If you are a special education teacher, or an administrator who supervises and supports special education, how do you feel about lesson plans? I posed this question in a recent conversation with four friends who are special education teachers. Interestingly, there were some definite opinions about the question of whether lesson plans were needed in the special ed. classroom. Two of the teachers said that that they are absolutely required to turn in lesson plans and couldn’t imagine teaching a classroom without them. The other two said that no one asks them about them and they don’t see the need for them. Both groups were pretty wed to their positions.
Clearly it’s a more complex topic than I initially imagined. Regardless of your stand on the issue, lesson planning is still a challenge in a highly individualized classroom. So, it bears discussion as to how and why would lesson plans be beneficial when everyone is doing “their own thing”?
Even with IEPs and specialized curriculum, classroom activities still need to be planned in special ed. classrooms.
Some instructional activities will stay the same everyday with the same goals and activities that are driven by specialized curricula or IEP goals. For instance, small group or individualized reading centers are driven by either the scientifically based curriculum chosen to teach reading or by the students’ reading IEP goals, or a combination. The scientifically based reading curriculum would have lessons progressing in a logical sequence to teach, and teaching is often guided by the progress of the student. For instance, one lesson will be continued or repeated until mastery is demonstrated. Only with that mastery would the teacher move to the next lesson.
However, with groups like morning meeting, the goals might be the same or similar from day to day, but the book read, songs sung, or vocabulary introduced might change daily or at least weekly. Lesson plans would provide this information.
Giving directions to paraprofessionals, sharing with admin, and accountability. Reasons why we still need lesson plans in #specialed
Similarly, with independent work, the goals would be consistent throughout the year focusing on teaching the student to complete a series of tasks on his own. However, the tasks that are chosen to practice with will change to avoid monotony and continue to challenge the student. Lesson plans would include the information about which tasks should be used for the work and the sequence of instruction.
Students with disabilities typically work with a variety of professionals working with them during the day.
Students might receive specialized instruction from the special education teacher, special services from collateral service providers like art and music, and therapy from speech, occupational and physical therapy. In addition, each student typically interacts with the general education classroom daily. With lesson planning, special educators can collaborate with a variety of professionals to develop activities, choose goals to focus on, co-plan activities, and disseminate information about the emphasis of instruction. Similarly, they can collaborate with general educators to align their instruction to the general curriculum and time their instruction of specific topics to the classroom agenda. This collaboration would allow the special educator to pre-teach material prior to the student encountering it in the general education environment. This allows the student to be more successful with the material in the larger general education classroom.
Lesson planning allows the teacher to give direction to paraprofessionals without having to stop at every transition and tell them what to do next.
Paraprofessionals serve as lay instructors in special education classrooms and, as such, need training, direction, and guidance from the teacher to assure effectiveness. Lesson planning allows the paraprofessionals to know what goals to target with specific activities. So, for instance, if a student is supposed to practice writing his name, the paraprofessional knows to have him write his name on his paper. Plans also assure that the tasks designated to the paraprofessionals are appropriate to their skills.
Lesson plans allow the administrator to have a map of how the teacher is implementing the curriculum, instruction of IEP goals, implementation of behavior plans, and more.
In a world of accountability in instruction, principals and administrators are being asked to more closely evaluate the work of all their staff, including special educators. In addition, lesson plans help guide administrators’ observations of the classroom so they are informed about the goals and intent of the classroom activities. This can help to plan when to observe and help them know what to assess.
Lesson plans are a key element in demonstrating to families, the state, and the court if necessary, that instruction based on the IEP and curricula is planned to provide that “appropriately ambitious” progress.
Parents cannot be expected to be experts in how the IEP is implemented and the curriculum is taught, although some have become so in their advocacy for their children. Nonetheless, schools have a responsibility to demonstrate how the IEP and curricula are implemented. A recent U.S. Supreme Court case emphasized the need for schools to demonstrate “appropriately ambitious” progress of students. This court decision is seen by many as a landmark for increasing the expectations for instruction and progress of students with disabilities. Lesson plans are a key element in demonstrating to families, the state, and the court if necessary, that instruction based on the IEP and curricula is planned to provide that “appropriately ambitious” progress. Indeed, lesson plans are a tool used by courts during due process hearings to determine if instruction was planned and appropriate to meet the student’s needs. And the absence of lesson planning is something that hearing officers typically consider indicative of a lack of instructional planning, failing to meet the requirements of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
To return to my discussion with the four teachers at the beginning of this post, those two teachers who said they didn’t have lesson plans had planning they could articulate. But the planning was in their head, not written out on paper. They had a schedule for the students and specific materials they pulled from. They collaborated with other professionals and administrators verbally. If called to, they could certainly verbally describe their plans in their classrooms because that’s what good teachers do. However, that doesn’t mean that all teachers who don’t have lesson plans have them in their heads.
With all of that said about why lesson plans are important, how do special educators fit them into their already overwhelming set of paperwork? The answer lies in creating a system. Once a system is created, some parts are (i.e., goals and activities) are changing every day while other parts are consistent remain the same.
To see an example of this system and download a template to get started, you can check out this post on my blog.
Until next time,