Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Community Based Instruction

Community Based Instruction (CBI) is an integral part of the functional curriculum for students with multiple disabilities with a variety of benefits. Whether our students are working on reach and grasp, basic communication, self-advocacy or money skills a carefully planned and implemented CBI program can provided a unique and important environment for the teaching or carrying-over of new skills.

Our students tend to learn best in naturalistic environments and generalize poorly from simulations to "real-life" settings, thus learning skills where they will be used is ideal. What good is identifying a stop sign on a flash card if you can't do it on the street? Additionally, some skills, such as providing personal information, will be used repeatedly in the community (i.e. to get a library card, at the pharmacy, in some purchasing situations) and rarely in the self-contained or resource classroom.

CBI is by far the easiest to implement in urban settings where the grocery store, post office, library and other resources are just a few blocks away. Harder is CBI in the suburban and rural setting when transportation becomes a huge problem and enormous expense. When this is the case the teacher and the classroom team may need to "sell" the idea of CBI to administrators in order to get the program off the ground.

Once the program is in place, the benefits will become clear quickly and there will be a plethora teachable moments. These teachable moments may include the concepts of ownership (also called "shop lifting") which, I promise, will be funny in retrospect. Where my school is many stores have "self-check out" aisles and I was amazed when, by the end of the second year of CBI instruction, three of my students were able to complete the self-checkout process with only distant supervision.

A surprising benefit, overtime, will be the response of the community to the presence of your students. I recently ran into a local supermarket, without my students, and was greeted by many store employees with well wishes for my students. In our case, five years after opening our CBI program, we were able to open a community based job training program. CBI can sow seeds of welcoming for people with disabilities in the community.

Of course, like any thing else, there will be problems. Some things to consider will be teaching the teaching assistant how to implement CBI goals and benchmarks, deciding how to assist students who never bring in spending money when all the others do and how to handle the out-of-pocket expenses that come up associated with CBI, creating procedures for behavioral and medical events in the community and limiting liability. Some school districts and agencies have their guidelines online and these may be a good starting point.

Once you are out the door you will want to bring a first aid/medical kit with you, an emergency phone list, a cell phone or two, all the permission slips and anything else your learners will need. Then in the midst of all that learning out there, don't forget to have fun!

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