Teaching FundamentalsApplied Behavior Analysis (ABA) • Positive Behavior Intervention in Schools (PBIS) • Behavior Intervention Planning • Data based teaching (CBM) • Student Engagement Methods • Direct Instruction • Fluency Building
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been given great recognition recently because of the successful findings by Ivar Lovaas and others that early intervention using ABA methods can bring about substantial positive change in young children with Autism, including, in some cases, eliminating all signs and symptoms of the condition. ABA, based as it is on positive reinforcement of specific student behaviors, or “catch ‘em being good,” has been a significant component of the teaching methods in TIEE schools since the early 1980’s, well before Lovaas’ original outcome study. Positive reinforcement techniques and other methods of ABA had been systematically researched and found effective in schools since the late 1950’s leading to their use in TIEE’s schools.
Behavior Analysis, which stems from the work of B. F. Skinner, is a substantial field of inquiry, one that is far too large to even begin to do it justice here. Broadly speaking, it is first of all a perspective on or philosophy of human action or behavior, the most significant component of which is the well-founded belief that behavior occurs because of a history of its consequences. Secondly, ABA is a kind of engineering science in that it has established ways to investigate how behavior functions and to investigate how to change it. This science has produced a burgeoning research literature concerned with behavior change, including a great many studies on the effectiveness of ABA procedures in schools. Thirdly, ABA is a set of these research-validated behavior change procedures. Finally, ABA is a set of principles on the basis of which teachers and other practitioners can develop their own practices. Behavior Analysis also instills a commitment to validate practices with systematic evaluation of results; it is truly evidence based.
The adage “spare the rod; spoil the child,” the teacher’s “hickory stick” in the song “School Days,” and the teacher’s “meanful look” in Chuck Berry’s famous song are a sample of our once pervasive attitude of schooling based on punishment. TIEE’s schools have been in the forefront to change this attitude and make school a positive experience for all students.
“Catch ‘em being good” is essential to developing a positive school atmosphere, but more is necessary. It is also essential that school and classroom procedures be specifically taught to students. How to get ready for instruction, how to manage your materials, how to get the teacher’s attention, how to put away the game equipment are all great examples of procedures that, once learned, will make for a more efficient school—and once students do it, teachers will have the opportunity to “catch ‘em being good.”
Some students also need to be specifically taught how to interact with others, including both teachers and their peers. That’s called social skills instruction, and it is best done throughout the day, taking each naturally occurring opportunity to teach. Finally, a very few students will display behaviors so troubling that they will require special programs, called Behavior Intervention Plans (or Behavior Support Plans) that are based on careful analysis of the factors that are responsible for their problem behavior, which are called Functional Analyses (or Functional Assessments). These students typically require intensive instruction in socially desirable ways to respond and the instruction is best when based on setting the student up to do the “right thing” and then “catching ‘em being good.” This combination of methods is used in all TIEE schools. We have come to call it Positive Programming.
University of Oregon behavior analysts Rob Horner and George Sugai (who is now at the University of Connecticut) saw the virtue of these practices in making for positive schools some years ago, and they started Positive Behavior Intervention in Schools. Their PBIS concept has become nearly a national movement with literally thousands of schools and school districts participating.
An improvement on the procedures prescribed in California Title V Regulations involves the use of a special type of assessment procedure, called Functional Analysis. Functional Analysis is like the prescribed Functional Analysis Assessment in that it involves direct observation of the student’s problem behavior as well as the antecedent and consequent conditions associated with that problem behavior, but it goes beyond Functional Analysis Assessment by actually manipulating variables in an experimental fashion to establish more specifically what environmental conditions are responsible for the student’s problem behavior. The research literature has consistently supported the use of Functional Analysis over the methods prescribed by California regulations. Having said this, it is also true that the research support for Behavior Intervention Planning based on Functional Analysis has involved individuals with moderate to severe disabilities and it remains to be determined whether the procedures are as effective for students with mild to moderate disabilities.
Data based teaching means deciding what to teach and/or how to teach based on frequent measures of student performance. It reflects a commitment to validate that the students are learning what the teacher is teaching. The strategy is sometimes called curriculum-based measurement (or CBM). The curriculum determines both what we teach and what we measure. However, CBM is not merely “teaching to the test.” Instead, it is “testing whether we have taught.”
Usually, the student performance data we obtain are charted (i.e., graphed) and the teacher reviews the chart frequently for evidence of progress. When student progress is acceptable, the teacher knows to continue. On the other hand, failing to see desired student progress would cause the teacher to change some aspect of the teaching. Educational researchers have shown that this method is just about the most important one that a teacher can implement to ensure effective teaching.
N.B.: At TIEE, we prefer the term “chart” to the term “graph” because the word “chart” implies a course or direction whereas the word “graph” is merely a way to display data.
Necessary ingredients for data based teaching
Data based teaching implies all of the following for the teacher or therapist:
- we know what the students must learn;
- we measure the behavior(s) that tells us whether students are learning;
- we display the measurement so that we can decide whether progress is acceptable;
- we measure often enough so that course correction, if necessary, is easy to make; and
- we actually make the corrections in a timely manner.
Our professional staff members have their own computers and the paraprofessionals have access to the many other computers in our schools, so student performance data can be entered daily and displayed on standard charts for evaluation.
Weekly data shares help
Our staffs gather weekly to share data displays, which serves several functions. Newer staff members get familiarized with data based teaching more readily, student growth that is greater than expected can be celebrated, and problems have an opportunity for group problem solving.
Effective teaching requires getting lots of task relevant student responses. It’s just as true for reading, math, and geography as it is for swimming, baseball, and golf. Efficient and effective teaching depends partly on getting lots of task relevant student responses in a short period of time. Because we are interested in both effective and efficient teaching, it is important to our teachers and therapists to maximize student attention to task, so we have adopted the principal ways to encourage students to make many task related responses.
Smart responses only
But first a proviso: High rates of student responding do not imply that the responses are “intelligent.” Student responses can be at a high rate and be stupid. Teachers must encourage students to make intelligent responses. For instance, if the question calls for a deduction, students will not benefit from merely parroting the correct answer. The intelligent response is a deduction. In addition, students must not be allowed to practice incorrect responses, so, just as is true in tennis, effective teaching of history means that errors must be corrected immediately.
The following methods encourage student engagement. Our teachers are coached to implement all of them.
Organized classrooms mean that materials are ready, equipment is ready, and student transitions are practiced.
Group by skill and get unison group responses
When students are “on the same page,” they all can respond at the same time and in the same way, giving the teacher precise knowledge of how all of them are doing.
Get student attention before proceeding
Seems logical but only effective teachers do it regularly.
Teach student/learner skills
How to sit, how to respond to questions, how to organize oneself as a student are critical “session skills.”
Review and/or provide a rationale
Reviews and previews work like maps to tell students what’s relevant in the lesson.
“Catch ‘em being good” and praise them for it.
We can’t say this enough!
Direct Instruction programs teach basic skills
Zig Engelmann is an intellectual giant with compassion for kids to match. He has worked tirelessly since the mid-60’s developing effective instructional programs in all basic skills areas and in some content areas. His reading programs (DISTAR, Reading Mastery, Horizons, et al.) are the most research-validated programs in existence. These and other DI programs have been used in TIEE’s schools since the early 1980’s and we continue to use them today in all of our schools.
Scripted lessons, group responses, and much, much more
On seeing DI in action, the casual observer is often drawn to the group choral responding and the scripted lessons. Engelmann’s detractors have denigrated his efforts, calling them “rote learning,” but “rote” could not be further from the truth. What goes into the building of DI programs, and what Engelmann and his associates have given to the instructional design and development community, goes way beyond the script and is responsible for the compelling success of DI programs.
Analysis, design, and delivery
DI is more than a method of instruction and much more than scripted lessons with signals for group responses. Conceptually, DI is three quite distinct enterprises. First, Engelmann’s DI is a way of analyzing and organizing subject matter to make it easier for students to learn. The critical concept driving this effort is “big ideas.” Big ideas are those that have great generality, so that, once learned, many related concepts and facts are easier to learn. Our favorite of the dozens of “big ideas” incorporated in DI programs is the concept of convection currents that forms the basis of Engelmann’s Earth Science program. Once students come to understand a convection current, all sorts of concepts related to earth science are understandable, including the water cycle, weather patterns, plate tectonics, and volcanism. Another of our favorite “big ideas” is “problem-solution-effect,” which is a common theme in history and permits understanding of many historical movements. Doug Carnine, one of Engelmann’s most famous students, developed an American History program that used this “big idea.”
The second component of Engelmann’s DI is the design of lessons. What words the teacher is to say and what examples the teacher is to present to illustrate a concept or principle are chosen with great care. These and other design principles developed by Engelmann and his associates result in the creation of lessons that are highly effective and efficient. To make sure that they are, extensive field-testing of programs is undertaken and changes to the program are made when it is clear that the students are not learning effectively and efficiently. This design-test-design process for building instructional programs is unique to DI.
Finally, DI is characterized by a host of teacher delivery practices that encourage student engagement. The most obvious of these is unison group responding, which is done so that all students can practice desired responding and so that the teacher can evaluate all students many, many times during the course of a lesson, thus accomplishing both student engagement and curriculum-based measurement at the same time.
What is fluency?
At mastery, skills can be performed with 95 percent or greater accuracy, but they might still require some thought and they cannot necessarily be performed quickly and effortlessly. Fluent skills can be performed quickly and effortlessly, nearly without error, and more or less automatically without even thinking about it. Most people are fluent walkers, writers of their name, speakers of their name, readers of newspapers, and many other skills. But, that leaves many skills at which we tend not to be fluent. We’re not very good at reading manuals, for instance, nor at organizing our important personal papers, or our closets.
Benefits of fluent skills
Once fluent, skills tend to be retained or maintained much longer, they tend to be able to be performed for longer periods of time and under distracting conditions, and they are more available for higher-level skills. Fluent readers, for example, are skilled even if, perchance, they have no opportunity to read for a long period of time; they can sustain reading for long periods; they can read successfully even if there are distractions; and they can learn many new things by reading. Disfluent readers are just the opposite in every respect. They become more disfluent in the absence of practice; they can’t read for very long; distractions easily disrupt their reading; and it is very difficult for them to learn much of anything from text. Performing any of the so-called basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, calculating in a fluent manner is critical to academic success.
The role of practice
Practice is important and practice is best when it is done fast and accurately. In a wonderful interview of Ray Charles aired on NPR, the entertainer was asked if he practices. He said that he practices every chance he gets. Then, the interviewer asked him if he practices the songs he is scheduled to play for the evening’s concert. “No, no, no, no, . . . , for what seemed to be at least two dozen “no’s.” He said he practices the classic etudes, the exercises that permit him to play what he’s scheduled to play more easily. Pianists, musicians in general, athletes of all kinds, and artists are examples of individuals whose expertise has emerged because of continuous practice of the fundamentals. In TIEE’s schools students practice the fundamentals for rate and accuracy every day.