5 Things to Avoid When Giving Instructions in Discrete Trials

OOOh, there is just so much going on at one time. Dr. Kabot and I are hopefully finishing our final edit on our data collection book which is keeping me pretty busy.  I hope it will be out this summer.  Plus, we are coming up on April, Autism Awareness (and Acceptance) month.  We have a few great things lined up with some friends that I will share on Wednesday.  I will have some link ups of free autism products and some other surprises, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, if you are looking for ways to help build awareness and acceptance, check out last year's freebies for Facebook cover pages and profile pictures HERE.

Following up on the last post about presenting instructions to students in DTT, I wanted to share some of the things that we have found that contribute to the effectiveness of DTT (and any type of instruction).  You can follow all the steps but it's also the quality with which the instruction is delivered that makes a difference as to what the student really learns.   As I mentioned last time, part of it is what we say (and how we say it) and part of it is the material presentation.  I'm going to focus on what we say and how we say it first beginning with 5 things we DON'T want to do...starting with SD Voice.

Presenting Instructions in Discrete Trials: What Makes a Quality SD?

Once we have the learner's attention, our next step is to give the instruction. Let me preface this by saying I know that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for ABA is that we use our own language.  I'm going to simplify the language as I talk about the parts of discrete trials, but I'm going to try to talk as well about what the language is and why we use it.  I find I meet a number of teachers who want to know WHY we call things what we do (as well as many people who misunderstand why).  So, I'm going to talk a little about what the instruction is and how it is conceptualized behaviorally. You can skip that part by skimming past a short paragraph or two to the part of the post where I'll talk about what to do.

Why I No Longer Teach "Look at Me" (But Still Teach Attending)

Thanks to Educlips for the Eyes!
In my last post I talked about the importance of teaching a student to attend to the instructor before delivering instruction.  However, over time, how I teach this skill has changed significantly.  It's a little like the videos that were in the first post on DTT of old school DTT and contemporary DTT.

5 Things You Need to Know About Gaining a Learner's Attention in DTT

Continuing on with the discussion of discrete trial training (DTT), I'm going to dissect the 6 parts of a discrete trial that I talked about in the last post and hopefully give some food for thought about each step.  Then I'm going to come back to how we decide when and how to use DTT as a strategy and deciding what to teach and how to present it.

One of the most important elements of DTT is making sure that you have the learner's attention BEFORE you administer the trial.  For simple trials, that means making sure that the student is listening to your direction.  In order to do that, we usually start working with a student by teaching them to attend to the teacher.  Most, if not all, curricula for DTT start with this skill along with following one-step directions and other basic learning skills.  We often refer to these skills as learning readiness skills because they are skills that a learner needs in order to learn.  If you aren't attending to the direction, you won't be able to follow it.  Similarly, you have to be attending to the materials.  So it's more than just looking at the instructor--it's knowing when to look at the instructor (e.g., for a verbal direction) and when to look at the materials.  There are more complex types of observation as well like knowing what parts of the materials to base the answer on and which are the important ones in helping make a differentiation between materials (e.g., between a pear and a cow).  I'll get to those later in the series.  For today I want to focus on how we get that initial attention.  Here are 5 things to assure you have the student's attention.

Avoiding One of the Biggest Mistakes in Discrete Trial Instruction

Continuing in our discussion of discrete trials as an effective method of ABA instruction, I am going to dissect the different elements of discrete trials and share some best practices about each one as well as lessons I've learned over the years.  This one may not be the BIGGEST mistake but it is one that I see most often and it undermines all your efforts.

What Are Discrete Trials?

In my last post I talked about some of the myths and truths about applied behavior analysis (ABA).  One of the primary instructional strategies within ABA is discrete trials (sometimes called discrete trial training -DTT and discrete trial instruction - DTI).  DTT is such a frequently used strategies for individuals on the spectrum that for some it has become synonymous with ABA (see myths in the previous post).  The reason why DTT is frequently used dates back to Ivar Lovaas' 1987 study that demonstrated for the first time that young children with ASD could make significant gains in IQ, adaptive behavior and overall skills through the use of intensive instruction using discrete trial instruction.  For those of you who aren't familiar with 1987 (i.e., might not have been born then), don't tell me about it, it's important to understand that educating students with ASD was MUCH different then than it is now.  We didn't know how to teach systematically in a way that could help them to learn to learn.  That research and the big push of research that it brought about in the last 30-some years is in part why we are here.  Since then our knowledge about how to provide instruction, what to teach, how to put it all together and more has greatly evolved to include a number of approaches and to combine with the knowledge and understanding of other fields like SLPs.  I will talk more about the different approaches and curricula in the future.  To see how much DTT has changed in this time period, check out the videos of DTT then and DTT now at the bottom of the post.

So enough reminiscing, let's get to the point.

Applied Behavior Analysis: What It Is. What It's Not.

When you review evidence-based practices for individuals with ASD, the category of interventions that has the largest evidence base is applied behavior analysis (ABA).  This is because ABA strategies are very effective and also because it's a science built on data and research.

ABA has grown in popularity, especially in the field of autism, in the last 20 years so most people have now heard of it.  So it still surprises me that so many people have so many misconceptions about what ABA is. When I started in this field, all too many years ago, it wasn't at all surprising that people didn't know what ABA was.  But it's interesting to me how the myths and misconceptions of it continue to persist given how much we know about working with students with autism now.

So, I wanted to do a series on instructional strategies and focus on some of the newer research looking at how we present instruction to be most effective with students with autism and decided it should start with a clear discussion about what ABA is....and what it isn't.  This won't be every misconception, and some of them I'll deal more with in later posts, but I thought an introduction would be helpful to start off.

5 Steps to Meaningful Behavioral Support Post Round-Up

As promised in the last post of the series, I wanted to finish up this challenging behavior series of posts by walking through some of highlights and rounding up the relevant posts.  This series has gone on for quite a while so I thought it would be nice to have something like a table of contents to come back to if you have more time (yeah right) or need something or missed something.  I am sure that over time I will add posts that are relevant to this series.  When I do, I will try to link them back to this series through THIS LINK.  Most will probably be about strategies for addressing challenging behaviors that I didn't touch on during this series or new research that comes out over time.  Or anything else relevant that occurs to me....that's the joy of blogging.

Implement and Monitor Behavior Support Plans: Data Tells the Story

Implement and monitor behavior support plans; 5 steps to meaningful behavioral support
I think it is time to wrap up the 5 Steps to Meaningful Behavioral Support series by talking about the 5th step--implementing and monitoring the support plan.  It's really easy to feel like once you have put together your behavior support plan that you are done and can you relax (oh, and concentrate on one of the thousand things that need attention).  Unfortunately, you don't yet know if the plan you put together is actually going to work.  So, let me share some tips and thoughts about what the next steps are for this phase of the cycle.


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