The Importance of Systematic Instruction

Systematic instruction is an evidence-based method for teaching individuals with disabilities that spans more than 50 years. It incorporates the principles of applied behavior analysis and allows for educators to teach a wide range of skills, including everything from academic to functional living skills. Most importantly, systemic instruction is the process of breaking a skill down into individual components so for students and identify the appropriate teaching method or prompting strategy that allow for students to fully comprehend instruction about a new skill or learning objective.

Data collection also ensures that this method of teaching is effective and results are measureable. To better understand the importance of systematic instruction, let’s break it into steps:

Step 1: Define the instructional objective. It is wise to identify your objective first and then break it down in to a single step or a chain of steps to complete. You should also review students’ prior learning history, preferences, or prerequisites skills that might assist in obtaining the skill.

Step 2: Choose an appropriate teaching/prompting strategy and materials. This will allow students to complete the skills or steps in the chain.  If you know that a student is having difficulty with instruction in a particular lesson, as an educator, you should find a way to teach or prompt them through the process to eventually get to the instructional objective and complete the skill on their own.

Ask yourself: What instructional strategy might support me in prompting or teaching my student to complete this skill? You should also consider how you will fade out teaching prompts over time and support your student so they can become independent learners.

Step 3: Determine the data collection method. This will allow you to evaluate how well your students are doing over instructional trials and whether they are gaining independence over time.  You should make sure that the evaluation method is sensitive enough to pick up on how students are progressing in becoming independent and performing the skills necessary for their success.

Step 4: Implement the instructional strategy and collect data. This step ensures that educators are implementing strategies designed for success and that, even though variations are inevitable, all individuals teaching the skill are implementing them in a similar way. It is imperative that you also determine an appropriate reinforcement strategy.  So many students have a negative experience when it comes to learning. You can make learning fun by reinforcing the benefits of correct skill usage and support students along the way. After that, you should aim to fade prompts and scale back until students become independent.

Step 5: Evaluate your data. You should do this to find out whether the strategy you are using to teach a skill is effective and whether there is an increase in student comprehension or capability.  If there is a positive trend, then continue to implement the same instructional strategy. If the trend is flat or variable (meaning it jumps up and down) you should reevaluate the data to determine if the instructional method will be effective in the long term.

Step 6: Refine the process and make decisions based on data. You should always take the results you are seeing in your data into consideration when determining whether you should adjust your instructional strategies. If the instructional objectives were attained, then determine the next step of your instruction. If the instructional objective was not obtained, then you must determine what you need to change, any additional materials required and if there is an inconsistency in the implementation of the instructional strategy. Occasionally, you might discover the instructional method you’re using needs to be broken down into a simple steps or that you need to teach a prerequisite skill prior to teaching a learning objective.

Systematic instruction is a great way to show that any student can learn. Educators are also responsible for breaking skills down to help students learn, no matter their challenges. Discovering and utilizing the power of systematic instruction can ensure that educators everywhere are helping students at every grade and le

Raising the Bar for Students with Disabilities: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The Supreme Court ruling in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case is now raising the bar for special education for the first time in decades. The unanimous decision, issued in favor of Endrew on March 22, clearly establishes that “a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year, can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

The ruling came after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on behalf of Endrew F., a child with an autism spectrum disorder and an attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, who received annual Individualized Education Programs in the Douglas County School District in Colorado. According to the case, Endrew’s school never effectively addressed his behavioral issues and as a result, he made little to no progress from year to year. In fifth grade, his parents withdrew him from the school in Douglas County and enrolled him in a private school. They immediately developed a behavioral intervention plan and Endrew has since made significant progress.

This case is important to schools and individuals who serve students with disabilities because it addresses a very grey area in the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The act offers states federal funding to assist in educating children with disabilities. Along with that funding, states must comply with statutory requirements that obligate them to provide every child a “free appropriate public education.” Until now, that level of education was interpreted by a 1982, Board of Education v. Rowley case, in which the Supreme Court determined that free appropriate education meant states only had to provide “some educational benefit” to students with disabilities who meet grade-level expectations.

Today, that thought process has changed. The Supreme Court’s ruling is sending a message that it is necessary for schools across the country to help students progress, no matter their challenges. Quality instruction and intervention is the expectation for students with disabilities and therefore, we cannot ignore or dismiss the need for IEPs and interventions to be reasonably calculated to ensure children make progress in light of their circumstances or disabilities.

Over time, we’ve seen that students with disabilities can and do learn with quality programming. With the right support, they can also make progress throughout their educational career and integrate into society by acquiring jobs and living meaningful adult lives. One of the growing expectations to accomplish this in special education is the need to utilize evidence-based practices. Endrew was placed at a school that utilized Applied Behavior Analysis as the basis of its intervention practice. ABA is a well-established evidence-based practice in education. For students to have the greatest opportunity to succeed, their educational plan or program must be proven effective. Rethink is committed to all children and educators having access to the professional development tools and resources necessary to deliver effective interventions. The intervention strategies contained within Rethink are both highly effective and evidence-based. Like the program that Endrew attended, ABA is the foundation of Rethink.

Endrew prevailed in this case because he made significantly more progress in his alternative school after regressing in the previous public school he attended. This progress was demonstrated through his behavioral intervention plan and through his private school’s ability to track his progress with quality data collection and analysis tools. As a result of this case, schools must now be prepared to demonstrate that every student is making more than de minimis progress. Progress monitoring, although required by IDEA, is an aspect of special education service delivery that teachers are often not able to implement with a high degree of fidelity. Rethink supports teachers to develop, implement and monitor instructional programs. It also helps them to feel confident monitoring progress in instruction to ensure that children are not just learning, but growing in their abilities to meet their educational goals. Educators can also use Rethink to monitor progress and adapt their intervention plans and strategies to confirm students are making more than de minimis progress to meet the Supreme Court’s expectations. While more support is still necessary for schools to serve students with special needs adequately, this ruling is certainly a step in the right direction.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tracy Shellooe

Position: Special Education Teacher                                                                                    District: Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO

Tracy Shellooe is a Special Education Teacher at Oakland Elementary in the Denver Public Schools in Denver, CO.  Oakland is one of 93 elementary schools in the district and is a Title I school with about 400 students and is what Ms. Shellooe describes as “a great school” with a team of professionals who “all work really hard to get students and families involved.”

Ms. Shellooe started her education career as a paraprofessional about 8 years ago where she worked in a worked in a high school.  She “fell in love with it and decided to go back to school to get (her) Master’s.”  She has been working with children with autism for 5 years now and is teaching a 1st through 5th grade class with 11 students. She has quite the range of abilities and developmental levels in her classroom.  She is a passionate teacher who loves her students and is motivated to be a big part of “helping them to gain a voice, help the kids grow reach their potential.”

Teaching such a large class with such a range of skills has “been a big challenge” particularly at the beginning of the year when the children must adjust to each other and the new learning environment. During this initial phase the educational team must also identify the areas of need for each student.  Ms. Shellooe has been using RethinkEd for 5 years and she relies on it heavily for tracking data in her classroom.  She uses it for herself, her paraprofessionals, and parents to “see which interventions are working.”  The Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) data is one of her favorite pieces of the RethinkEd tool.  She states that the “ABC graphs are really great for (her) staff” and that the data “are really clear” to look at.  She bases a lot of her goals for her students based on RethinkEd goals.  She feels that “the wording is nice, and it makes it more cohesive when working on goals.”

In her classroom, they use a lot of the RethinkEd lesson plans as well as the data sheets and materials.  One specific lesson plan that she has used recently is one for tying shoes.  She likes how RethinkEd demonstrates how to start with hand over hand and then fade out prompts.  To help her paraprofessionals implement RethinkEd lesson plans, she has them watch the RethinkEd training modules and this helps them to increase their independence and help make the classroom run smoothly.

In Ms. Shellooe’s class, she has “really great parents” who are involved and work with her as a team on their child’s goals.  She uses the data and graphs from RethinkEd to show parents the progress that their child is making and what they need to work on.  She thinks that RethinkEd is particularly valuable for “setting up behavior plans with parents and being able to show them the graphs.”  She states that “it’s so much more visual for them” and some parents even “use it with home providers” or use it when “other evaluations are being done.”

The most important part of RethinkEd to Ms. Shellooe is the value that it brings to the students.  She has the children work in centers throughout the day and uses RethinkEd for many of the lesson plans.  She also engages children in RethinkEd directly by having them complete online lessons in the RethinkEd A
ctivity Center.  She says that the students “love it” and that these online activities allow them to work independently and keeps them engaged.  She likes how data is automatically collected and how the students “get excited because the system cheers them on.”  She also really likes the resources, such as the token boards, which seem to work well to motivate many students.

The system that “easy to navigate” and the time it saves for Ms. Shellooe is important to her, but, even more important is the improved quality of instruction and data collection that she sees directly benefiting her paraprofessionals, students, and parents.  RethinkEd has been “very helpful” for her and she is looking forward to continuing to use it with her students.

Techniques for teaching complex skills to children with special needs

Have you ever written a shopping list for the upcoming weeks groceries and then forgot to bring it with you to the store? If so, you will know how difficult it is to remember everything that was on the list.  The same is true when we have to remember significant amounts of information for an exam or a test.

For children with special needs; remembering all of the steps to a skill such as washing their hands or following a daily schedule can be a similar challenge.

The good news is that there is an evidence-based tool called a “task analysis” that we can use to break any complex tasks into a sequence of smaller steps or actions to help our children learn and become more independent.

 

Task analyses can take on many forms depending on how your child learns.

The examples below show written lists for how to complete tooth brushing:

If you are working with children who can read and understand directions, you can use a task analysis that has a lot of detail, such as this example for doing laundry.

If your child is unable to read, task analyses can be made using just picture cards or actual photographs to illustrate the steps of a skill. These examples following a morning routine, riding in the car and using a stapler:

 

How do I create a Task Analysis?

Here are the steps to take to create a task analysis to help your child:

  1. Physically complete all of the steps of the skill yourself
  2. Do the skill again and write down each step as you do it
  3. Compile all the steps into a sequence using words, pictures or both that your child will be able to understand and use to help them learn

There is no set number of steps to a skill.  Some children will require the skill broken down into many small steps to be able to be successful, others may require less steps. You can decide how many steps will be needed for your child to learn.

 

How do I know if my child is learning?

You can observe your child to see if they are making progress, however having a little bit of data will show you exactly how fast your child is progressing and which steps are being mastered, as well as which steps may need more learning attention.  To take data, you would note if the child completed each step correctly (independently) or incorrectly (needed help).   Here is an example for a simple data collection sheet for getting dressed:

 

Date:

March 3rd

Describe Step Did the child complete independently?

(Yes or No)

Step 1 Take off PJ’s Yes
Step 2 Put on underwear Yes
Step 3 Put on pants Yes
Step 4 Put on shirt No
Step 5 Put on socks No
Step 6 Put on shoes No
50% Correct

 

For more resources and information about using a task analysis:

 

The tools every district needs to design, deliver and monitor evidence-based practices in special education. (2015). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.rethinkfirst.com/

Developing Life Skills: How to Teach A Skill. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/developing-lifeskills-how-to-teach-a-skill/

Printable Picture Cards. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.do2learn.com/picturecards/printcards/index.htm

Says, R., Says, C., Says, J., & Says, D. W. (2015, August 27). What You Need to Know About Task Analysis and Why You Should Use It. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.autismclassroomresources.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-task-analysis-and-why-you-should-use-it/