## Authentic Work Experience

**Tagged**authentic setting, authentic situation, life skills, mail, mail delivery, real, real life, real life application

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Here is an example of what data collection can look like. (The IEP objective should have been indicated on here as well.) It shows the data, any prompting from the teacher (P with a circle around it), notes and at the bottom is 3/9 for 33% correct.

Also note that I was working on finding the value of a set of nickels and pennies only before moving onto other combinations of coins and more coins.

When I train new math and special education teachers I explain that teaching math should be like feeding a hot dog to a baby in a high chair. Cut up the hot dog into bite-sized pieces. The baby will still consumer the entire hot dog. Same with math. Our students can consume the entire math topic being presented but in smaller chunks.

My approach to doing this is through a task analysis. This is very similar to chunking. It is a method to cut up the math into bite-sized pieces just as we would break up a common task for students with special needs.

While waiting for my coffee order at a Burger King I saw on the wall a different version of a task analysis. It was a step by step set of directions using photos on how to pour a soft cream ice-cream cone. I thought it was amazing that Burger King can do such a good job training its employees by breaking the task down yet in education we often fall short in terms of breaking a math topic down.

Math is often considered an esoteric set of information that is disjointed from the reality people face, aside perhaps from money. Sadly, in school, especially in older grade levels, math is indeed presented this way.

A situation as simple as riding an elevator provides opportunities to show and engage a student with math applied in authentic and common situations. For example, the elevator buttons address counting and cardinality (4 indicates a total of 4 floors – ignoring the R), comparison (if we are on floor 2 and need to go down, which floor do we go to?) and measurement (height above ground floor measured in floors). Such situations also provides opportunities for generalization into other settings – the important settings of every day life!

Below is a photo of a typical worksheet for money. I worked with a parent of a high school student severely impacted by autism and she explained that her son worked on nothing but worksheets when he worked on math. For students with more severe disabilities the worksheet is not real or meaningful. The photos and the setting is abstract.

Below is a photo of shelves in a mock grocery store we set up at our school for students who were in a life skills program. They would have a shopping list, collect the items in a basket then compute the total cost. We had a mock register set up (eventually we procured an actual working register) and the students made the same types of calculations they would on a worksheet but in an authentic setting, which was more concrete. We would start with simple money amounts, e.g. $1.00 then make the prices increasingly more challenging, e.g. $1.73.

A widespread problem at the secondary level is addressing basic skills deficiencies – gaps from elementary school. For example, I often encounter students in algebra 1 or even higher level math who cannot compute problems like 5÷2. Often the challenges arise from learned helplessness developed over time.

How do we address this in the time allotted to teach a full secondary level math course? We cannot devote class instruction time to teach division and decimals. If we simply allow calculator use we continue to reinforce the learned helplessness.

I offer a 2 part suggestion.

- Periodically use chunks of class time allocated for differentiation. I provide a manilla folder to each student (below left) with an individualized agenda (below right, which shows 3 s agendas with names redacted at the top). Students identified through assessment as having deficits in basic skills can be provided related instruction, as scheduled in their agenda. Other students can work on identified gaps in the current course or work on SAT problems or other enrichment type of activities.
- Provide instruction on basic skills that is meaningful and is also provided in a timely fashion. For example, I had an algebra 2 student who had to compute 5÷2 in a problem and immediately reached for his calculator. I stopped him and presented the following on the board (below). In a 30 second conversation he quickly computed 4 ÷ 2 and then 1 ÷ 2. He appeared to understand the answer and this was largely because it was in a context he intuitively understood. This also provided him immediate feedback on how to address his deficit (likely partially a learned behavior). The initial instruction in a differentiation setting would be similar.

The photo shows a pre-posttest for a student in a consumer math class. In the course I taught we would conduct a pretest at the start of the class to determine which of the related skills a student lacked mastery. The course focus for this student was on the identified skills – highly individualized. The assessment also provided present level of performance information, allowed us to monitor progress and to evaluate instruction.

The chart shown in the photo below was created and used by my former co-teacher and I to teach students in a high school life skills program how to count out the total value for coins (dimes, nickels and pennies). Here is how we implemented it.

- The students are given a pile of coins, set next to this chart.
- Students start with dimes (identifying dimes as the coin to start with is a prerequisite step that can be taught in isolation if necessary)
- They line up the dimes in the dimes column as shown below.
- They count out the total value of dimes (and can look at the number under the last dime)
- Then the students identify the nickels as the next coin to use.
- The place the first nickel in the nickels column, starting at the row below the dimes (you can use a highlighter to highlight the last dime row to scaffold where the student places the nickels)
- Have the student count off 5 and place the next nickel (on the dimes column) etc.
- Then follow the same steps to transition to pennies.
- Have the student identify the total value by looking under the last penny.

The idea is to fade the use of the chart and have the student count out the value without the chart. This is more possible if the task demand is incremented with pennies only, then dimes only, the pennies and dimes etc. Here is a link to handouts for those.

At my school we are looking to develop a track for math for students with disability for whom the traditional math courses are inappropriate. Many of the topics and concepts from the traditional courses are addressed but in a practical approach with the principles of UDL incorporated. This is not a typical dumping ground situation that many of us have encountered. These are courses for students who need support in being independent and who will not benefit from being exposed to simplifying (5x + 2y – 3xy) – (7x – 8y + 9xy). Here is a link to some documents, including the units and topics. Contact me if you would like more info!

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