Unit 3: Functional Academics – Reading, writing and Arithmetic

3.1 Role of functional academics in day-to-day living

3.2 Objectives in teaching functional reading, writing and arithmetic

3.3 Strategies of teaching functional reading

3.4 Strategies of teaching functional writing

3.5 Strategies of teaching functional arithmetic









3.1 Role of functional academics in day-to-day living

Functional skills are those skills a student needs to live independently. An important goal of special education is for our students to gain as much independence and autonomy as possible, whether their disability is emotional, intellectual, physical, or a combination of two or more (multiple) disabilities. Skills are defined as functional as long as the outcome supports the student's independence. For some students, those skills may be learning to feed themselves. For other students, it may be learning to use a bus and read a bus schedule. We can separate the functional skills as:

Functional Academic Skills

Living independently requires some skills which are considered academic, even if they do not lead to higher education or the completion of a diploma. Those skills include:

Functional academics are defined as academic areas that will be used by the student for the rest of their life. For example: Reading (read signs; stop, go, men’s, women’s, read a recipe). Math (money, grocery shopping, making change, budget). Health (grooming, oral hygiene, plan healthy meals). Time Management skills (Calendar skills that integrate Reading, Math and Writing; telling time, reading the date).  Functional skills instructed are  skills that will have meaning for your teenager and will help them be as independent as possible, as an adult.

Functional academics is merely academics made functional designed to teach skills which allow each student to succeed in real-life situations at home, school, work and in the community. The functional academics curriculum includes a range of areas namely:

• Pre-requisite concepts • Maths • Activities of daily living • Reading Pre-requisite concepts • Writing • Communication • Social & Emotional skills • Community orientation • Skill oriented activities • Art and craft etc…

Given these areas the teachers tailor the academic programs to the age, gender, needs and functioning of the student. Each of the subcomponent is divided into skill level and task analyzed to sequential steps which ranges from early childhood to transitional skills. Such skills are not taught in isolation but as part of multi-sensorial approach. Key outcome of functional skills is for the students to exercise maximum sense of control, engage in self-directed behavior and autonomy over his/her environment.


3.2 Objectives in teaching functional reading, writing and arithmetic

While many students transition successfully into adult life, many are at risk for experiencing difficulty during this period. Even greater difficulty has been reported for students with disabilities. Therefore, students with disabilities, and particularly students identified as having an intellectual disability, should be provided functional skills instruction within the educational environment with the premise of teaching skills necessary for successful transitions into adulthood.

Functional skills, according to Cronin (1996), are the tasks that help individuals become successful and independent adults. Vandercook (1991) stated, “a true functional skill is one that is initiated, used, and maintained under typical circumstances”. Functional skills are often taught in conjunction with functional academics. Bouck and Joshi (2012) defined functional academics as an approach to teach “students the skills to help them be productive members of society and support post school outcomes”. Functional academics may include “core subject content, vocational education, community access, daily living, personal finance, independent living, transportation, social skills and relationships, and selfdetermination”.

Objectives of Functional Academics:

• getting the most from education and training

• the personal development of all young people and adults

• independence – enabling learners to manage in a variety of situations

• developing employability skills

• giving people a sound basis for further learning.

3.3 Strategies of teaching functional reading

Individuals with significant cognitive disabilities can learn to read if provided with systematic, intensive, and ongoing instruction. Unfortunately, individuals with intellectual disabilities are often denied high quality reading instruction. Learning to read will improve your student’s opportunities and life choices.  Instructors in this program are master’s level reading specialists who also have experience and training in working with children, adolescents, and adults with significant cognitive impairments.

Reading instruction in terms of:

o    Reading comprehension

o    Listening comprehension

o    Decoding (regular words)

o    Sight word recognition (irregular words)

o    Vocabulary

o    Fluency

o    Phonological awareness

o    Written expression

o    Academic application of reading: reading of books

o    Real life application of reading: reading of signs, menus, job applications, etc.


      Provide activities that focus on reading for information and leisure

      Provide activities that require the child to become more aware of his/her surrounding environment having the child list the names of all food stores in the community, or all hospitals and so on will increase his/her familiarity with the surrounding environment.

      Have the child collect food labels and compare the differences

      Allow them look up the names of the children's families in the phone book. Use the smaller local guide for this activity.

      Develop activities that will allow them to become familiar with menus, bus and train schedules, movie and television timetables, or job advertisements.


3.4 Strategies of teaching functional writing

Teaching writing begins in kindergarten and continues through post-secondary education. Good writing skills are a must for many jobs. For special education students, who often struggle with academic skills such as writing, functional writing exercises are valuable. Functional writing exercises are assignments that mimic a real-life situation - essentially, students are sharpening their writing skills by practicing for situations they will probably encounter outside of school. These functional writing activities are good for a variety of grade levels. The activities can be evaluated based on criteria appropriate to the needs and levels of individual students.

      Have the child make a list of things to do for the day.

      Have the child run a messenger service in the classroom so that he/she can write the messages and deliver them from one student to another.

      Provide activities for older children that incorporate daily writing skills necessary for independency such as social security forms, driver’s license application, and bank account applications and so on.


3.5 Strategies of teaching functional arithmetic

Functional math skills are skills that we use to live independently. Understanding money, budgeting and telling time all help us do important things like shop for groceries, save for a big purchase, and catch the bus to get to work. Special education teachers often include functional math skills in their curriculum for students with disabilities. Goals that address functional math skills also are usually included in students' Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

For teachers, helping learners to become functional with mathematics means helping them to:

• recognise situations in which mathematics can be used

• make sense of these situations

• describe the situations using mathematics

• analyse the mathematics, obtaining results and solutions

• interpret the mathematical outcomes in terms of the situation

• communicate results and conclusions.


Time as a functional skill involves both understanding the importance of time—such as not staying up all night or not missing appointments because they don't leave enough time to get ready—and telling time on analog and digital clocks to get to school, work, or even the bus on time.

Teachers can also pair telling time with understanding the concept of time, for example, that 6 a.m. is when you get up and 6 p.m. is when you eat dinner. Once students can tell the time to the hour and half-hour, they can progress to skip counting by fives and telling time to the nearest five-minute interval. A geared clock, such as a Judy clock—where the hour hand moves when the minute hand goes around—helps students understand that both hands move together.


Money, as a functional math skill, has several levels of skill:


Learning measurement for students with special needs should involve length and volume. A student should be able to use a ruler and even perhaps a tape measure for length and recognize inches, half and quarter inches, as well as feet or yards. If a student has an aptitude for carpentry or graphic arts, the ability to measure length or size will be helpful.

Common Strategies

      Have the child buy something at the school store

      Have the child make up a budget on how they plan to use his/her allowance

      Encourage the child to cook in school or at home so that they can become more familiar with measurements

      Have the child record the daily temperature

      Involve the child in measuring the height of classmates

      Have older children apply for a loan or credit card

      Show the child how to use a daily planning book

      Provide activities that teach the child how to comparison-shop

      Provide the child with a make believe amount of money and a toy catalog and have them purchase items and fill out the forms.