PART THREE: A Detailed look at the Paraprofessional Job-Embedded Curriculum…the last, but NOT least!! AND, don’t forget….the GIVEAWAY!

Do yourself a favor and check out my previous posts that gave an overview and further details about this fabulous curriculum that you must have!! I have spent a lot of my blog time focused on this curriculum for a reason. It is the perfect time of the year to be thinking about paraprofessional training, and even more appropriate to think about how to do it in your own schools, with your own teams, engaging in conversation about your own students in a staff development format that is grounded in research and what we know about adult and student learning!

In this final post about the curriculum, I will describe the remaining two instructional parts and the units that comprise them. Please don’t forget to comment or ask questions, as you will be entered into the drawing to receive a free copy of the curriculum! All comments and questions from this post, as well as any from the first two posts will be entered for the drawing, and will be awarded next week!

The curriculum is divided into the following four instructional parts, with a total of seven instructional units:

Overview of the four instructional parts of the curriculum and the seven individual units

Overview of the four instructional parts of the curriculum and the seven individual units

The first two parts were described here. The parts that I would like to describe today are units three through seven. These five units are especially useful in schools for paraprofessional training. They comprise the instructional and academic areas, as well as promote understanding of behavior and relationships of the students they support. While the first two units concentrate on laying groundwork for paraprofessionals to understand their roles in inclusive settings, the five units I will describe today offer skill development and tools for paraprofessionals to use every day in their work with students.

Units 3, 4 and 5 are all within the How to Instruct? section, and Units 6 and 7 are both within the How to Interact? section of the curriculum. I am going to describe them together within their sections, in an attempt at brevity ;). However, know they are complete units, with all of the same components as the others I have described in previous posts, including personal reflection, new learning pieces and follow up activities.


  • Unit 3: How to Instruct? Prompt, Wait, Fade;
  • Unit 4: How to Instruct? Natural Cues, Consequences and Supports;
  • Unit 5: How to Instruct? Individualized Adaptations

In these units, the primary focus is how paraprofessionals can teach for increased student independence across the entire school day. The emphasis is not only on academic parts of a student’s day, but also those non-academic parts of the day that students need to gain experiences and function more independently in ways that they might not otherwise, without specific attention and thought being paid to how they individually learn these skills. There are materials in each unit to be substituted for elementary, middle and high school student examples. Unit 3 is designed to take approximately 70 minutes, and Units 4 and 5 take approximately 60 minutes each.

Unit 3 teaches the paraprofessionals about the stages of learning a new skill, namely acquisition, fluency, generalization and maintenance. It describes how part of their role in supporting students is to realize what stage of learning the student is in for a particular skill they are focusing on, and choose an appropriate level of instructional support that matches the student needs. It describes in detail the different types of prompts (direct and indirect verbal, modeling, gesturing and physical), and has activities for the paraprofessionals to better understand when each of these are appropriate for the particular students they teach.

Additionally, this unit has a section that focuses specifically on when “helping becomes hindering”, with activities designed for discussion around the instruction they provide and whether or not it is helpful or hindering students’ independence. This section is a way for teachers to address a difficult issue that seems to be present in many school situations with students and paraprofessionals. The beauty of this section is that it creates a collaborative dialogue around the topic and allows for discussion, without making people defensive about their intentions, but at the same time lets paraprofessionals know that sometimes they can truly be too helpful, a serious issue.

Unit 4 focuses on recognizing the natural cues, consequences and supports that occur in our everyday environments, and for the paraprofessional to understand the central role they play in supporting students to become more independent in their lives by paying attention and specifically teaching students with regard to the cues, consequences and supports that exist.

Often we take for granted that these cues, consequences and supports exist. As adults, we know how to enter a new job or a social gathering, or attack a new situation we may be exposed to, without actually thinking of what we do to “fit in”, know what to do, or how to act. This unit teaches the paraprofessional to identify, understand the importance of, and be able to teach students to recognize and use the natural cues, consequences and supports in their lives to become more independent, and make sense of what is happening, and respond appropriately.

The new learning of this unit allows for paraprofessionals to explore the ideas of positive and negative natural consequences, permitting students to learn to do things for themselves (even if it means less success initially for the student….it is OK to let them make mistakes!!), incorporating the levels of prompting necessary learned from Unit 3, and ask themselves before stepping in to support a student if there are naturally occurring supports (such as the teacher or other students) available that would be appropriate in a situation. It also provides teaching sequences that allow them to analyze different situations together.

Unit 5 focuses on defining what adaptations are and provides the means for paraprofessionals to understand the decisions about adaptations that are based on students’ individual needs, their instructional priorities, and the unique instructional context.

The unit’s new learning section includes a description of the three instructional domains of participating in routines and transitions; engaging in academic and functional activities; and interacting with others. It provides direct teaching on each domain and adaptation examples, as well as provides an opportunity for teachers to individualize the content to specific students that paraprofessionals are supporting.

The follow up activity for this section provides a way for the teacher and paraprofessionals to ensure the information is transferred to actual student programs and monitor the success of individual adaptations that are being provided. This unit allows for not only actual adaptations to be suggested, but also provides a feedback loop between the paraprofessionals and their supervising teachers regarding the successful or unsuccessful use of them from day to day with their students.


  • Unit 6: How to Interact? Behavior as Communication;
  • Unit 7: How to Interact? Student Relationships

Both of these units are designed to take approximately 90 minutes each, and can be broken into two shorter sessions if needed. There are materials in each unit to be substituted for elementary, middle and high school student examples.

Unit 6 focuses on paraprofessionals understanding some of the ways student behavior is influenced by what happens in the environment, and to view behavior ultimately as a way for communication by the student. It introduces appropriate language to be used when discussing and reflecting on student behavior as well as opportunities to think specifically about students’ behaviors and consider why those behaviors may be occurring.

The new learning section of this unit provides instruction using the A-B-C framework, Antecedents, Behaviors and Consequences. Once this information is learned, then the communicative function of behavior is discussed, with opportunities for specific dialogue using examples of students they support. Lastly, the paraprofessionals are introduced and asked to use a behavior observation form. This form becomes a part of the toolbox for paraprofessionals to use ongoing with their students, and provides a means for specific data and information to be collected and shared with teachers whom supervise their work.

This unit is extremely valuable, for many reasons. The dialogue that can happen when behaviors are thought of in this way opens thinking and conversations for how to positively support students whom exhibit challenging behaviors. Training paraprofessionals to think about different students in various situations, using the “behavior as communication hat” allows for problem solving that starts with what a student is trying to tell us, is frustrated about, or needs support with in any given situation.

Additionally, this unit provides a specific form that can be used by paraprofessionals to communicate with their teachers about ongoing challenges in a meaningful way, leading to greater success for their students, and less frustration or burn out of the paraprofessionals that support them through challenging times.

Unit 7 cannot be emphasized enough, is my humble opinion. Specific thought and development is provided for paraprofessionals about student relationships, recognizing how important they are, the different types of relationships that exist, as well as promoting positive interactions between students with and without disabilities.

This unit uses an adapted Circle of Friends activity, which was developed by the wonderful people at Inclusion Press (I HIGHLY recommend you check out their website and information they provide, specifically about person centered planning). Based on this activity, paraprofessionals are given specific information regarding how to facilitate the ways individual students interact, as well as how to facilitate interactions among students. Further, paraprofessionals are given the opportunity to realize where and when students are interacting across the school day, in hopes that they can better pinpoint times that might be appropriate for them to support social interactions between students with and without disabilities with greater success.

WHEW!! That is it! 😉 Thanks for hanging with me on all of these posts! I welcome any questions and comments about it, especially ones that would help you tailor fit this to your own personal needs at your schools.

I have ideas about how to make time for it, ways other schools have used it successfully, and much, much more. AND, don’t forget the GIVEAWAY!! I will choose one lucky winner next week. Until then, let’s hear from you!

(Additionally, don’t forget that the curriculum is available for purchase at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, if you can’t wait until the drawing!)

2 thoughts on “PART THREE: A Detailed look at the Paraprofessional Job-Embedded Curriculum…the last, but NOT least!! AND, don’t forget….the GIVEAWAY!

    1. Jennifer Sommerness Post author

      Thank you, Tricia-Lee! I would love to hear the parts that are interesting to you in your work. Behavior, in particular, is such an important topic. I would love to learn from your experience! Best, Jen


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