Writing IEPs with Alternative Goals for Online Students

Is there anyone else out there who feels like they have stepped into some dystopian novel that we all will be waking from sometime soon? 2020 has become such a bizarre year, and education has taken some seriously unusual turns over the past 6 months, that my topic for this month is writing IEPs with alternative goals for online students. Alternative goals at home? Wow. That is sure a tall order.

In the spring, I read many examples of possible alternative IEP goals for students to work on at home. They were incredibly complex and required parents to follow 5, 000 steps or take on the role of the teacher full-time. I feel there needs to be a balance between our students continuing their learning, and the realities of what families are facing in the context of a global pandemic. I understand that the goal is that we work towards 225 minutes of synchronous learning a day, but the reality is, 225 minutes is hard to achieve when I have a class in-person as well and the parents are working from home. I feel the better option is to work closely with parents to prioritize their child’s learning needs and support them through this process. Therefore, in preparing this year’s IEPs and online learning program, I have asked for a lot of parent input. I have asked for even more than usual to get an idea of what is even manageable in their home. This year more than ever, we are partners in their child’s learning. I have asked questions like:

  1. How much time are you available to support your child both online and offline?
  2. What is the most important thing that you would like to have your child learn in term 1?
  3. Which one of the following works best for you: worksheets, apps, websites, YouTube videos or manipulatives?

My goal is to have my students learning in a way that is manageable for parents as the reality is, all of my students will need family support for them to continue their learning. None of my students can turn on the computer, find activities for themselves or navigate websites. Therefore, I have focused their IEP for term 1 on goals that are manageable and beneficial.

Some example of alternatives goals that I will be using are:

Life Skills:

__________ can follow visual steps to remove sheets from their bed and place them in the laundry basket.

__________ can follow visual steps to prepare a sandwich for lunch.

__________ can follow visual steps to independently change pads during menstruation.

__________ can brush teeth after meals.

__________ can select and put on clothes in the morning.


__________ can count items up to 10.

__________ can identify amounts that are more or less than 5.

__________ can count out the correct number of plates to set the table for dinner.


__________ can read short passages on the computer.

__________ can write a list of their favourite things.

__________ can read their name in a variety of contexts.


__________ can respond to questions about their interests using one word answers.

__________ can listen and respond to questions that begin with “who”, using two to three words.

__________ can identify their favourite items in their home using one word.

All of the above goals will be assessed and evaluated though a combination of observations during online meetings, websites that record student progress ( e.g., education.com) and conversations with parents. To all of those first year teachers doing online learning for students on alternative IEPs, my advice is to keep it simple!

Hopefully, 2021 will start to see a return of students coming back to school where we can support them all day long. I can’t wait!!!!

Alternative Curriculum Programming

I am very fortunate that I am the teacher in a contained class for students with developmental disabilities. Every day is a unique experience with lots of laughter and learning. As my students would be unable to complete the expectations in the Ontario Curriculum, they all follow an Alternative Curriculum. In order to provide a successful alternative program, it requires regular input from parents,  daily assessment data and a thorough understanding of the student’s profile (which can be found in the OSR).

Recently, I was asked what my students do all day as they follow an alternative curriculum. Below are the parts of my program. For students who are going to school in an inclusion model or a contained model you could adapt part or all the pieces of a similar program to meet the needs of your student(s).

Morning Meeting- First thing in the morning, we run a meeting on our interactive whiteboard for the entire class that includes review of the date, weather, months and seasons. It also works on communication, social skills and independence as my students run the meeting with little to no staff intervention.

Hygiene- In the bathroom, we take groups of students to work on brushing their teeth, washing their face and putting on deodorant. Some of my students are close to being fully independent and others need full support and are  working on tolerating the feeling of a toothbrush.

Snack time- This is a great social time for my students. Everyone has a chance to chat while they are eating which is great for those working on communication goals. Others are working on finding their lunch bags and bringing them to their tables.

Gross Motor- We use equipment ordered for us by the Occupational Therapist and the students do a circuit through a hallway at school. It gives them time to move and build their coordination. It also teaches them how to wait their turn, do tasks in a sequence and listen to instructions.

Activity Time- This is a block of time in the day for students to work on reading, writing, mathematics or fine motor skills independently or with teacher support. In my class, a few students complete independent work, while others work with a staff member on fine motor skills, another group of students work on reading and writing and the fourth group at the interactive whiteboard playing math games. The students rotate throughout the week.

Bathroom- Some of my students require support with toileting. They are supported to become as independent as their cognitive and physical abilities will allow. We also use this time to do teaching about things like changing pads for menstrual cycles.

Art- Creating art pieces gives us lots of time to work on cutting with scissors, holding pencils or markers or being comfortable touching unusual textures.

Lunch/Recess- Similar to snack time but with a 20 minute period outside with the rest of the school. Some of my students can play with other students quite successfully and others are supported to improve in this area.

Grade 8 Buddies- Our grade 8 buddies support us with playing games, completing art, cooking, playing basketball etc… My students absolutely love them! This activity supports students goals around communication and social skills.

Cooking/baking- Once a week we cook lunch. We take this time to work on food preparation and safety, tolerating new foods, cleaning and setting and clearing a table.

Coffee Cart- We run a business selling coffee and tea to the staff once a week. My students are fantastic at selling and are quite the entrepreneurs. This activity works on communication, following instructions, listening to others and completing simple tasks.

Music- My students have music every day. They enjoy playing with the musical instruments and are working on staying focused on a task for an extended period of time.

Life Skills- After lunch everyone has a job to do. They do the job for a full week to give them time to learn the skills necessary to do the job successfully. The jobs include watering the plants, doing the dishes, wiping the tables, tidying up, vacuuming and pushing in the chairs.

Afternoon Meeting- This time is spent focusing on skills we need to practice as a class such as distinguishing between milk and cream for our coffee cart. On Fridays, we do a wrap of the week where I share pictures and we reflect on all the awesome things we did.

Integration- Some of my students join other classes for gym. But ultimately, I am always on the lookout for school wide events that my students would enjoy such as staff/student dodgeball games or the Terry Fox Walk that we join in on.

Every portion of our day is focused on developing skills and learning. My students are incredibly capable and with the right supports and practice they can achieve the goals created in collaboration between school and home!

Comments for Alternative IEPs

As we begin the final reporting process of the year, I thought it might be useful to share some of my comments that were written on my alternative IEPs at the end of term one. I borrowed a few of my colleagues reports in the fall to get me started and I used their model to help design clear language that addressed my students’ goals on their IEPs.

That is what we often need, isn’t it? Just an example to get us started. However, for many of us who have been given roles that are unique within our school context, it can be difficult to get examples from amazingly talented individuals with lots of experience.

I am not that amazingly talented person with lots of experience. Not yet anyway. But the comments below might just give you an idea for the perfect way to describe your students in your classroom.

Communication Comments:

_______ is adjusting well to his new classroom at __________. Throughout the day, __ initiates interaction with both staff and students by moving closer to them and making sounds with his voice.  _______ is indicating his needs by motioning his hand in the direction of an object he wants. _____ does that frequently at snack time by motioning to his water bottle or during tech time when ___ would like to watch an iPad. _______will also communicate his frustration and dislike of an activity by crying or hitting others. _______  sometimes responds to his own name by making eye-contact especially when you are talking to him in a small group setting or singing him some of his favourite songs. _______________ will follow one step directions such as sit down, stand up and go to locker.

_______ communicates her needs and wants throughout the day at school to her teachers. _______ has good clarity when speaking and has made progress on her ability to speak slowly so that others can understand what she is trying to say. ________ often uses partial sentences and words to communicate with others and she will be encouraged in term two to add more detail to her sentences when speaking with others.

Life Skills Comments:

________ continues to require assistance to perform self care. He allows staff to brush his teeth and wash his face after lunch. ________ joins the class when we are pouring and stirring our ingredients in our cooking program.

______ continues to brush her teeth every day after lunch. She is really enjoying our cooking program and has helped prepare soup, sandwiches, stir ingredients and cutting vegetables. Now that her menstrual cycle has begun within the last few weeks, a focus will be placed in term two on helping _______ develop a routine where she can independently manage this new part of her life.

_____ actively participates in our cooking program in class. He loves making sandwiches, tacos, pouring ingredients and helping to stir ingredients. In January, he tried the food that we prepared for the first time. _______ continues to brush his teeth and wash his face after lunch with minimal prompting.

Functional Mathematics Comments:

______ is able to sort loonies, toonies and quarters with 100% accuracy but is unable to identify all the coins consistently. ______ can do single digit addition and subtraction using manipulatives  and is able to tell time to the half hour. _______ can recognize numbers and use them in real life contexts within the classroom such as finding the date for a classmates birthday.

Personal and Social Development Comments:

______ has made gains in his positive interaction with his classmates this term. He enjoys eating his snack with his tablemates and will ask them for assistance if he needs help. He also enjoys telling his classmates when they are being kind to him and each other throughout the day. _______ happily enjoys the class and enjoys being part of our whole class activities. The dance routines he can do with four of his classmates are amazing! ________ needs encouragement to choose a friend to do a pair activity and he will continue to be supported with that skill in term two.

_______ is engaging with his peers and staff regularly throughout the day by moving closer to them and making sounds. He smiles when he sees familiar friends and staff. His frequency of hitting others has become much less since the beginning of the year and he seems generally more content with his classmates and new school. ______ will hit others if he is irritated or trying to get there attention since he is unable to speak with his classmates. He can locate the area of his locker in the morning, at snack time and at lunch time.

Fine Motor Comments:

______ continues to enjoy fine motor activities in the class. He enjoys completing puzzles, playing with lego and using Theraputty. He independently zips up his jacket and puts on his snowpants, hats and gloves. ______ has become more comfortable with writing tasks this term and enjoyed writing some of the cards for our Christmas gifts. He has made progress on his ability to open his food wrappers at snack time. Now that ______ has started wearing jeans to school, he will be working on using his fine motor skills to unfasten and fasten his top button in term two.

______ continues to carry his communication bag and lunch bag into the classroom throughout the day. ________ prefers gross motor activities over fine motor activites and will often show his displeasure to doing his fine motor work by sticking his finger in his nose. We have been providing ________ with motivators and rewards such as his favourite shows Toopy and Binoo and positive praise which sometimes motivates him to do his fine motor work.