs identified in the student profile;
  • the appropriateness of the student's placement;
  • the helpfulness of the modifications made to the learning environment;
  • the effectiveness of the teaching strategies in meeting the student's needs;
  • the adequacy of resource and personnel support;
  • the need for further assessment of student and program.

Communication with parents and other professionals is an important part of evaluation. It may occur through interviews, conferences, progress reports, telephone conversations, classroom visits, and written correspondence. This collaboration results in comprehensive accounts of student progress, interests, strengths, and needs and assists in answering the question "Are the instructional programs effective?"

The information and concerns that arise from the evaluation phase may indicate further assessment needs. In that case, the assessment component and the entire planning cycle will be repeated.

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