Overview of Competency Clusters

Diagnosis and Identification of Relevant Characteristics of Learners

Competencies in this cluster enable a teacher to determine the educationally relevant characteristics of individual learners and to use their observation skills and background knowledge of child development to identify specific educational strengths and weaknesses. Graduates of the program must combine, in a multitude of ways, three factors of importance in order to identify the status of the child's current functional levels and how the environment influences his functioning. The three factors are (a) resources in the environment that can provide information, (b) characteristics that are of relevance to the teacher, and (c) methods for collecting information about the child and his environment. After a comprehensive assessment has been completed, the teacher can specify behavioral objectives for the child.

Specification of Instructional/Behavioral Objectives

Skills in this cluster include the formulation of instructional objectives in terms of observable behaviors to be displayed by the individual learner, the conditions under which the behavior is to be exhibited, and the criteria for an acceptable performance. Following the diagnosis and identification of relevant characteristics of the child and his environment, the teacher must translate the child's needs into clear and unequivocal statements of behavioral objectives so that the tasks to follow can be efficiently and successfully completed. "You cannot concern yourself with the problem of selecting the most efficient route to your destination until you know what your destination is" (Mager, 1962, p. 1).

Task Analysis

Once the destination (i.e., terminal behavior) is known, the teacher analyzes the behavior, listing sequentially, if possible, the enroute behaviors required to master the terminal behavior. After identifying the enroute behaviors as yet unmastered by the child, the teacher performs the next tasks in the Diagnostic Teaching Model (i.e., selection and use of instructional strategies and materials). Task analysis skills, based on the assumption that learning is cumulative, enable the teacher to break down learning tasks into their components, identify prerequisite skills, and determine proper sequencing of instruction for an individual learner.

Selection, Modification, and Use of Instructional Materials

Here the teacher must become aware of the wide range of instructional media, materials, technology, and criteria for their selection and modification. In addition, insight into the assistance available from various school and ancillary personnel is necessary.

Selection and Use of Instructional Strategies

Competencies required for selecting and using appropriate instructional strategies demand that the teacher first be aware of the variety of instructional procedures available for effectively managing the educational programs of children. Then an appropriate match must be made between the objective for a given child and the appropriate strategy for having him reach the objective.

Evaluation of Pupil Progress

Competencies associated with evaluation of pupil progress call for skill in empirical research to some extent because of the experimental nature of diagnostic teaching. Any match between learner needs, characteristics, and instructional materials and strategies is tentative and must be ascertained on an empirical basis. Included here are skills in administering and interpreting teacher-made, curriculum-based, and standardized evaluative devices.

Utilization of Resources

Related to the selection, modification, and use of instructional materials is the retrieval of appropriate instructional strategies and materials. Since teachers cannot be expected to develop specialized and unique strategies and materials for each student for whom they are responsible, skill in using information retrieval systems and other resources is vital to efficient use of time. Also included are utilization of human resources in the school and community. The use of resources, both in terms of receiving and providing services, is of paramount importance to teachers. The teacher must not only know what resources are available to help him/her perform, but must also request their services in appropriate ways when needed. Moreover, special education teachers must also be ready to respond to requests for services made by others. Within this structure, teachers must effectively communicate information they have available and maintain propitious relations with resources.

Behavior Management

Behavior management refers to ways to strengthen desired behaviors, shape new behaviors, and reduce the frequency of undesired behaviors. Included are behavior modification techniques, setting limits, developing routines, providing models, and modifying the physical environment. Behavior management, when it becomes an identified need of a student, is conducted according to the steps of the Diagnostic Teaching Model. However, teachers must demonstrate skills in conducting their day-to-day interaction with learners without specifically stated objectives and instructional strategies. In so doing, teachers show competence in their interactions with learners in three ways (a) stimulating desired interactions, (b) reinforcing desired interactions, and (c) responding appropriately to undesired interactions.

Individualized Instruction

Individualizing instruction by means of diagnostic teaching procedures enables teachers to recognize and remediate existing learning problems and enhance learning assets that a child might demonstrate.

Parent Involvement

Recent public interest in the federal support for early childhood programs and for appropriate educational programs for all students with disabilities has focused attention on the importance of parent involvement in facilitating the development of their children and in recognizing the potential effects of parental attitudes and expectations on their children. Competencies in parent counseling require skills in interpersonal relations and knowledge of the dynamics of human interactions.

Professional Activities

Professional activities include participating in professional organizations, contributing to the knowledge base in special education by carrying out empirical research, and recognizing the continual need for individual self-improvement, professional renewal, and life long learning. Professional teachers are actively involved in their professional organizations. They may attempt to influence local, state, and national legislation in favor of special education goals, organize and attend conventions, conferences, and workshops to expand his/her knowledge, etc. Further, they analyze information from professional journals, seek and implements methods for enhancing their profession, maintain professional ethics, and communicate their ideas to others in the field by word of mouth and written expression.

Knowledge of Contemporary Trends

Even though teachers completing a particular teacher preparation program may be competent in certain skills and have a knowledge of certain special education procedures, they also need to know a lot of the context into which their skills and knowledge fit and the directions that the field of special education (within the larger context of education) is heading. Equipped with this information, professionals in special education should be more able to assess their own strengths and weaknesses and arrive at their evaluation of their role and the function it serves in society.

Teaching in Content Areas

Competent teaching assumes a knowledge of something to teach. Content areas for teachers in special education may be drawn from cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains, with special focus on adaptive behavior for the severely handicapped and academic areas where appropriate for the mildly handicapped.