Guest Post by Andelee Espinosa, Special Education Teacher, Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield, WI
During the spring of 2017, about 20 teachers at my school did a book study on, “How to Personalize Learning,” by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey. This was during a time when our district was just beginning to use the words personalized learning. Elements of personalized learning were creeping into classrooms and there was confusion about what our instruction was supposed to look like. As a high school Special Education teacher who co-teaches and case manages, I planned along side my co-teacher, Mike Mohammed (@Mo_physics), and we moved toward more Project Based Learning opportunities. I observed quickly where the pitfalls for learners with disabilities, or executive function deficits, were in a personalized learning environment and designed specifically for them in the classroom. The main area that I saw amplified as a pitfall was agency.
Learner Profiles: My Personal Entry into Personalized Learning
As we had planned for in the past, there were supports in place for organization, means to access the content and differentiated content as appropriate. However, now learners were being given choices and freedom in how they learned but they couldn’t clearly identify who they are as learners in order to make choices that set them up for success while still encouraging growth through challenges. If our learners are going to be having more choice in their education, they were going to need to be able to articulate, with confidence, what their strengths and challenges are and advocate for supports that help them. After reading the book, there was one chapter that really spoke to me. That was on Learner Profiles in Chapter 4 “Discover the Learner in Every Child” of How to Personalize Learning.
Since beginning my career nearly 20 years ago, I have always made sure my high school learners had an active voice in their IEP meetings, often leading the discussion. This involvement looked different for each learner but I always felt it was critical to building ownership, agency and self-advocacy skills. After reading about Learner Profiles, I knew my personal entry point into personalized learning. I became a fast adopter of the “Who I Am As a Learner” Part 1 and 2 charts.
Learner Profile Leads to Agency and Self-Advocacy
Today, each child on my caseload has a Learner Profile that we update yearly, sometimes twice a year. Depending on the individual, this process is done interview style or through a conversation. Some of my more independent learners who are familiar with the process are able to fill out the checklists independently and populate their chart using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ (aligned to the Universal Design for Learning Principles). Brad’s Learner Profile below is an excellent example of what a learner is able to share about who they are, how they learn (strengths, challenges, preferences and needs) and what they aspire to be.
This document is updated before I even begin writing their annual IEP and it’s where real conversations about hopes and dreams, strengths and challenges, and what helps them learn take place. Aligning my IEP writing to the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ allowed the Learner Profile to seamlessly fit into my practice. I find the Learner Profile has allowed learners to have a greater voice during their meetings and therefore become better advocates for themselves in the classroom. This advocacy piece is so important as I prepare them for life after public school when they are completely on their own.
Rethinking IEP Meetings and Goals – Learners Lead
IEP meetings start with the learner introducing the team.
After receiving feedback from a parent that meetings are often overwhelming because of the number of people, I implemented name placards. The learner creates them, often just using laminated card stock and dry erase markers. They each create a Google slide deck that takes the team through all the parts of the IEP but we begin with hopes and dreams first: whatever that post-secondary goal is. Therefore, the learner and I take the team through the Post-Secondary Transition Plan (PTP) which defines the goal. As the highlight of the meeting, we move into the Learner Profile which is projected on a screen at the front of the conference room and team members are given hard copies. As the learners get older and have gone through this process multiple times, they have been known to find a variety of ways to personally communicate who they are as a learner using sketchnoting, videos or presentations. By the time the learner is done explaining their Learner Profile, much of the strengths, challenges, present level of performance and supplementary aids and services have been addressed in an engaging manner. The team discusses progress towards IEP goals but within the context of how those goals support the hopes and dreams of the learner.
The Learner Profile is a powerful document which isn’t just used during the IEP development but as a communication tool between learners and their classroom teachers. This document is shared with general education teachers at the beginning of the term, in addition to the paperwork I also provide to make sure accommodations are being provided. I’ve used the creation of the Learner Profile as part of the specially designed instruction provided to address self-advocacy or executive functions.
The process of learners creating their own Learner Profiles is one that creates agency and promotes self-advocacy.
Andelee Espinosa (@AndeleeEspinosa) is a Special Education Teacher at Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield Wisconsin and a National Board Certified Teacher. She is passionate about meaningful inclusive practices, Universal Design for Learning, Personalized Learning, strengthening co-teaching teams, utilizing Learner Profiles to help learners better advocate for themselves in the classroom and conducting learner-led IEP meetings. She enjoys integrating activities that promote collaboration, critical thinking and communication such as BreakoutEDU and Project Based Learning in her classes. In addition to case managing, she co-teaches Biology and Physics. Outside of school, Andelee has been involved in Destination Imagination and enjoys spending time getting dirty in her butterfly garden or cooking with local and seasonal ingredients.
The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express is a trademark of Kathleen McClaskey