Many commonly-taught functional skills can be easily paired with an existing Aligned Standard of Learning(ASOL). It is generally accepted that there is a link between life skills acquisition and life quality. It makes sense to teach academics and functional skills to students with significant intellectual disabilities. But how? And when? .
What constitutes a quality education for students with significant intellectual disabilities? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that school systems ensure participation and progress in the general curriculum by students with intellectual disabilities (Agran, Alper, and Wehmeyer, 2002). All students must be taught core content in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. On the other hand, functional life skills continue to be the focus of many special education professionals. Nietupski & Hamre-Nietupski (1997) identified the functional life skills as self-care, leisure, communication & social skills, vocational skills, and other skills vital to community participation. It is generally accepted that there is a link between life skills acquisition and life quality (Alwell & Cobb, 2006). It makes sense to teach academics and functional skills to students with significant intellectual disabilities. But how? And when?
Many commonly-taught functional skills can be easily paired with an existing Aligned Standard of Learning(ASOL). Keep in mind that all lessons may not cover the entire ASOL, but can address an important part of the standard. Consider the following examples:
1. Reading Community Signs: Many educators teach this skill. Lessons may involve differentiating between the men’s and women’s restrooms, recognizing the sign of a favorite restaurant, or learning to identify signs that warn of danger. This is a great example of a skill that is both functional and academic. The corresponding ASOL is:
Reading RW 2: The student will demonstrate an understanding that print makes sense.
b) Identify common signs and logos.
2. Playing Uno:Learning to play a popular game can be both fun and educational. The opportunities to learn functional skills such as turn-taking are evident. Do not forget the many opportunities to teach math and science. Uno is a game of numbers and colors. Consider the following ASOLs:
Math NS 9: The student will recognize and write numerals 0 through 100.
Science M 1: The student will…understand that the…physical properties of an object can be described. Key concepts include:
a) colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple).
3. Food Preparation: Preparing even the most simple of snacks requires one to follow an ordered set of steps. This ordered set of steps is usually referred to as a recipe. This same skill of following steps also comes in handy when caring for hygiene needs (washing hands, brushing teeth) or completing an art project. When teaching these functional skills, consider that you are also incorporating the following ASOL:
Science SI 5: The student will plan and conduct investigations in which k) natural events are sequenced chronologically.
4. Decision Making: What better way to teach the fundamentals of democracy than to institute democratic practices in your classroom? A typical school week presents many opportunities for your class to make a group decision. Students can vote to select leisure activities, community-based instruction destinations, a story for the teacher to read, lunch choices, class president, and student of the month just to name a few. Check out this ASOL that makes it all academic:
History C1: The student will apply the traits of a good citizen by f) participating in classroom decision making through voting.
There are many opportunities to combine academic standards with functional life skills. The above examples are only a few ideas. How many of your functional lessons can you tie in to one or more ASOLs?
Click here for complete information on the ASOLs.
Agran, M., Alper, S., & Wehmeyer, M. (2002). Access to the general curriculum for students with significant disabilities: What it means to teachers. Education and Trainingin Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 37, 123-33.
Alwell, M. ,& Cobb, B. (2006). A systematic review of the effects of curricular interventions on the acquisition of func- tional life skills by youth with disabilities. What Works in Transition: Systematic Review Project. Colorado: Colo- rado State University.
Nietupski, J., & Hamre-Nietupski, S. (1997). A review of curricular research in severe disabilities from 1976 to 1995 in selected journals. Journal of Special Education, 31(1), 36-55.