Building Engagement with Distance Learning
DL #25: Embedding Instruction During Hybrid Learning
Many school districts have begun to transition students with disabilities back into in-person classrooms to support them in receiving specially designed instruction and in making progress towards their individualized goals. Because of scheduling and logistical difficulties, this can mean that students with significant cognitive disabilities may no longer be able to access their general education classroom, even virtually.
Educators may be wondering how to engage in inclusive service delivery, while also providing students with significant cognitive disabilities intensive instruction in areas where they may have regressed or that need remediation. For example, Mary, a student with a significant cognitive disability, is in a virtual general education classroom that is currently working on a unit on data analysis. If Mary is not yet reliably identifying numbers, how can educators meet her needs and ensure that she has access to core instruction? She will be soon returning to in-person learning only with other students with significant special education needs.
One strategy discussed earlier in the Distance Learning Series is called embedded instruction. Embedded instruction is an evidence-based practice for teaching students with significant cognitive disabilities in inclusive classrooms (Jimenez & Kamei, 2015). It is a strategy that provides instruction in identified goal areas during naturally occurring opportunities within the activities and routines of the general education classroom (Jameson et al., 2020). Embedded instruction involves four steps:
- Identify a specific goal.
- Identify times during the natural routines and general education instructional activities to conduct trials.
- Provide targeted support (prompting) that is faded as the student becomes more independent.
- Collect, chart, and use data (Jameson et al., 2020).
The following drop downs give examples of embedded instruction in both elementary and middle school hybrid settings. In these settings during this stage of districts gradually returning to in-person instruction, students with significant cognitive disabilities may be receiving in-person instruction in special education classrooms yet supported by staff to engage in their general education class virtually. The elementary tab gives an example of embedded instruction when the goal is closely related to the lesson currently being taught (teaching counting within a unit on place value). The middle school drop-down gives an example of embedded instruction when the goal is not closely related to the lesson being taught (decoding consonant-vowel-consonant words in a book club peer group). Take a look at these examples to see how embedded instruction could play out in your hybrid setting.
In this case, a special education teacher could support a student in person to access the student's virtual general education class for math where the student is working on place value. Imagine that Mary, the 2nd grade student with a significant cognitive disability, is sitting in a classroom with her paraprofessional. She has a laptop logged into the synchronous class math lesson. Mary is participating in the general education lesson virtually and the paraprofessional is providing support. Mary is not yet counting with one-to-one correspondence, and her special education teacher knows that some work on this skill can be embedded into daily instruction (Step 1). For example, the 2nd grade class is writing numbers into a place value chart and counting up by ones, tens, and hundreds. Mary can participate while also counting out the numbers of ones, tens, and hundreds using base ten blocks which she has available on her desk (Step 2). The general education teacher follows a consistent routine in his class of having a bell ringer math problem, the mini-lesson, independent work, and sharing time (Table 1). Because this is a skill that can be taught using the activities and materials that are already a part of the general education class, Mary can receive embedded instruction throughout the math lesson as counting is necessary within the activities.
Embedded Instruction Works Well
Bell ringer math problem
Mini-lesson on place value
Table 1: A list of the consistent instructional routines that the second grade, general education teacher follows during his math lessons.
While the class is working on place value, the special educator has planned for Mary to receive some targeted support on counting the base ten blocks with one-to-one correspondence (Step 3) while data are collected (Step 4). As Mary becomes more independent, the targeted support will be faded.
Targeted Support Example
General Educator (to whole class)
Okay class, so we have 623, what if we add 5 tens to 623? Then what number will we have? I’ll give you a minute to solve this one on your own and then we’ll talk about the answer.
Paraprofessional (to student)
Alright we have 6 hundreds, two tens, and three ones. Can you count out five more tens?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5. (moves three tens bars to the pile)
I see you counted three, your teacher wants you to add five. Let’s try that again! I’ll count with you.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (moves five tens bars to the pile)
Yes, you counted out five and moved five into the pile! Let’s count how many tens we have altogether now.
General educator (to the whole class)
Okay, who can help me out? What number do we have now that we added five tens?
In this scenario Malik, a 6th grade student with a significant cognitive disability, is in a classroom with the students with IEPs who returned for in-person instruction. Malik is participating in the general education lesson virtually and the paraprofessional is providing him support. Malik is not yet reading independently. His special education teacher knows that some work on this skill can be embedded into daily instruction. This week, Malik’s class is working in book clubs and writing book reports on each group’s respective book. Malik will also be working on decoding consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) and consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant (CVCC) words (Step 1). The special education teacher knows the general educator generally has a consistent routine. This routine includes starting with journal writing or silent reading, a mini-lesson, break-out groups, students sharing their work in large group, and closing the class (Table 2). The special education teacher identifies when instruction could be embedded for Malik (Step 2):
Embedded Instruction Works Well
Journal writing/silent reading
Transition to breakout rooms with groups
Group work in breakout room
Transition back to main room with class
Groups take turns to share their ideas/work
Clean up, class reminders
Table 2: A list of the consistent instructional routines and transitions that the sixth grade, general education teacher follows during her literacy lessons
The special educator determines times when embedded instruction should not be provided (during instruction, group work, and group sharing time) and times when it can be provided (after journal writing, during transitions, and clean up). The decision about when to provide the embedded instruction is based on balancing individual student goals and creating the most exposure and engagement with the grade level content. Next, the special education teacher works with the paraprofessional to provide some directions about prompting and fading and letting the paraprofessional know how to collect data (Steps 3 and 4).
Malik’s class is writing in their electronic journals. The students have 10 minutes to respond to a writing prompt. While the class is independently writing, Malik is sitting in his in-person school classroom next to the paraprofessional. He has a laptop logged into the synchronous class lesson. Malik is participating in the virtual writing activity with his peers, but has finished his journal entry early. The paraprofessional, John, is seated next to Malik and provides targeted support for sounding out CVC words
Targeted Support Example
General Educator (to whole class)
Alright class, let’s write in our journals. Today, we are going to write about what we did over the weekend. Make sure to include details and that you have at least half a page.
(Mutes himself and begins to use the speech-to-text option to complete his journal entry)
It looks like you’re done with your journal entry. Let’s practice a couple of our words before your teacher starts the lesson for the day. (Shows the words Malik is working on that week - fun, sun, run, rut, cut, tub). What word is this? (Shows the word run)
Yes, that is the word run. What word is this? (Shows the word tub)
Oh, so close, this one is tub, the letter t says ‘t’. (Marks down data)
Okay, you all should be about done writing, let’s go for 30 more seconds.
Okay, Mr. Johnson is about to start again, what do you need so you can join your book club group? (Marks down data regarding transition)
Embedded instruction is a powerful strategy that allows students with significant cognitive disabilities to receive instruction in skill gap areas (both academic and adaptive) while remaining in the inclusive general education environment. The student continues to be involved in general education curriculum, activities and routines. While the examples provided here are an example of hybrid instruction (students with significant cognitive disabilities receiving supports in-person while their general education class is virtual), embedded instruction can happen once school is back in-person for all students, or even when parents are working with their children at home.
Jameson, J. M., McDonnell, J., Riesen, T., & Polychronis, S. (2020). Embedded instruction in general education classrooms for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Council for Exceptional Children.
Jimenez, B. A., & Kamei, A. (2015). Embedded instruction: An evaluation of evidence to inform inclusive practice. Inclusion, 3(3), 132–144.
Distance Learning Series: DL #25, October 2020
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Bowman, J. (2020). Embedded Instruction During Hybrid Learning. TIES Center.
TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (# H326Y170004). The Center is affiliated with the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) which is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: Susan Weigert
The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) leads the TIES Center partnership. Collaborating partners are the Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North-Carolina–Charlotte, and the University of North Carolina–Greensboro.
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