Planning For Independence

 Approaches to Program Design

The ultimate goal of good educational programming is to help students develop to their fullest potential. This goal is most likely to be reached if students feel that they belong and are accepted. Under these circumstances they can develop the confidence they need to attempt new behaviour. Attempts lead to mastery, and mastery in turn grants students a measure of control over their environment and over their own lives.

Following are descriptions of several approaches to program design. Whichever is chosen should be implemented in an atmosphere of acceptance and respect.

Integrative Programming

Integrative programming is a holistic approach whose users recognize both the importance of educating the whole child and the interrelated nature of learning. Aware that learning occurs across program and curricular areas rather than in discrete units, teachers who favour this approach are sensitive to the opportunities available to develop communication and social skills across all curriculum areas.

This approach can involve a range of programming options, from personalized instruction to integrated group activities with same-age peers. But it must always include experiences that will ensure the generalization of learning to real-life situations.

The philosophy of integrative programming underlies the recommendations made in this document. It is a holistic approach that recognizes the personalized nature of learning. After individual assessment, the teacher, in consultation with parents, decides on specific learning objectives for each student. Further decisions are made about the environment in which the learning will occur and about the strategies for instruction and evaluation, which should take into account individual needs and abilities, preferences, personalities, and learning styles. By these means students' immediate needs are addressed, as are their long-term goals of developing the abilities and relationships necessary to participate fully and independently in school, home, and community settings.

In this approach skills are taught in context, in ways that are meaningful to students, and through active learning (i.e., through first-hand experience). Care should be taken to ensure that the learning experiences are appropriate to students' chronological ages and reflect the culture and norms of the school, home, and community.

Consideration should be given to preparing students for transition from one setting to another. Skills needed in subsequent learning and living environments should be systematically taught. For example, students in a preschool program will benefit from activities that prepare them for participation in an elementary school program (e.g., participating in brief small-group activities, choosing a toy to play with independently). Older students need to be directly taught the skills they will need to participate in home, community, and work settings.

Once learning objectives have been chosen, the teacher should plan learning opportunities that are relevant and meaningful for the individual student. Many of these learning opportunities will be available at school, whereas others can be offered at home or in the community. Teachers are encouraged to look for opportunities for their students throughout the school, the home, and the community. For example, a trip to the school library can be an opportunity to develop communication, social-interaction, decision-making, and reading skills.

The learning opportunities and resources available in the school, home, and community must be offered in a co-ordinated way if the student is to achieve an appropriate level of independence.

Other Approaches

A variety of other approaches are also used in the design of programs for students. Teachers may wish to incorporate these practices, which have useful features for specific learning and skill development, into their programming.

The Functional or Environmental Approach

In the functional or environmental approach, present and future environments (home, educational, leisure, and work settings) are identified. Programs are developed that focus on teaching age-appropriate skills in natural environments. Features of this approach are easily incorporated into the integrative approach. For example, for a student who is learning to make lunch independently, classroom activities might include learning Canada's food groups, planning a menu, and writing a grocery list. Community-based activities could include a trip to the supermarket to purchase the items, and at home lunch could be prepared for the next day. In this way, communicative, social, physical, and cognitive skills are combined in a cluster of functionally related learning experiences.

The Developmental Approach

The developmental approach is based on normal child development and therefore on the assumption that instructional objectives will be ordered in a predictable sequence. The goal is to help students move through

their developmental milestones, to the highest level of skill they can attain. A student's position relative to peers can be identified through assessment of his or her positions in the various developmental sequences. Caution should be exercised when applying this approach to exceptional students because they may reach developmental milestones by atypical routes.

The Behavioural Approach

In the behavioural approach, skills, including social skills, are taught through analysis, strategies, and reinforcement. Although intensive instruction of this type may be appropriate at times, it must be meaningful and used in the context of the student's total program.

The strategy of breaking a skill into its component parts is known as task analysis. Having learned the component parts of a task, pupils can master it in sequential steps. Tasks in any subject area can be analysed and taught in this way. The analysis of tasks should be tailored to the abilities and needs of individual students.

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