Jul
03

Teaching and Learning at the Speed of Light

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In the treatment of autism or with special needs students in general, to this point, behavioural approaches are being the most consistently effective.

Many therapists, especially BCBAs, are making progress with many children. That is largely due to the fact that they have better skills to get the child under behavioural control so that the student can be much more easily taught.

You cannot teach in chaos and if the student is non-compliant, you now have two problems; a behavior management problem and an instructional problem. BCBAs are generally more successful at reducing or eliminating behavioural problems so that they can get on with the teaching.

Many behaviour therapists teach language skills and many have found that Zig Engelmann’s Language for Learning series is the leading choice for best results.

This carefully designed, scripted, program relieves the therapist of the responsibility of being the program designer for their clients’ language programs. Language for Learning is already done and has been exhaustively field tested for the therapist. They simply have to deliver the program as it is constructed adding repetitions when needed.

The issue with many therapists, including BCBAs, is that they do not teach the program sufficiently quickly. When you are teaching any student, there is a finite window of opportunity for learning. If you teach the student too quickly, you force them to make unnecessary errors. If you teach them too slowly, which is the usual case, the student uses that opportunity to engage in other behaviors, typically behaviors that get in the way of the lesson.

The window for best teaching and learning can be defined by the student. That window exists when the student does not have time to look away from the material being taught without the risk of making an error. Such an error immediately and consistently triggers a correction. So to avoid errors and their corrections, the student stays on task. The reward for attention to task comes in the form of praise, points, tokens or whatever the instructor is using as a reinforcer.

In most teaching situations, instructors make the error of slowing down when the student makes an error. This robs the student of opportunities for more repetition, corrective feedback, modeling by the teacher and rewards. Usually the more effective technique is to speed up the instruction and practice so that it resides within the window for optimum learning. Try it. The next time your student looks away or makes an error, kick the teaching pace up a notch. If your instruction is part of a Direct Instruction program, you need not worry that the child is confused by a poorly designed instructional sequence. That has already been taken care of. If you created the instructional task last night at your kitchen table, you are on your own in terms of how well it is designed and no amount of changing the pace will solve the problem. I suggest you use the best and teach it as quickly as the child can handle it without being forced into a multitude of errors.

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