IPPs: A Tool to Support Your Child's Learning
I may be the expert on my child, but I do not know how they will learn best!
Navigating the school system to provide the best possible learning environment for your child is an experience filled with emotion fueled by a desire to see your child succeed. It can be more challenging when your child has a diagnosed Learning Disability and/or ADHD. This article will help explain one support tool – the IPP.
What is an IPP?
In Alberta, the Government of Alberta defines an Individualized Program Plan (IPP) as the outcome of meetings and the exchange of ideas focused on your child’s learning strengths and the areas of their learning that they are having a hard time sharing. Alberta Education describes IPPs as “working documents” that are “written commitments of intent by education teams to ensure appropriate planning for individual students with special needs”. IPPs are documents that help support students diagnosed with special needs, including students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD.
“Working documents” are documents that change over time as new information becomes available. The creation of a working document involves ongoing exchanges of information. It is a record of the comprehensive information related to your child’s learning needs.
The steps in an IPP process are ongoing and often overlap. Alberta Education has broken the IPP meeting process into a series of steps.
- Identifying the learning needs of your child. Often, these needs emerge from a psycho-educational assessment, but it does not need to start there.
- Identifying the direction of learning.
- Creating the plan.
- Implementing the plan.
- Revising and reviewing the plan
- Transition planning
Depending on the processes and the team, these steps can be sequential or overlap with steps adjusted throughout the revision process.
Who should attend the meeting?
You play an important role in identifying the strengths and needs of your child. When you go to the IPP meeting, going with an open mind will help you learn how teachers see your child. Ask them questions like:
- what your child does well during the day
- when during the day your child thrives
- if there are any teachers the child connects with.
Your child’s attendance at the meeting is critical. It is a valuable way to show the student the importance of the role they play in their learning. When students are involved in IPP meetings from a young age, they learn self-advocacy skills, relationship building skills and emotional regulation skills when they observe the adults in the room talking about difficult subjects while staying calm and collected.
Other important members of the team include teachers and other professionals involved in your child’s learning goals (such as school counsellors or psychologists, resource teachers, administrators, behavioural consultants, etc.). Some schools organize a point person who tells everyone else on the team what was discussed. If there is someone you need to communicate with directly, it is important that you reach out and connect with them on an ongoing basis so that you have the information you need to advocate for your child. IPP meetings are an excellent starting point for regular communication between you and your child’s school personnel.
How do I prepare for the meeting?
Preparing notes before the IPP meeting can help you stay on track during the meeting and ensure that you speak to all your ideas or concerns. The notes might include sharing your experiences at home when your child returns at the end of the day. Some things to share could include:
- your child’s past successes in school
- past areas of difficulty with learning or emotions at school (anxiety, anger, sadness)
- friendships at school or outside of school.
All this information helps the teachers and other school professionals understand how your child is doing at home and school.
It is important that teachers understand the child’s life outside of school. Relevant information might include:
- the type of evening activities that the student does
- areas of conflict at home (particularly around homework or reading)
- child's typical sleep experience
- child’s health concerns
All of this information can help teachers develop an improved context for their observations during the day.
Examples of additional concerns that are important to your child’s well-being at school include:
- parental separation or divorce
- your child moving between different homes throughout the week or month
- family death or poor health of a parent or guardian
- additional people living in the home with a close relationship (or strained relationship) with your child
- the recent loss of a beloved pet (or illness of a beloved pet)
- job loss or financial strain at home
- a recent or upcoming change in living situation
- other significant events that you are aware of that might impact your child’s wellbeing.
Why share such personal information with your child’s teacher? It can feel uncomfortable. But, anything that is happening at home is impacting your child's mental health and mental health impacts your child's learning. You do not need to go into great detail. But, your child’s teacher needs enough information to plan for your child’s learning appropriately.
The Importance of relationships
Building relationships with your child’s teachers and other school-based personnel is important as you try to advocate for your child’s learning. Often, there is a lot of emotion involved. The challenge is to keep emotions out of the conversation. One way to do this is to have a support person with you (whether a spouse or another person who knows your child well). Create a plan ahead of time with your support person. Create signals or keywords to use with one another when you might need to take a break to regroup. The key is to remember that everyone in the meeting wants your child to be successful. Collaborating to create the best possible plan for your child means that all team members need to recognize the expertise in one another.
Ultimately, the IPP meetings are opportunities to support your child in learning how to advocate for their learning needs. Having your child at the IPP meeting is an important way of engaging them in the conversation about their learning. It is a great time for your child to see how you are willing to collaborate with their teachers and how their teachers are willing to work with you. The message to your child is that everyone is working together to create a learning environment that allows them to produce the work they are capable of doing.
I don’t understand the recommendations! What do these terms mean?
Understanding the difference between modifications and accommodations is a key part of the conversation.
Modifications happen when a teacher adjusts the curriculum, so the student is not required to meet curriculum expectations. Modifications to the curriculum mean your child is learning different material from their peers. For example:
- a spelling test might have 10 words instead of 20 words and the words on the list are all different from the words the rest of the class are studying.
- In math, the rest of the class might move to multiplication, and your child will work on questions involving addition and subtraction.
Accommodations are strategies that a student can use to meet curriculum expectations. All students on IPPs without modifications are expected to achieve standardized outcomes set forth by the provincial curriculum. Examples of accommodations include:
- An audio version of the book being read in class and answering the same comprehension questions
- writing the same exam as others but in a quiet room
- using headphones with music to assist your child in maintaining their focus during work periods.
What do you ask for?
Before you begin the process of determining what accommodations to ask for, it is important to realize that no two learners are the same. Two children with reading disorders might benefit from very different accommodations. It can be a trial and error process as the student and the student’s learning team comes together to determine how to maximize the learner’s strengths.
Knowing what to ask for to support your child’s learning needs can be challenging to navigate. Alberta Education outlines three different types of accommodations:
- classroom/physical accommodations (eg. working in a quiet room, sitting close to the teacher or to a window, having a wobble stool)
- instructional accommodations (eg. teachers might give a student a package of notes before the lecture so the student can follow along, students might record lectures or teachers might record lessons and post on a central location)
- evaluation/testing accommodations (eg. extra time, scribe, reader, tests delivered online vs. on paper).
IPPs can include accommodations from one or all of the types of accommodations. Teachers are an excellent resource for ideas. Consulting an assistive technology expert is also a useful conversation once you have identified your student’s needs. Assistive technology is defined as “any technology that increases, maintains, or improves the functional capabilities of an individual with disabilities” (Alberta Education, 2010). Assistive technology can support a student in learning and/or producing the work they can do by capitalizing on student strengths and allowing them to produce work independently. The student needs to learn how to use the technology and this often takes time and training.
Accommodations need to be used consistently and regularly. Sometimes it is frustrating for your child (and for you!) to learn to use an accommodation, but it is worth pursuing over time. Once learned, the student can achieve independence and be better able to express their learning to their full potential.
Finally, building an IPP is a process. You do not have to sign off on the IPP until all your questions have been answered and the document you have all worked to develop together has accommodations that are available at the school and can be consistently provided to your child. The idea is that this is a learning process that is ongoing. IPP meetings are often scheduled three times per year in most schools in Alberta (there are exceptions). These meetings are wonderful opportunities to formally check in on progress. However, IPPs are living documents that can change over the year and the success of your child is dependent on everyone providing ongoing information to strengthen your child’s learning experience.
Other questions to ask in an IPP meeting
Children with Learning Disabilities benefit from having strong positive relationships. Asking your child’s teacher which staff member is a “fan” of your child is a good way to nurture the positive relationships your child needs to be successful. A fan does not have to be your child’s primary teacher; it might be a subject teacher or a physical education teacher or a music teacher. Inviting the fan to the IPP meetings can be a great way of helping the team hear your child’s strengths. A fan can also help other teachers, who might have a more difficult time with your child, hear success stories about what works in their classroom for your child so that other teachers on the team might adopt some of those strategies.
The importance of parent self-care
Advocating for your child can be overwhelming, frustrating, rewarding, and fulfilling. It is a long-term job that will hopefully end with your child knowing how to advocate for themselves as they go on to live life as an adult. Staying organized, supporting your child, understanding their learning needs, and building relationships take a lot of energy. Staying calm and positive in the process also requires energy and so, the more you can look after yourself (by getting enough sleep, having supportive people around you, engaging in activities you enjoy, etc.) the more energy you have to advocate for your child. As parents, we often say, “I don’t have time” to look after our own needs. However, if you can think about it like filling yourself up with enough energy that you can be an even better advocate for your child, sometimes you can find the time. The added bonus of looking after yourself is that your child will see how important it is to look after themselves and will build the habit now instead of trying to figure it out after years of putting other people first!
- Creating an IPP with your child and your child’s teaching team is a challenging and ongoing process.
- Being prepared for meetings, knowing your child’s strengths, maintaining your cool during meetings, knowing what the terms mean, and having some ideas about what accommodations are options for your child, help you advocate for your child.
- Knowing that the process is ongoing and that you do not have to wait for the IPP meetings, can help you build an IPP that maximizes your child’s ability to learn and demonstrate their learning.
- Involving your child in the IPP process and speaking openly about their learning strengths supports your child in building skills to advocate for their own learning needs and maximize learning potential.
- Taking care of yourself so that you have the energy and patience you need to support your child throughout their formal education years (and beyond) is an important way of helping your child learn about taking care of themselves too!