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Is a Functional Curriculum Approach Compatible with an Inclusive Education Model?

Gary M. Clark
A nagging question for rnany special education teachers at elementary, middle school, and high school levels is the question of what to teach. What is most important for students to know or be able to do both now and in the future? Instruction has always involved deciding on what to teach (curriculum) and how to teach it (methods, materials, and activities). Special education in its earliest years was left to develop its own discipline around both of these areas. As a separate educational system, it went about this in a variety of ways, but most often it started with the general education curriculum as a base and modified it to fit the expected performance levels of the students. Most of the modifications were accomplished by adapting instruction; for example, devising new ways of teaching reading (Fernald method or the Gillingham approach) and mathematics (Cuisenaire rods, abacas, etc.) or new materials, and not by modifying the content itse1f. Looking back, this approach to academics was a logical first step. Many of the children placed in special education classes during those early years had mild levels of learning and behavior disorders. Hopes were high that specialized methods and materials could remediate their difficulties and he1p them achieve in the general education curriculum with other children, although at a slower pace. As special education identification and placement began to include children with moderate to severe disabilities, the next logical step as to consider some changes not only in how children with special needs are taught, but also in what they are taught. The term functional academics was used early on to reflect the shift away from traditional academics. In the 1970s, the field of special education moved from being the sole provider of special education content and instructional strategies and techniques to being a system that would provide and support a continuum of educational options. Most of the options developed, however, placed the responsibility for curriculum back in the hands of general education. Before long those early questions regarding the generalizability and relevance of traditional academics for students, with moderate and severe disabilities evolved into the current questions regarding functional outcomes for all students with disabilities. Functional outcome of education-that is the ability to live and work as a part of the community satisfactorily may or may not result from traditional academic curricula. What makes it so difficult for parents and educators to deal with this fact is that the idea of providing a more functional curriculum for more functional outcomes seems to preclude full inclusion, especially given today's increased emphasis on academics in public education. This special focus section of TEACHIN Exceptional Children looks at a functional curriculum approach and how it might work within an inclusive educational context, to intervene and redirect aggression used to communicate needs, and to encourage participation from learners who either verbally or nonverbally refuse to participate as a means of controlling their environment. By using a collaborative method of problem solving, these teachers feel they have been better able to find solutions to these difficulties than if they had been trying to problem solve alone.

After a trip to the local grocery store, students Prepare lunch using the items purchase

Future Implications
As this program demonstrates, the thrust for including learners with disabilities in the general education classroom should not stop with learners who exhibit only mild disabilities. Learners with multiple disabilities can also benefit from programs that increase the amount of quality interactions they have with their peers without disabilities. Although current schoolwide involvement in this inclusionary program is still limited, additional possibilities for expansion to other classrooms and settings exist. For expansion to be possible, it is essential that general and special educators work together to discover methods that can be used to teach all learners side by side in a productive setting. By doing so, not only will the learners with disabilities benefit by becoming active participants in the class activities, but so may other learners benefit who are deemed at risk for school success. Cooperative group work and team-teaching are efficient ways in which the individual needs of all learners can be met without sacrificing quality instruction. Beyond the scope of the classroom, there exist sociocultural implications of inclusion. In our society, people often view learners with disabilities as needing help, always receiving and rarely giving Through the use of cooperative learning and inclusion, the contrary can be realized as each member of the group contributes to the function and uniqueness of that group. With an increase in inclusionary practices, perhaps the next generation, on will learn to value all people as participating members in society instead of as separate groups of givers and receivers. To promote such social changes, future endeavors to create programs that destratify and desegregate current homogeneous classrooms should be encouraged.

Cohen, E. (1986). Designing group work New York: Teachers College Press. Putnam, J., (1993) Cooperative Learning and strategies for- inclusion. Celebrating diversity in the classroom. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks. Schaffner, B., & Buswell, B. (1991). Opening doors: Strategies for including all students in regular education. Colorado Springs, CO: Peak Parent Center, Inc. Melissa M. Jones (CEC Chapter#11l) was a Special Education Teacher for learners with multiple disabilities, Clermont Northeastern Intermediate School, and now supervises programs for learners with severe behavior handicaps, Clermont County Office of Education, Cincinnati, Ohio. Laura Little Carlier, General Education Teacher, Clermont Northeastern Intermediate School, Batavia, Ohio. The work the authors began, including learners with disabilities in general education, continues with the help of a team of exceptional general and special educators. Copyright 1995 CEC.

Creating Schools for All Our Students

What 12 schools have to say?
A product of the Working Forum on Inclusive Schools provides an inside look at how 12 schools from different communities are making the inclusive concept work. School-based teams composed of teachers, principals, parents, classroom aides, support services personnel, other administrators, school board members, and union and association representatives carne together at a working forum in March 1994 to explore what is being done at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. The Working Forum was sponsored by 10 national associations including AASA, AFT, CEC, The Council of Great City Schools, NAESP, NASBE, NASI)SE, NASSI?, NEA, and NSBA.

1. Inclusive Schools and How They Begin 2. A Sense of Community 3. Collaboration, Collegiality, and Partnership 4. Improved Learning through Innovative Instruction 5. Leadership in an inclusive School 6. How We Can All Work Together to Create More Inclusive Schools P5064, 80 pp., $18.50 CEC Members $13.00 Discounts are available on multiple copies. Call for information. CEC Publications Sales, Dept. K50138 1920 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091-1589 800/232-7323; FAX 703/264-1637

What Is a Functional Curriculum Approach?

A variety of writers have defined functional curricula, or what is sometimes referred to as we skills instruction (cf. Brolin, 1991, Brown et al., 1979; Clark, 1991; Cronin & Patton, 1993; Falvey, 1989; Mithaug, Martin, & Agran, 1987). While there is a common theme imbedded in these and other perspectives described in the literature, there is still a possibility of miscommunication when the term functional is used. The basic notion of functionality implies the usefulness of something or user unless for somebody. Given that, it is clear that what is functional for one person is not necessarily functional for another person or what is a functional use for an object in one situation may not be functional in another situation. A cane may be functional for a person who needs support for mobility, but it has no usefulness for someone who does not need it. Likewise, the cane can be functional as a support tool for walking but without function in swimming. For our purposes, functional curriculum must have a specific context and focus for children and youth with disabilities. The context and focus arise from the need of all persons with disabilities to have the life skills to make a successful transition from school to adult living (Brolin, 1991; Clark & Kolstoe, 1990; Halpern, 1985; Polloway, Patton, Epstein, & Smith, 1989). From this perspective, the concept can be defined as follows: A functional curriculum approach is a way of delivering instructional content that focuses on the concepts and skills needed by all students with disabilities in the areas of personal-social, daily living, and occupational adjustment. What is considered a functional curriculum for any one student would be the content (concepts and skills) included in that student's curriculum or course of study that targets his or her current and future needs. These needs are based on a nondiscriminatory, functional assessment approach.

How Do You Determine What Is Functional Knowledge or a Functional Skill?

The answer to this question depends upon the answers to a variety of related questions: Is the instructional content of the student's current educational placement appropriate for meeting the student's personal -social, daily living, and occupational adjustment needs? That is, Does the content focus on necessary knowledge and skills to function as independently as possible in the home, school, or community? Does the content provide a scope and sequence for meeting future needs? Do the students parents think the content is important for both current and future needs? Does the student think the content is important for both current and future needs? Is the content appropriate for the student's chronological age and current intellectual, academic, or behavioral performance level(s)? What are the consequences to the student of not learning the concepts and skills inherent in the current educational placement?

As these questions imply, the determination of functionality with a specific focus on transition to adult living does not depend on a particular point of view about where a student is educated. A student in a segregated, self-contained special school or class may not be receiving a functional curriculum any more than a student in an inclusive education model. This is not to say that there may not be positive benefits associated with various current placement alternatives. If those benefits do not include life skills instruction at all or in sufficient amount, however, the educational placement is not providing an appropriate functional curriculum. If parents and students choose general education as the desirable primary or even exclusive placement, a functional curriculum must be planned within that context. The Special Focus article by Field, LeRoy, and Rivera gives an example of a student centered functional curriculum determination. Current functional curriculum models focus direct1v on knowledge and skills that need to be taught and leave the delivery procedures and instructional environment decisions to users. Some of the better known models include the Community-Referenced Curriculum (Smith & Schloss, 1988), Community Living Skills Taxonomy (Dever, 1988), Hawaii Transition Project (1987), and Life Centered Career Education model (Brolin, 1991). Of these, the Life Centered Career Education (LCCE) model by Brolin is probably the best example of a comprehensive functional curriculum model across age levels and the most completely developed curriculum package for secondary school teachers (Brolin, 1992). The LCCE model is organized around 22 competencies needed for adult living. The competencies are clustered across three basic domains: Daily Living, Personal-Social, and Occupational Guidance and Preparation. Each of the 22 competencies can be broken down into subcompetencies that may be appropriate for individualized education program (IEP) goals or short term objectives. The curriculum content domains of the LCCE model, as well as the other models that are available, are directly on target for the planning of transition services mandated for students 16 years of age and older under Public Law 101-476 (IDEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990.

The curriculum development committee met regularly to provide innovative options for students with learning disabilities, mental disabilities, and behavior disorders.

When Do You Start a Functional Curriculum?

Special educators who value Life skills education have long held the view that a functional curriculum for children with disabilities should begin formally when these children enter the public schools (Kokaska & Brolin, 1985; Clark, 1979), The Division on Career Development and Transition of The Council for Exceptional Children established its position on early beginnings with a formal policy statement reflecting the view that many concepts and skills must be introduced at the awareness and exploration stages for elementary school children in order to make the most of instructional efforts during the secondary school years (Clark, Carlson, Fisher, Cook, & D' Alonzo, 1991). The Special Focus article by Beck, Broers, Hogue, Ship stead, and Knowlton demonstrates the possibilities of this practice for elementary school children in grades two through four.

Who Needs a Functional Curriculum?

All children and youth in public schools today should be provided an education that is specific enough to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to perform age-appropriate roles while in school and to meet the demands of being family members, citizens, and workers as adults. As early as 1979, the Carnegie Council of Policy Studies in Higher Education stated in an educational reform paper that the public education approach to teaching basic skills and academic content was successful with only about two-thirds of the school population. Few would argue that a large proportion of the population of students who are at risk and many students with disabilities have difficulties using what schools provide for successful adult adjustment. Follow up studies of former special education students, including the majority of students referred to as having mild disabilities, support the Carnegie study contention that another approach should be considered. Many teachers who are assigned to resource rooms or collaborative programs either do not consider their students as needing functional curricula or perform their roles within whatever curricular offerings exist without concerning themselves with curriculum alternatives. Some states using non categorical teacher endorsements complicate the issue by differentiating mild/moderate teaching endorsements from severe/profound teaching endorsements according to the different curricula used with the students in the two groups. That is, a functional curriculum is typically identified with students with severe disabilities, and all other students (.e., those with mild to moderate disabilities) are assumed to be able to benefit sufficiently from the general education curriculum. Logic, research data, and now the IDEA mandate to at least address functional curriculum needs through transition planning for students age 16 and above all lead to only one answer to the question of who needs a functional curriculum: All students with disabilities need such a curriculum, but each must be determined individually.

How Do a Functional Curriculum and a Traditional Curriculum Relate to One Another?

For some people, the relationship between a functional life skills curriculum and academics is a practical question. For others, it is a philosophical question that might be phrased more direct1v as "What is the place of a functional curriculum approach in the context of the inclusive education movement?" It is easier to deal with these questions if a distinction is made between a functional curriculum and functional curriculum approach. The term functional curriculum, gests a document or written guide t is ~n place and used for all students i particular setting. While this could the case, the definition given earlie implies that it could also be a specific program of instruction or course study for an inc5vidual student. It n--be tied to a group instructional setting in fact, it is used for most or all of the s dents in that setting, but this is not necessarily the case. lf it is tied to self-contained or separate delivery alternative, a high degree of responsibility placed on special education teachers demonstrate that the outcomes are no only satisfying to the students and the families, but also acceptable and des able outcomes of the school's commitment to providing quality, integrated educational programs. A functional curriculum approach, the other hand, suggests that functional content is prescribed on the IEP but that it has no restrictions regarding the type or location of instructional delivery. This perspective permits educators and families to look first to what a childs instructional content should be before determining where and how it should be provided. The functional curriculum approach places a high degree of responsibility on both general and special educators to make sure that t instruction is delivered effectively and with integrity, regardless of the delivery environment(s). At present, the relationship between a functional curriculum approach and the traditional academic curriculum is a tenuous one. A lot is going on in pub education that sends both discouraging and encouraging messages. The discouraging message is that general education is moving toward a mo rigorous academic model and that effective schools and outcomes-based/performance-based education will focus fostering higher achievement scores the traditional subject matter areas and increased skills in higher-order making and problem-solving. The encouraging message is that some educators are viewing outcomes-based education more broadly than as simply increasing, academic achievement scores and higher-order thinking. They are advocating functional, generalizable skills for responsible citizenship as the ends and academic skills as the means to those ends. This broader view of outcomes for education provides special educators and families who want a functional approach a window of opportunity lo choose to be a part of a single educational system that takes responsibility for all students.

How Can Schools Develop a Functional Curriculum Approach and Promote Inclusive Education?

Even a functional curriculum delivery system that is based on a special class model can incorporate many aspects of inclusion. The very nature of life skills instruction depends upon age-appropriate skills and experiences with age peers who do not have disabilities. A transition perspective of preparing students to leave school and assume adult roles depends upon real-life, community-based skills and experiences for learning and generalization. This means that a high1y inclusive model can organize and present instruction together with students without disabilities, but it mu5t meet the functional, community based needs of all students. Functional skills instruction must be planned deliberately and implemented with families and general education teachers. Implementation of this type of planning and collaboration becomes increasingly more difficult and complex as students move from elementary to high school settings. This may affect both the nature and the quality of both functional skills acquisition and inclusion. Three ways of developing and implementing a functional curriculum within an inclusive education philosophy are presented in the three Special Focus articles that follow. The three approaches reflect a "bottom-up" model, a student-centered model, and a "top-down" model. Each article illustrates not only what can be done but also what has been done in certain situations and settings. Each reflects a high degree of commitment to the notion of the importance of functional life skills and integration outcomes. Your task as a reader is to determine which one, if any, fits your situation and decide what you can replicate or adapt to suit your needs.

Brolin, D. E. (1991). Life centered career education: A competency based approach (3, d ed.). Reston. VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. Brolin, D. E. (1992). Life centered career education (LCCE) curriculum program. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. Brown, L., Branston, M., Hamre-Nietupski, S., Punpian, L, Certo, N., & Gruenwald, L. (1979). A strategy for developing chronological age appropriate and functional curricular content for severely handicapped adolescents and young adults. Journal of Special Education, 13(1), 81-90. Carnegie Council of Policy Studies in Higher Education. (1979). Giving youth a better chance Options for education, work, and service. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Clark, G. M, (1979), Career education for the handicapped child in the regular classroom. Denver, CO: Love Publishing. Clark, G. M. (1991). Functional curriculum and its place in the regular education initiative. Paper presented at the Seventh International Conference of the Division on Career Development, The Council for Exceptional Children, Kansas City, MO. Clark, G. M., Carlson, B, C., Fisher, S, L., Cook, I.D., & D' Alonzo, B.J. (1991). Career development for students with disabilities in elementary schools: A position statement of the Division on Career Development. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 14, 109-120. Clark, G. M., & Kolstoe, 0. P (1990). Career development and transition education for adolescents with disabilities. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Cronin, M.E., & Patton, J.R. (1993). Life skills instruction for all students with special need: A practical guide for integrating real -life content into the curriculum. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. Dever, R. B. (1988). Community living skills: A taxonomy. Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation. Falvey, M, (1989). Community-based curriculum (2nd ed.). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. Halpern, A. S. (1985), Transition: A look at the foundations. Exceptional Children, 51, 479-486. Hawaii Transition Project. (1987). Honolulu: Department of Special Education, University of Hawaii. Kokaska, C.J., & Brolin, D. E. (1985). Career education for handicapped individuals (2nd. ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill. Mithaug, D., Martin, J. E., & Agran, M. (1987). Adaptability instruction: The goal of transitional programming. Exceptional Children. 53, 500-505. Polloway, E. A., Patton, J. R., Epstein, M. H., & Smith, T E. C. (1989). Comprehensive curriculum for students with mild handicaps. Focus on Exceptional Children, 21(8), 1-12. Smith, M. A., & Schloss, P. J. (1988). Teaching to transition. In P.J. Schloss, C. A. Hughes, & M. A. Smith (Eds.), Community integration for Persons with mental retardation (pp 1-16). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. Gary M. Clark (CEC Chapter #665), Professor, Department of Special Education, University of Kansas, Lawrence.