PLOP: What Most People Are Getting Wrong!

I'll be honest. I am an IEP snob. I'm not saying all of my IEPs are perfect. Far from it, honestly. I'm also not saying that every IEP I have ever written has been top notch. Not at all. I'v learned a lot through the years and have worked to correct my errors.

BUT...there are a few things that just drive me crazy when I see them in IEPs. Some of my biggest pet peeves are in the present level of performance and progress monitoring areas of IEPs.


Ya'll, grades aren't present levels of performance. They just aren't. What if my teacher is the hardest grader I've ever had? What my teacher is the EASIEST grader I've ever had? What if grades are based on participation, and I never say a word? What if homework is a huge factor in a teacher's grading, and I never turn in my homework--better yet, maybe my mom does my homework for me? Grades are subjective. I'm not saying they can't be mentioned in an IEP. I'm not saying there is never a way or a reason to use them to progress monitor a student, but they don't tell me what a student CAN do. 

Standardized Testing Scores

First off, who cares? Thanks for letting me know a student did or didn't pass a standardized test. Unless you are breaking down scores to tell me what their areas of strengths or weaknesses are, that information isn't useful. It doesn't occur frequently enough for me to progress monitoring, and I have no idea how they performed on individual questions. 

School Wide Assessment Scores

At my school, we take NWEA and use the programs iReady and Lexia. At my previous school, we did STAR Reading and Math. While those scores are fine to include, they still aren't the most useful when setting goals. Instead, look closely at the data and find patterns, strengths, and weaknesses.

So...what IS a Present Level of Performance?

Well, this picky-pants-SPED-teacher likes to read a present level of performance and know exactly what group to place a student in. I should be able to read a present level and know what types of words can they read? CVC? Blends? Multisyllabic? Do they read fluently? Can they answer comprehension questions? What type of math can they do? Basic math facts? Regrouping? Multiplication? What does their writing look like? Do they need graphic organizers to get started? Do they need help with spelling? 

Present levels of performance are are critical to guiding a well written goal. They should read like a narrative. It should tell me exactly what a student CAN do with numbers and data supporting it.

How to Assess Present Level of Performance

If assessing your students sounds overwhelming, I understand! I have a blog post just for you. You can read it by click the image above.

I have a course for writing IEP goals. If this sounds like something you might need, click the picture above to take a look at my inexpensive, quick course for crafting IEP goals that are tailored for your students. 

EASY to Use Main Idea Anchor Chart and FREE Printable

Finding the main idea of a passage is critical for upper elementary. My third grade students and I have been hard at work using a reusable anchor chart to help us decide the main idea of a passage.

Create a Reusable Anchor Chart

I created this anchor chart (which isn't something I enjoy 😬...I hate my own handwriting) with a specific purpose. I wanted to have something that could be laminated and used over and over throughout the year. 

Using a dry erase marker, we'll be able to recycle the anchor chart as we read through many passages throughout the school year.

Determine Key Words

After reading a passage from our leveled reader, we choose a handful of keywords that would tell us about the WHOLE thing. These words might be about a person, place, thing, idea, animal, topic, or something we learned. We also look for words that were used more than two times. 

Write a Main Idea Statement

After we brainstorm keywords, we begin to see if we can use some of the words in a sentence that tells what the whole thing was about. If we can use ALL of them, that's even better. 

This part has taken a LOOOOOOOOTTTTT of practice! Forming sentences is really hard for my special education students--using "big" words makes it even harder. 

Mini Student Anchor Charts

We've been working on this for WEEKS! I finally felt like it was time to start making this a little more independent. Together, we brainstormed keywords and my students recorded them on their own mini anchor chart. 

Main Idea Statements

I couldn't wait to see what sentences they generated using their keywords. These two students came up with:

"Animals camouflage from [their prey]."
"Animals hid from [their prey]." 

I snapped this picture a little early and their sentences weren't quite finished! Either way, these sentences are SPOT ON when it comes to describing the passage that we had read, which shared several examples of how animals hide from their prey in their habitat.  

Want to grab this mini anchor chart? Click the image above or click here to download it! 

How to Quickly Assess a Student's Present Level of Performance

Let me set the stage for you, it's high stakes testing time. You have four evaluation conferences coming up, yet you have NO time to work because, well, testing. You get an email from your secretary. New kid. Has IEP. No records from previous school. UGH!

How will you ever assess your students who are in the evaluation process? How will you write a good IEP for your new student? This sounds like hours of work.

Fear not. I have a few assessments to make it so that you can whip out those IEPs after spending a few minutes assessing your soon-to-be favorite student or students.

1. Prep Assessments NOW

Maybe you have a few assessments that you are currently using with your students. Maybe you have a few assessments that your district or special education department requires you to use. Maybe you don't have ANYTHING and you want to check out my assessments that I use. Either way, prep them sooner rather than later. I make 20-25 copies of each assessment and keep them in these zippered envelopes. They will be easily accessible when that new student rolls in or school and home life gets CRAZY! If you don't have any assessments that you love, take a look at these.

2. Decide on an Assessment that is Appropriate

When it's time to assess, decide which assessment will be the best for their needs. Do you think they will be able to decode and read basic sight words? Do you think they're still working on letters and sounds? Can they write numbers and letters? How are those addition and subtraction skills? Can they rhyme and manipulate sounds? 

You can do multiple assessments, but you don't always need to. You can often find weaknesses in students' abilities through one! 

3. Meet with Student for 5-10 Minutes

I often carry a clipboard and my assessment envelopes to their classroom. With their classroom teacher's permission, I pull them to the hallway and assess them for a few minutes. I often do this in the morning after the bell or before dismissal. In my school, these are often times that the classroom teacher is ok with them missing for a few minutes, and I don't have students of my own in my room. 

I might ask them to read words, rhyme, identify numbers, or do a few math problems. I always document notes about their behavior, work ethic, attention, or any other atypical or typical behavior that they exhibit. This gives me a little bit of discussion material at their conference, since I often don't know them or work with them much at that time. 

4. Review the Assessment and Determine Goal 

After I assess a student, I head back to my desk (let's be honest...three days later) and review the assessment. What areas were easy for them? What areas were difficult for them? What coping skills did they seem to have? Were they good at memorization? Did they utilize strategies that have been taught in the general education class? Did they have confidence? Did they erase a lot? What notes did you make as you assessed them? 

From there, you should have a goal that has basically written itself. What will you spend the next school year working on?

I created a course for helping special education teachers assess their students and write measurable IEP goals. If this sounds like something you might need, click the image above. It's an affordable way to help you build confidence in your IEP writing! 

How to Quickly Organize Progress Monitoring for Special Education

Progress monitoring can seriously be an overwhelming task. Many special education teachers are overwhelmed at even the thought of assessing their students two to three times per nine weeks. I am one of the oddballs. I love to assess my kids on meaningful goals and use that data to make decisions about interventions their receive, student groupings, and next steps. 

With a little pre-planning, you can make progress monitoring quick and easy! 

Create Data Tracking Sheets

Each nine weeks, I print this page (and many more to accommodate all of my students) with a summary of my students and their goals. It is a quick and easy way to ensure that I'm not missing anyone or a specific assessment along the way. 

With these editable tracking sheets, I add their data in a color coded fashion as I collect it. Using this page, I've been working to collect data in the moment through games and activities that we do together in a small group. If I'm being honest, this is still a work in progress for me.

Graph Student Progress

I love to be able to have my students SEE their progress throughout the school year. I also like to have their information handy as I am assessing them. In my binder, I have a tab for each student, which includes a graph for each of their IEP goals and past data collection pages, if applicable. My students and I always check out their graph before we start an assessment. They love to be able to see their progress, especially my older students!

This year, I'm going to TRY to let up on my control freak ways and allow my students to record their own data on their graph. 

Create a Progress Monitoring Tub

In this tub, I have nearly everything that I use for progress monitoring. Each folder contains a few pieces from my Progress Monitoring Collection, such as teacher recording pages, laminated lists of words for students to read from, and word/letter cards for students to use while being assessed. I try to have a folder for each skill that I typically assess for most students on my caseload. It's easy to set up and makes my life SOOOOO much easier.

If I'm assessing a new student, I pull out my tub and have everything I need to determine their present level of performance.

Make Copies as Needed 

When I know progress monitoring is right around the corner, I carry my tub to the copy room and make additional copies of pages that I'm running low on or goals that many of my students have. I also have the copy machine three hold punch them for me! Otherwise, they might not EVER make it into the binder. 😂

If you need to get a grip on progress monitoring, be sure to check out the products in my TpT Store specifically designed to make progress monitoring easier for special education teachers. 

Silly, Funny, and Ridiculous Picture Books for Reading Mentor Texts

One of the reasons that I love picture books is that they are often humorous and appeal to the sense of humor of our upper elementary students. The following books are perfect for teaching theme, plot, sequence, making connections, and more! They are fun and will serve a purpose in your classroom.

If you see any books that you don't own, you can click the image to find them on Amazon!

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath

First, I learned so many things about President Taft that I didn't know. I had to Google how big he was after reading this book. 

In this hilarious book, President Taft gets stuck in the bath. His wife tries to offer a suggestion to help him, but he ignores her. Instead, he calls in the vice president and all of his secretaries to help him get out. They overthink the problem and struggle to get him out. Finally, they work together to get Taft out of the tub. This book is oddly funny, yet can be used to teach students to find theme. I believe that this book shows students not to overthink problems, not to ignore people who are offering helpful ideas, and to work together to solve problems. It is also a great way to show the plot structure of a story and identify the problem and solution. 

The Good Egg

I really loved The Bad Seed, so when The Good Egg was published, I ordered it right away. I love it just as much. The Good Egg is great when teaching theme, describing characters, or if you need a story with a clear plot.

The Good Egg is trying so hard to help others make good choices that he cracks. He can't take the pressure of perfection in himself and others. When he takes a relaxing vacation to work on himself, he realizes that he misses the rest of his crew, but that he needs to take care of himself first. 


What is Floyd doing?! When his kite gets stuck, you won't believe what he does. He throws one of his shoes to try to knock down the kite. The shoe gets stuck. He throws the other show into the tree. Stuck. He gets a ladder. He throws it into the tree. Stuck. He repeats this over and over again. You and your students will be rolling your eyes when you read the crazy things that he throws into the tree. You'll be cracking up once the kite finally falls out of the tree and you see what Floyd does. 

While this book is more hilarious than academic, it is perfect for using to help students practice questioning. After all, I questioned every. single. thing. What is he thinking? Why would he do that? How isn't anyone noticing this? 

This book is also full of LONG sentences as he repeatedly throws things into the tree. It almost reminds me of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. The sentences would be perfect as a lesson in making corrections to their writing.  

Nerdy Birdy Tweets

This book is silly and sweet at the same time. It shares the perfect lesson on a topic that is totally relevant to our upper elementary kids. Nerdy Birdy discovers Tweetster. As she is busy making five hundred new Tweetster friends, she doesn't realize how much she is driving away the only true friend that he had. It is a great book for teaching or reviewing theme and finding evidence to support their conclusions. 

Wordy Birdy

We all know someone who can not. stop. talking. Maybe it is a student. Maybe it's your own child. For your students, maybe it is their sibling or a classmate. Either way, I think we can ALL relate and make connections while reading about Wordy Birdy's lesson in listening. This book is perfect for teaching students to make connections, outline a plot structure, or find a theme. 

The Book with No Pictures

Some books can just be read for pleasure. Some books don't need a reading skill or a purpose. This book is just written to embarrass the reader and make the listeners laugh! 


The only word used in this entire book is DUDE, yet there are seriously so many things that you can do with this book. You could use it to talk about punctuation and how your voice changes depending on a period, question mark, or exclamation mark. There are also amazing themes hidden in the book, such as learning to not jump to conclusions and helping those around you. I also think it is absolutely perfect for students to practice making predictions and inferences. 

President Squid

This book is just FUN to read aloud! Squid has five reasons why he should be the president. He wears a tie, has the biggest house ever, he's famous, he likes to talk, and he would be good at being the BIG BOSS! Once he meets a Sardine, his thoughts change. Whether those changes are for good or not...🤷🏻‍♀️

It's a silly book that my students LOVED having read aloud. We used this book to talk about a story told in the first person point of view, but you could also use it to review sequence, making predictions or synthesis. 

Using Mentor texts is fun way to teach or review reading comprehension to upper elementary students. These digital and printable graphic organizers are a fun way to engage , whether you utilize mentor texts in centers, small groups or the whole class. November is a great time to have fun with books about parades, and being thankful, while also incorporating other stories will deeper subjects requiring the kids to focus on the story more. {3rd, 4th, 5th, reading comprehension, fall}
If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for Mentor Texts, you can find them in my TpT store, by clicking here. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer!

4 of My Favorite Picture Books for Teaching Main Idea & Theme

I teach theme, and I teach main idea. But, I also spend a week teaching them TOGETHER. While they are very, very similar, there is also a bit of a difference. I think having students see the difference is critical. I do this as part of my theme unit, so my primary focus is theme. 

I teach theme as a lesson that your dear old granny might say. Something profound and full of a life lesson. The main idea is just a sentence that tells what the WHOLE passage/story/article/etc is about. 

Below, you'll find four mentor texts that I like for teaching both skills at once. I feel like realistic fiction or nonfiction style books lend themselves well to both skills, but they certainly don't have to be. I like to present my kids with books that have real life themes. 

By clicking on any of the pictures below, you can find them on Amazon. 


I love books that can be used for a variety of skills. This wordless book is extremely simple (but SO deep) and can be used to introduce or review many reading skills.

Unspoken is about a girl who notices someone hiding in one of their small outbuildings. The setting is during the Civil War, which leaves students to infer that this mysterious eyeball she sees is a runaway slave. Without any words in the book, we can see the main character is helping this runaway by feeding them and avoiding soldiers that are looking for runaways.

Theme: Helping others do difficult things is always worth the risk. 
Main Idea: A young girls helps a runaway slave escape using the Underground Railroad. 


I'll be honest, I almost put this book back on the shelf. I thought I had read so many short stories and passage that I probably knew enough about Jane's story and wouldn't be interested in this book. Boy, was I WRONG! This picture book shares the curiosity that Jane experiences as a child that led her to research gorillas in Africa as an adult. This book is full of themes and perfect for sharing with students, whether they know about Jane Goodall or not!

Theme: Hard work, dedication, and following your heart can make your dreams come true.  
Main Idea: Jane's natural curiosity and love for nature led her to a career she loves. 

She Persisted

What does it mean to persist? What do many people do when someone tells them no...or they can't...or that something isn't possible? They quit. But not the thirteen women that are described in this book. Each two page spread cover shares one paragraph about the trials and difficulties about one persistent woman and an explanation of how she persisted.

Theme: When others tell you that something isn't possible or that you cannot do something, persist. Keep working and never give up. 
Main Idea: Thirteen women persist to overcome major obstacles in their lives. 

On a Beam of Light

We've all heard of Albert Einstein. We know that he was extremely smart and inquisitive. His curiosity, hard work, and commitment to constant thinking and wonder led to major mathematical and scientific accomplishments. These are ALL things that students can learn by hearing Einstein's story told in this picture book. I loved learning about his life, especially how odd he was. Even his own parents considered him different when he didn't speak, like typical children. It's an amazing book filled with so many lessons that inspire you to ask "questions that have never been asked before and dream ideas that have never been dreamt before."

Theme: Even if others find you odd or different, be yourself and continue to go where your imagination, curiosity, and questioning take you. 
Main Idea: Albert Einstein's life of curiosity led him to discover so many new things about the world around him. 

5 Reasons I LOVE Using Picture Books for Teaching Theme

I love to use picture books to teach theme. To be perfectly honest, I love to use picture books for teaching EVERY reading skill. They are often the foundation of what I do when teaching theme for my students. They are memorable, easy to digest in one sitting, funny, easily accessible, and suitable for all reading levels.

They are short. 

I absolutely love to read novels to my kids. I love how I can weave so many reading skills into a novel. I love how we can do so many other side activities with our novel. And I also love to be able to let my kids just relax and enjoy a good book. The problem? They take so. stinkin'. long. With picture books, they are short, sweet, and to the point. You can crank out several in a week. You can give your students multiple opportunities to practice a particular reading skill. 

I think a healthy balance of novels, picture books, and reading passages are critical for allowing students to be able to generalize skills throughout many aspects of reading comprehension.

They are funny. 

Maybe it's just MY personal reading style, but I love the humor that is inside so many great picture books. Creepy Carrots? My 5th graders loved it. The Book with No Pictures. They loved it! Bedhead. It was easy to relate to and absolutely hilarious. 

So many of our kids can be engaged with just a little bit of humor.

They are memorable. 

I don't care who you are, you probably have a favorite picture book. You probably have some books that you remember. Maybe it was the first picture book that you remember reading by yourself. Maybe it was a series of picture books that you always loved. Maybe you remember a book that one of your favorite teachers loved, and therefore, you loved it too. Whatever the reason, there has to be a picture book that you remember.

They appeal to many reading abilities.

If a picture book is well chosen, it will appeal to many reading abilities. I am 31 years old and still love a great picture book. My lowest level students, who are identified for special education services, they love a good picture book. Your gifted student in class will also enjoy a well written picture book. 

Since I am usually using the book to teach a skill, I am reading the text aloud. You don't have to be the highest reader in the class to follow the comprehension skill. By reading it aloud, I am removing the barrier for many of my students. 

They are easily accessible. 

Between my personal collection, the public library, my school's library, teacher friends, and Amazon, I can always find a picture book to fit my needs. Since I have young kids at home, we often take a library trip each Monday. I grab usually 10-12 books that I think might work for next week's skill. When I take them home to read them, I am often able to weed out several books that just don't fit that I am wanting. 

If I have one that I really love and I can't think about not being able to use or remember it the following year, I order it on Amazon. 

Also, a simple and helpful tip that I got from a friend of mine years ago--Create a Google Sheet with all of the picture books that you own and use for teaching reading, writing, or other skills. Then, you can sort it by different reading skills when you are looking for something. I also love to use this when I'm at a conference, garage sale, or book store. I know if I already own it.