Friday, June 30, 2017
Thomas the Tank Engine IEP Goals
When developing your next IEP I would like to make the suggestion that you help the team link one of your child’s strengths to address their weakness.
This is a very easy way to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of an IEP goal.
Let me explain why this would be helpful in a few ways you may not have considered. The average caseload of a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) for a school is massive. They may have 70 children who they see over the course of a month.
When the SLP sees these children will vary depending upon the IEP of each individual child.
After all 70 IEPs are developed the SLP will then develop a schedule and lesson plan for each of their cases. This may involve the lumping of children into groups if they are working on the same type of goals.
When the SLP meets with one of these children or groups of them they do not have much time to prepare for the session. They will certainly not have the time to review each of their IEPs instead they will look into their planner which will state the IEP goal that they are working on.
Let’s consider the following IEP goal that came directly from an IEP goal bank:
Use regular/irregular plural forms in conversation and will increase the complexity of morphology/syntax forms (word/sentence forms) by producing 40 to 50 % above baseline or 70 % of the time as measured by an oral language sample.
I am going to venture to guess that most parents have no clue what that goal means. However, a SLP does.
If an SLP reads that goal before meeting with the child they are going to know that the child is having difficulty pluralizing words when speaking.
Perhaps the child says that they enjoy eating fishes instead of fish. They will then rely upon their generic methodologies they learned in school to work on developing the skill.
In this case the goal dictates that the child is going to be focusing on oral or spoken language. They may accomplish their task by showing the child a series of flashcards and asking them to describe what they see.
This is fine and most likely an effective way for the SLP to teach the child effective use of the plural form.
A method would address the child's difficulty with a corresponding strength or interest.
Imagine if at the IEP meeting the child’s parents brought up that their child is utterly fascinated with the topic of trains, in particular anything concerning the show Thomas the Tank Engine.
The child has a very low interests in other subjects and the amount of speech they voluntarily create is significantly lower.
If the IEP team had incorporated this fact into the goal the likelihood of the child being successful in the goal could increase because they would be using their natural and self created language. This goal may then read something like this:
Child will use regular/irregular plural forms in conversations concerning Thomas the Tank Engine and trains at first then into generalized applications and will increase the complexity of morphology/syntax forms (word/sentence forms) by producing 40 to 50 % above baseline or 70 % of the time as measured by an oral language sample.
If your child has autism the difference in this goal would become readily apparent. Children with autism often fixate upon one subject and can interact with that subject matter at a considerably higher level than other topics.
For this hypothetical child it could be much easier for him to relate to a picture of two train box cars than the typical flashcard depicting two dimensional cars.
The same may be true when a discussion about the number of cities Thomas and his friends visit on a particular day, or when they pass sheep on the way.
By incorporating the child’s strength directly into the goal the SLP will be reminded of this child’s fascination about trains and allow them to incorporate this fact without referring to their notes or the IEP itself.
This will increase the chances that the child will advance and elicit a sufficient amount of language to work on their goal.
Luckily in this modern world a google image search can quickly bring up pictures of nearly everything in no time at all. I found the following plural noun chart on a pinterest page:
I then did a quick google image search and was able to come up with the following images which depict the words in the first box titled regular nouns:
Each of these pictures are going to be more likely to encourage more speech from this child than from typical flash cards.
If you cannot relate to this example every child is different but whatever your child's strengths or interests maybe adding them to their IEP could make the world of a difference on how they relate to their education.
Personally, I can relate to this example because it came to me when I was a preschool teacher.
One of the children in my class was fascinated with Thomas and was always holding a Thomas toy wherever he went.
For the first three quarters of the year this child was almost completely disengaged from the class for all but maybe 2% of the time. He had difficulty following instructions, sitting for circle or doing the activities we had planned. He hated coming to school.
Each day he would wait for an hour right next to the door for his parents to pick him up so he could leave as soon as possible.
When I came to work one morning my amazing co teacher had prepared one of her elaborate circle times on the subject of water.
When I called the children to come in from the play yard, in typical fashion, this child did not listen and remained in the sandbox playing with his Thomas toy.
As I walked up to him I decided to take a different approach.
Instead of fighting him I kneeled down on his level and told him that we’re having a special circle that was all about Thomas the Tank Engine.
Honestly, I figured this had no chance of working.
I was totally caught off guard when he immediately sprung up and exclaimed “REALLY?”.
Now I was in trouble.
I didn’t have a Thomas the Tank Engine circle time prepared and did not want to hijack the circle time from my co teacher since she had done so much in preparation.
I had to quickly think outside of the box. Luckily something came to mind.
I asked the child if he knew that Thomas was actually a steam engine.
He quickly nodded that he did.
I went onto explain that steam engines like Thomas run on water, water is what makes them strong, and that today circle time is going to be all about the thing that makes Thomas strong.
The child was super excited to come in for circle and to my surprise jumped directly into my lap.
For that moment until the end of the year he was a completely different person.
He went from being engaged and following instructions 2% of the time to at least 70%. He began to interact with his peers and participate in the activities we had prepared.
That day when his mom came to pick him up he was in the sand box playing with another student. She was shocked.
After she picked her jaw up from the floor, she walked over to the sandbox where her son was playing. To her amazement he asked her if he could stay longer.
When she came up to me and asked what on Earth happened I shared the events that transpired that morning.
From that day she began to use Thomas analogies in all types of scenarios and it worked.
It is important to keep in mind the other portion of the goal suggestion I made; the subsequent act of generalization. This is when a child takes the skills he has in one topic and applies them to other areas.
Without the inclusion of this component the goal may encourage a counter productive hyperfocus upon the subject of trains that would not be helpful.
Trains are just an analogy hook that should be used to advance generalizing the concept being taught from the goal; pluralization of nouns.
All the child needed was the ability to relate to his surroundings.
What are some of the strengths or interests that may be your child’s Thomas?
Example of strengths:
Use of computers or technology
Strong creative ability to create intricate stories
The ability to mimic speech or memorize scripted language
Affinity towards sports
Highly motivated by the use of a particular motivator such as bubbles
Strong work ethic once they understand the objective
Relates to tangible objects as opposed to 2D depictions on flash cards
Identifying real life objects on a walk
Talking through puppets
Mark Adamson is an attorney who works in the Salt Lake Area. He is currently the only parent attorney in the state of Utah who specializes in Special Education Law. Additionally, he is an IEP consultant who is available to work with parents no matter where they reside. He went to college at UCLA and then law school at the University of Laverne. Much of what he teaches was learned from his experience working with the prestigious Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles. He is now working to bring the lessons he has learned to others on a grassroots level.