The Most Effective Transition Tool: Community-Based Instruction

When I tell my friends and family about community-based instruction, they make comments like, “Must be real rough getting to go to the mall for your job” or “I saw you checked in on FourSquare at Target on Thursday morning.  Must be nice to get to go shopping during the day”.  These people have no idea what they are talking about.

Community-based instruction (often referred to as CBI in the special education world), is not what you remember high school field trips to be: 3 school busses full of shouting adolescents heading to the local museum to follow up on the unit they just studied in social studies (which really boils down to a bunch of kids walking the dim halls of the museum, copying the smart kids’ worksheet that has to be completed and turned in before they can get back on the bus) while the teachers and chaperones hang out by the laundry baskets full of cold lunches.  This is NOT an example of community-based instruction.

CBI IS a small group of students, usually young adults with more significant needs, with one or two teachers, heading out into the community with instructional goals to be focused on.  For example:

- The teacher and 3 students head to the grocery store in the school van, school bus, or if the school is in an urban area, public transit or they walk there.  

- Each student is armed with a shopping list and money, either from home or school.  

- While at the grocery store, the students work on MANY skills:

 - pushing a shopping cart (which is harder than it sounds…believe me)

- locating the correct aisle

- locating the correct item

- noting the price & rounding the price up to the next dollar

- adding up the approximate total

- making sure they have enough money to cover the cost of their purchases

- locating an open cashier 

- unloading the cart

- using appropriate social skills with the cashier and bagger

- paying for the items with the correct bills

- remembering to take their change

- moving out of the way BEFORE putting their change and receipt back in their wallet so the next customer can go (next to impossible)

 Whew.  I’m exhausted just from writing it all down.  A little different from a field trip, hey?

 The goal of CBI is for students to learn how, as independently as possible, to get things done in their community, including shopping skills, restaurant skills, and recreation skills.  

CBI is directly connected to students’ post-high school goals in the area of independent living.  For some students, the goal might be to independently access their community.  For other students, their goal might be to stay with their family at the mall and not run away.  In either case, the ability to access the community is big part of transition planning, education, and post-school life.   I believe teaching skills in the community is essential to preparing students with disabilities for adulthood.  

Don’t just take my word for it.  Check out what these experts think about community-based instruction:  

Academy of Special Education Professionals

Walker, A., Uphold, N, Richter. S., Test, D.  (2010).  Review of the literature on community-based instruction across grade levels.  Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities.  45(2), 242-267.

Tips and Benefits of Community-Based Instruction from the University of Nevada

National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (nsttac)






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