The visual construction of the Individual Education Plan and parent involvement

The visual construction of the Individual Education Plan and parent involvement
By Elizabeth Maclagan - 2014

In educative practices, planning documents play an important role in communicating the educational needs of students with disabilities. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is the main document that facilitates and enables accommodation for students with special education requirements. The IEP describes a student’s individual learning outcomes and services based on his or her level of educational performance (Griangreco, 1994). Research on the IEP work process has demonstrated that it can be confusing, frustrating, or ineffective in many cases (Ng, 2013). By taking the parents’ perspective and experience in the creation of the IEP, one can seek to understand why this can be such a taxing communicative process. As the literature can attest, there is great emphasis on parent involvement and positive outcomes in the IEP work process. However, parent input does not appear to be of great value or importance within the IEP document. In order to address the problem of poor parent involvement in the creation of the IEP, the IEP document template must be carefully analyzed.

By taking the perspective of the parents in the IEP work process, the following research questions will be addressed:
Primary Research Question: How do the textual and visual constructions of the IEP document elicit parent involvement in individual education planning?

When analyzing IEP documents, the visual construction and the layout can be examined in order to understand why parent involvement may be limited.


Written language can be analyzed by semiotic theory, which studies a system of signs, including a sign, signifier, and signified (Warner, 1990). Semiotic analysis questions what constitutes representation and the use of signs and sign systems to make messages (Nuessel, 2012). Thus, using semiotic analysis can help to understand how parents perceive the IEP document in practice. By gaining a richer understanding of the IEP template, one can hypothesize how parental involvement is communicated in the IEP work process.

In considering the composition of a document, effective design enables the reader to understand information by visually grouping elements into units and indicating order through visual hierarchy (Martin, 1989). By referring to the document design and layout of a textual document, one can assess and interpret cues such as order, proximity, visual hierarchy, and visual prominence. Further, through the implementation of a semiotic content analysis of IEP templates employed across Ontario school boards, the notion of parent involvement can be better understood.