Posted in math, mind, more seeds, special education

Writing IEP Goals and Objectives, Part 2: Identifying Obstacles to Learning

Identifying Obstacles to Learning

In the past post, we analyzed a grade-level standard to determine the skills, concepts and knowledge that all students need to gain to master the goal, as written.

For students with disabilities, this grade-level goal will be challenging to reach in a year, without specially designed instruction. Analyzing the essential components of the standard helps us determine with which parts of the standard our students will need more assistance. From this, we will come up with annual goals to help get the students where they need to, ultimately, be.

To achieve this, we need to identify, for our student, the main obstacles to the child accessing the grade-level curriculum as represented in that standard.
Writing IEP Goals
To determine a student’s main obstacles to learning, consider the kinds of questions the student asks when doing grade-level work. {Image Credit: (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

What Part of the Standard Will We Address?

Let’s reconsider the math standard we analyzed from the last post:

6.NS.a.1. Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem.

When we closely examined the standard, we determined that, in order to fully master this standard, students needed to be able to do the following:

  • know and understand (as evidenced by correctly using) the terms fraction, dividend, divisor and quotient;
  • demonstrate understanding of the concepts of fraction, quotients of fractions, word problems as a representation of division problems involving fractions, and the concept of division;
  • interpret and compute quotients of fractions;
  • solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions.

In order to write the standards-based goal, we must first determine the portion(s) of the standard (or implied foundational parts of the standard) with which our student is struggling. I think about the questions that the student asks me, when we’re working on problems based on this standard. Below are some questions students ask, and what they might indicate. I’ve categorized them into two groups: general instruction issues and specially-designed instruction issues.
Writing IEP Goals
Sometimes, there’s a major foundational skill that interferes with a student otherwise accessing the grade-level. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

General Instruction Issues

General instruction issues are problems the student has that are parts of the grade-level standard that any student might reasonably need help with, because they represent new grade-level content. In other words, for this example, given a class of students in Grade 6, and new instruction, many of your students might not have fully mastered the skill or concept, until the end of the year, because they haven’t been taught fully yet. These would not be ideas to focus on in your IEP goals, as they should reasonably be met through general education instruction or early intervention supports:

  • “I get how to divide whole numbers, but what does it mean to divide a fraction?” (the student has difficulty understanding division as it applies to numbers that are not whole numbers)
  • “I know what it’s asking me – but how do I divide fractions by fractions?” (the student doesn’t know a procedure to use to solve the problem)
  • “How do I set that up?” (the student does not know how to represent the word problem using visual models or an equation)
  • “I read it, but I don’t get it. What am I supposed to do?” (the student has difficulty understanding the word problem as a problem that can be solved using mathematics)
Difficulty with using multiple means of representing mathematical ideas is a common area for student difficulties in mathematics. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Specially-designed Instruction Issues

Close examination of the grade-level standard, and the student’s performance in class, will often indicate underlying difficulties the student has which make accessing the grade-level curriculum standard difficult. Since our goal as special educators is to develop customized instruction to help the student access the grade-level curriculum, these are the areas where we should focus our IEP goals and objectives, as they represent current obstacles to the student mastering the standard, as written:

Vocabulary Issues

  • “What does this word say?” (the student has difficulty reading key content vocabulary)
  • “What does this word mean?” (the student has difficulty with the meaning of key content vocabulary)

Reading Comprehension Issues

  • “What does this word problem say? What does it mean?” (the student has difficulty reading and comprehending mathematical word problems as a genre of literature)

Fact Fluency Issues

  • What’s 8 divided by 4?” (the student lacks fluency in basic math facts)

Computational Fluency Issues

  • “I did what you said, but the answer is wrong… why?” (the student lacks accuracy in computation)
  • “How do I divide this?” (the student has difficulty with the idea of division as making equal shares of a whole)

Other Issues

  • “What is a fraction? What does a fraction really mean?” (the student has difficulty with the concept of fractions as relative parts of a whole)
  • “What does THIS fraction mean?” (the student has difficulty interpreting fractional notation – he may understand “1/4” when represented using concrete objects, but has difficulty when presented with the symbolic representation)
  • “How do I say this [fraction]?” (the student has difficulty reading numbers expressed in fractional notation – this is similar to the previous)
Fractions represent a common conceptual challenge to many students, with and without disabilities. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

Identifying a Focus for SDI

Of course, you don’t complete this process for every grade-level standard. And you don’t write an IEP goal for every area that a student has difficulty. However, even if you did this activity with one grade-level standard, chances are that you will see patterns of challenges for a particular student. For example, I have one student who would struggle with this standard, simply because he cannot decode the text. If you read the problem to him, and allow him to represent the problem with a drawing or concrete objects, he can accurately complete the grade-level task. You wouldn’t want to give him an elementary task, simply because the reading level is easier for him – that’s not respectful of his math ability.

He also struggles with basic multiplication facts. So, for him, focusing on “work-arounds” for the text-based portion of the standard, and providing accommodations for the math fact fluency issues, would be helpful no matter what math standard he was working on. Make sense?

Always consider embedded literacy skills as areas of difficulty with many math students. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

Writing that Standards-based Goal

In the last post, we unwrapped the grade-level standard, to identify key vocabulary, skills and concepts embedded in the standard. In this post, we reviewed where our student would struggle with the standard, using his questions as a guideline for diagnosing his obstacles to accessing the grade-level curriculum. Then we identified obstacles that would likely pop up in multiple areas of his curriculum, to prioritize what we set for goals for him.

In the next post, we will use what we know about the grade-level curriculum and our student’s needs, and write IEP goals that will enable him to better access his grade-level curriculum.


Mom of four, Nana to seven, homeschooler, special educator, and lover of all good things... striving to do His work every day.

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