Jenni has two options on every intervention visit:
Option 1: She can work directly with the child while the child’s caregiver observes nearby, or
Option 2: She can provide instruction to both the caregiver and the child by facilitating their interactions with each other during naturally occurring, developmentally enhancing activities.
The first option is probably easier, because in grad school, Jenni was mostly trained to teach infants and toddlers so she really knows how to help them learn. The second option, though, is more in line with the mission of early intervention and the field’s key principles (PDF, New Window). Unfortunately, Jenni just isn’t sure how to implement Option 2 so when she really reflects on her practices, she finds herself slipping back in to Option 1.
What Can Jenni Do?
The first thing that Jenni is doing well is reflecting on her practices. She is aware of her struggle and how it often leads her to slip back into practices that are not aligned with our mission. That’s an important step, but it’s not enough to help her change her practices. For that, she has to dig deeper, think about how to change, and then do it, every day, on every visit, with every family.
One place Jenni can go to help her dig deeper is the DEC Recommended Practices, Instruction strand. This strand focuses on practices that “are intentional and systematic strategies to inform what to teach, when to teach, how to evaluate the effects of teaching, and how to support and evaluate the quality of instructional practices implemented by others” (DEC Recommended Practices, 2014, p. 12) (PDF, New Window). Thirteen practices are listed that describe what Jenni should do. While this is very helpful for interventionists to read what they should do, we have to keep in mind that we are not the only one providing instruction. A key responsibility of early interventionists is to provide support to the caregiver as he/she engages the child using instructional (or intervention) strategies that promote development. We share the role of “providing instruction to a child” with the caregiver. With that in mind, let’s look at the some of the Instructional practices through the lens of early intervention.
DEC Recommended Practices: Instruction
INS1. Practitioners, with the family, identify each child’s strengths, preferences, and interests to engage the child in active learning.
INS2. Practitioners, with the family, identify skills to target for instruction that help a child become adaptive, competent, socially connected, and engaged and that promote learning in natural and inclusive environments.
Jenni’s role here is clear – she will work with the family to learn about what the child likes to do, doesn’t like to do, what he does well, what’s challenging, and what the family would like to do. This information will help them work together to identify the outcomes the family wants for the child and the skills and abilities the child needs to learn to reach the outcome. All of this information will provide the context for intervention.
INS4. Practitioners plan for and provide the level of support, accommodations, and adaptations needed for the child to access, participate, and learn within and across activities and routines.
INS5. Practitioners embed instruction within and across routines, activities, and environments to provide contextually relevant learning opportunities.
Here, Jenni’s role gets a little murky. If she follows Option 1, she would be directly providing the support and accommodations to the child. If she follows Option 2, she will be providing this support using methods that support the child’s caregivers in helping the child “access, participate, and learn…” Sure, she might still work directly with the child to try out new intervention strategies, model them for the caregivers, etc. Her end goal, though, would be to help the caregiver know how to use those strategies with the child so that instruction is embedded “within and across routines, activities, and environments,” both during the visit and most importantly, between visits when Jenni is not in the home.
INS6. Practitioners use systematic instructional strategies with fidelity to teach skills and to promote child engagement and learning.
INS7. Practitioners use explicit feedback and consequences to increase child engagement, play, and skills.
Here again, we have to check our options against the mission of early intervention. Jenni has the skills to promote child engagement, learning, and play, but she will see greater results if she shares her expertise with the caregiver so that the caregiver learns how to promote the child’s learning whenever opportunities arise. For instance, Jenni could read books to a toddler and model common words in the story for the child to repeat. Or, she could coach the caregiver in how to do this during book reading and other playful routines so that when the caregiver and child find themselves walking to the mailbox, in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, or playing in the bath tub, the caregiver knows how to encourage communication anytime. Helping the caregiver learn how to use instructional strategies and feedback requires that Jenni use what she knows in different ways. This is often where the struggle between Option 1 and 2 lies…in how to translate what we know how to do into strategies we can teach others to use.
INS10. Practitioners implement the frequency, intensity, and duration of instruction needed to address the child’s phase and pace of learning or the level of support needed by the family to achieve the child’s outcomes or goals.
INS13. Practitioners use coaching or consultation strategies with primary caregivers or other adults to facilitate positive adult-child interactions and instruction intentionally designed to promote child learning and development.
These strategies provide Jenni with guidance on how to overcome her struggle. She needs to work closely with her team to determine how much support is needed by the family to help the child achieve the IFSP outcomes. She doesn’t have to decide that by herself (and in fact, shouldn’t). Once the frequency, intensity, and duration of services is determined, she can begin providing services using coaching and consultation strategies that build the capacity of the caregivers to promote the child’s learning and development. Jenni’s next step, after reading these practices, could be to learn more about coaching and consultation. She’ll want to learn, watch videos, observe others who are skilled at coaching and consulting with families, complete self-assessments, and continually reflect on her practices.
Providing good early intervention is an ongoing process. Jenni will never be there, at the place where she is an expert and is finished learning. Instead, she can hope to reach a place where she only finds one option – to share her expertise in ways that promote caregiver-child engagement, learning, play, and positive interactions. How she does this will be different for each child and family, but her underlying practices will be the same.
What have you done to help you evolve your instructional practices from Option 1 to Option 2?
What strategies have you found most helpful when sharing your expertise with caregivers?
Share your thoughts, ideas, and best strategies in the comments below!
To help you reflect on the Instructional Practices, check out these resources on the Recommended Practices Products: Instruction page:
- Systematic Instructional Practices Checklist (PDF, New Window)
- Child Learning Comes Naturally (PDF, New Window)
- Encouraging Child Learning in Everyday Activities (PDF, New Window)
If you are like Jenni and want to grow your practices, check out this new module on the ECTA Center site:
To read more about how to implement other DEC Recommended Practices, be sure to check out the rest of this series by searching for “DEC Recommended Practices” using the search feature at the top of the page.