Embedded Instruction California Project Enters Sustainability Year

Building off both past and current research at the University of Florida, Embedded Instruction California (EI CA), a pilot project spearheaded by the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies in 2015, is entering its second year of implementation with school district or county office of education partners in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Santa Clara, California. In addition, the Napa County Office of Education has joined the project this year. The EI CA project aligns with the Anita Zucker Center’s mission of making an impact in early childhood through translational research, and has two major benefits:

  1. It introduces and supports teachers to implement Embedded Instruction, a method of instruction that has been shown to be effective for teaching young children with disabilities during everyday activities, routines, and transitions in the preschool classroom.
  2. Embedded Instruction helps young children with or at risk for disabilities learn skills or behaviors that enable them to access and participate in the preschool curriculum alongside their peers with and without disabilities.

The Embedded Instruction Project

As part of the study, 23 teachers, 65 students, and 3 coaches were exposed to the embedded instruction curriculum.

As part of the study, 23 teachers, 65 students, and 3 coaches were exposed to the embedded instruction curriculum.

As the above graphic illustrates, Embedded Instruction has practices organized under 4 primary components. These components are:

  • What to Teach
  • When to Teach
  • How to Teach
  • How to Evaluate

Dr. Patricia Snyder, Principal Investigator for the past and current research on Embedded Instruction at UF, describes the process:

“In a typical preschool classroom, there are many activities taking place as well as routines such as arrival, snack and departure. There are also transitions between the activities and routines.   Embedded Instruction helps teachers break down individual long-term goals for children with disabilities into more proximal learning targets and then embed instruction on these targets during the ongoing activities, routines and transitions happening in the classroom. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of this instructional approach for young children with disabilities.”

A current research study being conducted on embedded instruction at UF, Embedded Instruction for Early Learning (EIEL), is a randomized controlled efficacy trial funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. This study is investigating and comparing the impacts of two professional development strategies, practice-based coaching and self-coaching using a website, for preparing teachers to implement embedded instruction, as well as a “business-as-usual” condition. Practice-based coaching is a collaborative model of coaching that employs the development of goals and action plans by the teacher and coach, along with observation and feedback by the coach, to facilitate the implementation of evidence-based teaching practices, like embedded instruction.

The EI CA Pilot Project provides an opportunity to focus on the implementation of embedded instruction as part of a statewide initiative. Teachers and coaches in California are initially provided with 18-24 hours of training on embedded instruction. Coaches also receive an additional 16 hours of training on practice-based coaching. For 15 weekly sessions, coaches then observe in the classroom and provide teachers with feedback and assistance in implementing embedded instruction.  The coaches in California are supported by Dr. Snyder, Dr. Mary McLean, Co-Principal Investigator for EI CA, Dr. Kim Megrath, Research Scientist and Coordinator of the EI CA Project, and Dr. Tara McLaughlin of Massey University in New Zealand, through a group videoconference call every other week.

An example of a Zoom-based coaching session with practitioners.

Dr. Kim Megrath, a Research Scientist with the Anita Zucker Center, serves as a coach for the current EIEL study at UF and also serves as Coordinator for the EI CA Project.  Dr. Megrath sees coaching as an innovative way to support teachers to embed instruction as intended for the benefit for both teachers and children.

“In our work with embedded instruction and practice-based coaching, we often see that teachers do not always consider how their instructional strategies influence children’s development and learning. It is important for teachers to determine if instruction was provided as planned (“Am I doing it?”) and if children have had the opportunity to demonstrate the behavior or skill before making decisions about child progress (“Is it working?”). Practice-based coaching helps teachers learn how to make data-informed decisions about embedded instruction and child progress. 

Dr. Tara McLaughlin, Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, has joined Drs. Snyder, McLean and Megrath on the EI CA Project this year.  Dr. McLaughlin, who completed her doctoral degree as a student of Dr. Snyder’s at the University of Florida, and worked on the earlier Embedded Instruction research projects at UF, assisted with training teachers and coaches in California in the fall and is currently working with the UF team on analyzing results from the pilot project.

Project Beginnings  

According to Dr. McLean, the opportunity to pilot the implementation of Embedded Instruction in California was an important one. Dr. McLean and Dr. Snyder had worked with the California Department of Education (CDE) on the development of several versions of an assessment instrument, now the Desired Results Developmental Profile (2015), which is currently used by all infant-toddler and preschool programs funded by the CDE. The Special Education Division of the CDE was particularly interested in helping teachers use the DRDP (2015) to inform instruction for young children with disabilities. For years, teachers in California had been monitoring and submitting the progress of students with special needs using the DRDP. However, these data often were not being used to guide instruction. Dr. Snyder and Dr. McLean were eager to help change this.  According to Dr. McLean,

“The California Department of Education and specifically the Special Education Division were interested in using the DRDP assessment to assist teachers in providing effective instruction for young children. They asked us to do a pilot project that would connect the DRDP (2015), the CA Preschool Learning Foundations, and children’s individualized education program (IEP) goals to the use of Embedded Instruction with young children with disabilities. Because Embedded Instruction is effective for teaching young children in inclusive environments, it was also seen as an important way to encourage the inclusion of young children with disabilities in programs with their typical peers.”

Building Capacity: Participants in CA

In its first year, the project impacted 65 children and 23 teachers served by three coaches in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara, California. Now in its second year, which began in September of 2016, an additional region, Napa, has been added.  A total of 30 teachers and 89 children are currently being served by 11 coaches.

Looking Ahead

In January 2017, Dr. Snyder and Dr. McLean will return to California to conduct a day of awareness training about Embedded Instruction as part of the California Head Start Association annual conference in Sacramento.  While research has been available for many years on the effectiveness of embedded instruction and similar strategies for teaching young children with disabilities, implementation of embedded instruction on a large scale has been challenging.  According to Dr. Snyder, “the work in California fits nicely with the larger research effort currently underway at UF — it allows us to learn more about how to support teachers to implement embedded instruction and to work with our colleagues in CA on creating a system to build capacity, sustain, and scale up embedded instruction across the state.

To learn more about the project, visit the Embedded Instruction website.



Story by: Alexis Brown


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