Was I FIPPED Before FIP Was “In”?

This blog post was written by Judy Summers. Judy is a FIP Specialist for the Central Region, a part of a regional support system available to help your LEA advance the use of formative instructional practices. 


As a former Intervention Specialist, I would like to think that I have always been strong in my use of Formative Instructional Practices (FIP). If nothing else, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process led me through steps that encouraged my FIP thinking. The IEP requires that teams determine students’ current levels of achievement, write measurable annual goals, set criteria for mastery, collect data, provide progress reports to parents at determined intervals, and when possible, encourage students to participate in the process. Like FIP, these steps are designed to help students know where they are in their learning, where they need to go, and how to close the gaps.

Although IEPs support the use of formative instructional practices I have been wondering lately how intentionally I was actually using formative instructional practices beyond the plans I created with my team members. Looking back, I believe I was on the road to being ‘FIPPED” before FIP was in, but I didn’t have the knowledge or tools to purposefully integrate FIP thinking into the IEP process and into my own classroom instruction.

Reflecting on what I now know as a FIP Specialist, here is how I might have taken an intentional approach to the IEP process and my teaching practices by considering each component of FIP:  

Creating and Using Clear Learning Targets: In the IEP process, measurable annual and quarterly goals are determined, but the key to meaningful goal setting is deconstructing complex content standards into smaller learning targets. I now know that identifying the ultimate target type, determining what targets underpin the standard, defining academic language, and creating learning progressions are essential steps for assuring that learning targets are clear to teachers and students. It’s a deeper dive than just stating a goal, but can make a world of difference when done correctly.

Collecting and Documenting Evidence of Student learning: The IEP states the criteria for mastery of each goal.  My first step would have been to be very clear about what mastery looks like and through my learning progression, determine where each student was on that path.  Although I frequently collected data, I would now focus on collecting accurate evidence of learning. I would ask myself these important questions: Am I collecting data that matches the learning goals and targets?  Did I give students multiple means of demonstrating their knowledge? Have I used principles of sound assessment design such as assessment blueprints and rubrics when creating assessments?  

Providing Feedback:  The IEP is specific as to when parents receive notice of student progress but how often was my feedback specific?  Although I often used success feedback I would now provide my students more specific information on how they could move forward in their learning. I would share with my students a clear path to mastery.  I have a better understanding about how important it is to provide effective feedback to the student and to their parents.

Student Ownership: Every IEP begins with a ‘Future Planning’ section which addresses the question, “Where are we going?” These long range plans become more specific as the student nears age 14.  Districts are required to invite the student to the IEP meeting to be involved in transition planning for college or career.  Upon reflection, I would increase student participation in their IEP and build ownership of their learning along the way. I would increase my student’s independence to goal set, track progress, and self-monitor. I would teach my students to share their learning with others and to use peer feedback as a means to move their own learning forward.

Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. I think the IEP process gave me the guidance I needed to begin my FIP journey. My work as a FIP Specialist has helped me to see and share ways to further that journey. One of my biggest ‘ah-ha moments’ has been the realization that the IEP is only a great process when paired with great instruction. The main purpose of Formative Instructional Practices is to ensure that all students have access to high quality instruction that helps to close gaps in their learning and which moves them towards mastery-- and beyond. This happens when all educators--general and special educators--intentionally embrace formative instructional practices and embed them daily in their classrooms. 

If you are looking for information on how to be more intentional in your FIP practices for the diverse learner, I suggest you view the “Reaching Every Student Modules”,  particularly Formative Instructional Practices: Reaching Students with Disabilities.