Given our current reality with distance or crisis learning, there is a unique opportunity for educators and families to collaborate to ensure students maintain their progress. Another unique opportunity that exists is for students to rehearse the knowledge and skills that they were working on in school in more authentic ways and in a different context. In Reflections About Individualizing Supports for Children: Olivia’s Story, Olivia’s mother Jen makes several suggestions for educators. One of these is the idea that individualized goals be worked on in the context of daily routines and activities. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, these skills could be found in daily routines including meal preparation, household chores, engaging in an email or text chain with a friend, and even watching television. In practice, this is called embedded instruction, where instructional strategies are “embedded” into natural performance settings (in this case, the home or community) to give students authentic opportunities to work on their individualized goals.
Individualized goals linked to daily living or functional skills (i.e., goals related to daily living tasks such as community participation, food preparation, or employment) may seem easier to embed at home and in students' communities compared to academic goals. However, given some thought and collaboration, individualized goals linked to core content subjects like mathematics and reading can be easily applied in the home or community context, aside from paper and pencil worksheets and educational websites and apps.
To facilitate this collaboration, teachers and parents can engage in honest communication about what is working and not working given the current distance learning reality and how it has worked so far for their student with a significant cognitive disability. Then, a discussion can follow regarding:
Example: The fifth grade general education class taught by Mr. Johnson is working on a state writing standard. Ms. Lee, the special education teacher, is discussing with Mr. Adams, the parent of Ava, about how distance learning is going for Ava. Ms. Lee and Mr. Adams decide that using embedded instruction at home may help facilitate increased engagement and generalization of academic skills to Ava’s every day activities.They discuss the three points and determine the following:
In another 7th grade general education class taught by Ms. Montgomery, the class was working on solving real world problems involving two and three-dimensional figures. Mr. Gaffney, the special education teacher, discussed this with Noah’s mother, Ms. Zavala, and they decided that instead of completing his work from the mathematics text, Noah could work on these skills in embedded activities at home.
Many other skills can be applied in this way. Skills related to literacy and mathematics can be embedded into cooking (for example, using fractions when measuring for a recipe), cleaning (for example, reading instructions), ordering pizza (for example, calculating a tip), and even playing a family board game (for example, reading game rules, counting, number identification). Educators and parents both come to the table with unique knowledge and skills, and equip one another to provide more comprehensive instruction in even one priority area can ensure a student’s success and progress as distance learning continues and even after it ends.
Consider the following questions as you think about how students with significant cognitive disabilities are learning at home.
When parents and teachers can think creatively about how to engage in this process with each other, current and future impact on student outcomes will be enhanced, even after students are back in the classroom.
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: 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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