Increasing Autonomy through Community Based Instruction

August 9, 2016

Community Based Instruction (CBI) is a strategic instructional plan that addresses the skills that are needed by our students in many different community settings. These settings are visited by our students with their families and friends and include work settings as well as recreational or leisure settings. CBI is specifically designed for students that require intensive instruction in order to generalize the skills they learn in the classroom to other more natural environments. Instruction based in the community with the actual materials, in the natural environment, where the actual skill is needed provides valuable hands on learning opportunities for students. CBI also provides the chance for students with disabilities to interact with typically developing peers as well as adult service providers with whom they will come into contact as they reach adulthood.

CBI is not to be confused with a traditional field trip. The skills acquired through CBI far outreach the skills the students are exposed to during a field trip. A field trip is a onetime activity that usually occurs at the end of a particular unit of study and does not address a specific skill set. Skills learned as part of CBI are done so through specific cumulative instruction and are assessed on a regular basis.
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Traditional academic skills such as reading, writing, math, language and science are all incorporated into the functional activities that define CBI. Students will practice their reading skills while at the grocery store by reading the signs above the aisle indicating the product in that aisle. They will practice their math skills when they pay the correct amount for an item they wish to purchase at a store as well as count the change that they receive to make sure it is the correct amount. They will practice their writing skills as they write a “to do” list of all of the things that they will do on a CBI outing. They will practice their language skills when they order their lunch in a restaurant. They will practice their science skills when they go to a park and identify the leaves that they collect for an art activity. In addition, the students will learn to use adaptive aids that they may need to successfully participate in these activities. These include, but are not limited to the following: checklists, picture cards of items for purchase, speech devices such as a picture exchange system and electronic devices, and jigs for counting out the correct money for purchasing goods. A key component for success to learning skills in the community lies within the classroom. Skills must first be introduced in the classroom and systematically taught using methodologies that are known to be successful with the student. It is also critical that the skills that are to be transferred to the community be reviewed and practiced on a frequent basis prior to requiring the student to use the skill in the community. This is often done in simulated environments using materials from the community site that will be accessed. For example, if students are preparing for a CBI to a restaurant that requires them to order from a menu, the classroom will be arranged to simulate the environment. The students will then practice entering the restaurant, waiting to be seated, placing an order using a familiar form of communication etc. As a result of the consistency and repetition used to teach these skills the students are well prepared for this outing.

As with any instructional program organization and pre-planning are critical for success. Once the destination is decided the classroom staff sets goals that are appropriate for the environment the students will visit and then classroom activities are created to teach the skills necessary. The method for collecting data is determined and instructional roles are assigned to the staff. The data is recorded during the outing and then analyzed among the staff once the class returns. This then helps to determine if more instruction is needed or is it time to set new expectations.

Based on the data that has been collected we have seen students become more confident in the community as well as develop new skills that will help them achieve a higher level of independence. Early on a student refused to participate in any level of CBI once the class reached their destination. After many months of practice and building the skill level of the student, this student is now the first student off of the van when arriving and the first to enter the establishment. The students have gained many new skills such as independently ordering their meals at a table service restaurant; staying with the class; helping to push the store items to be purchased in a grocery store cart; and, learning to budget and spend money they have earned from their jobs at a retail store.
Parents have also shared with us positive changes that they have seen in their children. One parent said to the student’s case manager that the last time the child was home for a visit and the mother took the child out, the child stood by the car with her hand on the car and remained by the mother’s side the entire time that they were out shopping. The mother stated that this was the first time that the child displayed cooperative behaviors while out in the community. The mother also said that this was the first time that she felt comfortable with taking the child out, and wasn’t afraid that the child would dart out and get hit by a car. The mother attributed this change in behavior to the skills in the community that the child has learned through the community based instruction that the child has received while at Grafton.

Hopefully after reading this, you will see that community based instruction is important for many reasons; most important being the increased level of independence that is developed by the students. The higher the level of independence that can be reached by an individual the more rewarding and satisfying life they will have. And after all, that is the overall goal in all we do for our students at Grafton.