TIES Peer Engagement Practice Guides

Decision-Making Guide

Adopting these Approaches

Each of these nine peer engagement interventions differs somewhat in its primary purpose and associated practices. Therefore, we have identified a set of key considerations that can guide educators’ decisions about which approach—or combination of approaches—to use. A  searchable decision-making guide can be found at the end of this section.

Settings. Although all of the approaches should be used in inclusive school settings, the locations in which they were designed to be delivered vary. Some approaches are intended to be used within classrooms, while others are focused on unstructured settings like cafeterias and playgrounds.

Grade levels. Every approach must be adapted based on the ages of students and peers. The nature of peer interactions and friendships looks quite different as children move throughout school levels, and children at different grade levels will vary in their capacity to support one another. Therefore, some approaches are designed primarily for elementary students or for middle school students. Others can be adapted to be used across grade levels.

Participating adults. Promoting peer engagement should be a collaborative endeavor. Different approaches involve many different adults, including special educators, general educators, paraprofessionals, related service providers (e.g., occupational therapists, physical therapists), school counselors, parents, and family members, or others.

Impact on students. Students with significant cognitive disabilities must have regular opportunities to work alongside and spend time with, their peers as full members of their classes and school. However, different outcomes are likely to emerge from each of these varied approaches. For example, some interventions may lead to new skills, some can improve social outcomes, and others can have an academic impact.

Impact on peers. Peers also have much to gain from spending time together with their schoolmates with significant cognitive disabilities—in and beyond the classroom (Schaefer et al., 2016; Travers & Carter, 2021). Peers may be impacted in a variety of ways as a result of their involvement, and this impact can vary across the different approaches.

The academic aspects of schooling are absolutely important, but so are the social connections that can develop among students. These different approaches to promoting peer engagement provide powerful ways of simultaneously addressing both goals for students with significant cognitive disabilities. However, they should always be tailored to meet the individualized needs of students and in consideration of their ages, support needs, and cultural backgrounds. We hope the nine implementation guides that comprise this series will lead you to practices and partnerships that transform outcomes for your students, their peers, and for your whole school.

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