• Tracking objectives.
• Naturalistic data.
• Monitoring and recording.
• Embedding personalized instruction.
• Teacher-friendly matrix.
When it comes to teaching and tracking, data is key. Programs for children with developmental disabilities are lively and dynamic, as research reveals that young children with disabilities learn best when they are actively engaged in activities that are meaningful and appropriate for them as individuals. It is the task of the educator to teach each child what she needs to better participate in the assigned activity, while simultaneously tracking each child’s progress. Monitoring, gathering, and recording information pertaining to a student’s progress toward specified objectives is necessary to both document skill acquisition and determine if interventions you are applying are actually helping the student learn. Although many teachers are skilled at creating comfortable environments that promote learning and positive interactions among peers, many claim that finding a way to track each child’s progress is immensely challenging. Ultimately, as educators, we need teacher-friendly strategies for embedding monitoring into daily, routine events.
While integrating individual instruction into daily routines appears simple, it can be very challenging to implement. We all attempt to inject individual objectives into our students’ daily classroom routines, but we often lack a systematic method for keeping track of the objectives each of our students is attempting to meet. One method of tracking, a group objective matrix, can aid in tracking students’ individual objectives (see link below for visual of the matrix and particular examples of its usage in one classroom of developmentally disabled learners). A group objective matrix lists skills or behaviors each child needs to learn by domain, alerting teachers to opportunities in routine activities where specific skills and behaviors can be taught. It encourages educators to teach objectives throughout the day during both planned and unplanned activities. Additionally, a matrix gives teachers a quick “cheat sheet” displaying how an activity can be altered to make it a more suitable learning lesson for a student.
Besides tracking students’ individual learning needs, a teacher must monitor whether or not a child is learning particular skills and behaviors. In other words, a teacher needs to know whether the interventions provided for the developmentally disabled are effective. Consequently, monitoring must occur regularly. In order to devise a way for individual student objectives to be both embedded in daily routines as well and monitored, teachers should follow three steps:
1. Identify the skills to be taught.
2. Teach the identified objectives within activities and routines.
3. Determine how and when monitoring will occur.
1: Identify the Skills to Be Taught
As a teacher, you must first identify the critical skills each of your developmentally disabled students must learn by domain, drawing from multidisciplinary assessments, criterion- and curriculum-based assessments, checklists, direct observations, and interviews with the students’ family. Often, just this process of selecting and writing objectives on a matrix increases the chances you will structure appropriate learning episodes within scheduled activities and routines.
2: Teach Identified Objectives During Activities and Routines
When students are taught skills in context it is more meaningful to them, given that they have a basis for the use of the skill as it was taught during instruction. Thus, teachers should attempt to teach individual objectives within daily activities and routines as much as possible. When the class is doing an activity in which it is difficult to embed certain individual objectives for the students, it is up to the teacher to create a situation within the lesson to teach that skill. Yet, generally, teachers should avoid the isolated teaching of skills as they are less likely to be internalized and utilized by the students.
However, simply creating an opportunity for learning for your students may not be enough. For example, if you set up a center for sorting sock and mitten pairs, you have arranged an activity exposing children to sorting. Yet, without direct instruction, many of your developmentally challenged students may not grasp the concepts of “same” and “different” from this single activity. Thus, teachers much continually structure short instructional episodes relating to the same objectives during daily routines in order to ensure the intended learning occurs.
3: Determine How and When Monitoring Will Occur
Once a skill has been taught for a few days, it is time to monitor a child’s progress toward mastery. Routines offer a good context for data collection. Data boxes in the lower right-hand corner of each objective box on the group objective matrix allow you to record data on student responses to probing questions. This informal method of assessment will help you evaluate a student’s functional use of a skill.
Additionally, as teachers, we are not only interested in knowing if a student can perform a skill when requested, but also in knowing if that child can perform the same skill in response to natural stimuli. Thus, data collection must be dispersed throughout the day during multiples activities and routines. By monitoring a student’s acquisition of individual objectives within routines, a teacher is not only tracking her progress, but also monitoring whether that child can demonstrate the skill when it is needed. It is important that your data collection process is quick so it does not disrupt the flow of an activity.
Although teachers teach the skills on a matrix every day, some teachers find they are not able, nor is it necessary, to take data every day on every objective. At the close of the day, all of the data collected on the matrixes are transferred to graphs, data sheets, and files giving a visual record of each student’s performance on target objectives. When a student masters an objective, it is erased and a new one takes its place.
Ultimately, using a group objective matrix when teaching developmentally disabled students allows teaches to track what each of their students needs to learn as well as monitors the student’s progress toward selected target objectives. The strategies discussed here for embedding objectives and monitoring a child’s progress within routines are useful for both inclusive and self-contained programs. To reliably embed targets into activities, teachers must systematically create teaching opportunities for each child to be taught the skills they need. Using a matrix guarantees that teaching, maintenance, and monitoring of skills and behaviors are never overlooked. Like all worthwhile strategies, embedded instruction and monitoring techniques may require practice before teachers are completely comfortable using the system.
Sharon A Raver. “Monitoring Child Progress in Early Childhood Special Education Settings.” Teaching Exceptional Children. Reston: Jul/Aug 2004. Vol. 36, Iss. 6; pg. 52.