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Student Dossiers: Introducing Your Child to a New Teacher/Understanding Your New Students

Both parents and teachers work hard on many tasks at the beginning of each school year. A high-priority task for both sides of the equation is facilitating a quick and easy working relationship between the teacher and her new students. Sharing information with the teacher about a child with learning differences at the first opportunity can help shorten the amount of time the adult spends discovering which strategies and approaches have proven successful for this child.

Parents, consider writing a one-page dossier about your child so the teacher has the information at her fingertips. Creating a reference document frees the teacher from the burden of having to remember all you tell her at Meet the Teacher night by putting the most important facts onto paper.

Teachers, consider asking parents who share with you that their child has learning differences to create a one-page dossier so you have the facts in writing. You can refer to the document when you need help understanding this child’s behavior, unique strengths and weaknesses, and proven strategies that work well for this particular child.

Consider including these sections in the dossier:

• Introduction to the child

• Any diagnostic data

• Strengths

• Weaknesses

• Special areas of interest

• Additional pertinent personal information

• Proven strategies or approaches

In the introduction, include basic data as well as confirming your willingness to help in any way. Express appreciation for the teacher’s interest in assisting your child. This section is a good place to include contact information so it is at the teacher’s fingertips.

In the diagnostic data section, give a simply stated overview of the child’s diagnosis. Very briefly, summarize how that diagnosis impacts daily classroom life. You might consider attaching a link to an in-depth article or video which you feel explains the child’s diagnosed condition well.

The strengths section should truthfully state the behavioral, social, and academic areas which are strength areas for the child. If the items listed are relative strengths compared with the weaknesses, that should be stated clearly.

The weaknesses section is where specific skills and activities that are difficult for the child are listed. Where possible, it is good to briefly connect the weaknesses to the child’s diagnosis.

Sharing special areas of interest to the child helps the adult see the child as a whole, interesting person. If a teacher knows the child’s special interests and hobbies, those can sometimes be woven into instruction.

Supplemental personal information is intended to assist the teacher in knowing special circumstances of the child’s life which may impact school life. A grandparent who has moved into the home for medical reasons, a dual custody arrangement, or even building a new home can all impact a child’s behavior, and it will help the teacher to know about it.

Explaining successful strategies and approaches that have worked with the child in the past will give the teacher a head start when she considers how to best help them. Be as brief as possible while still conveying how the strategy works and why it helps.

For help in constructing a dossier, this month’s freebie is a fill-in-the-blank, Student Dossier Worksheet. Parents, you can use the worksheet to create a dossier for your child. Teachers, you can use the worksheet to distribute to parents of students with learning differences who will be in your classroom this fall.

Resources for this article included:

Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz (2003)

Designing a Dossier - An Instruction Book for Your Child by Rick Lavoie (2007)

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