Monday, September 17, 2012

Chicago Teachers' Strike & Service Delivery Models

     Two notes before I begin. One, is that I had not intended on posting on this highly politicized event because I am not a CPS teacher, or a public school teacher in general, but as the strike enters its second week, I need to post. Also, while I do not have any children in CPS, I am a Chicago resident. Second, I used "Teachers'" in the title, because the strike belongs to the teachers. Teachers who want to be in classrooms.

     No matter what the issues are, or how they are portrayed in the media, CPS suffers from serious funding issues. Furthermore, at the end of the day, many of the issues would be alleviated if more funding is available. Obvious, right!? But how about this. How about instead of worrying about how money is allocated, let's look at empirical systems structures that would alleviate a lot of tensions on staff resources, and therein money.

     If CPS had a formal School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) system in their district, they could spend less money on reactively fixing discipline issues, suspending and expelling students, wasting money on non-evidence based interventions, and be more preventative as a whole. The fact that specific schools need to implement these interventions on their own, usually requiring consultative help, is time and cost "frustrating."

     If CPS had a formal Response to Intervention/Multi-Tiered System of Support (RtI/MTSS, the terms are interchangeable), they could move away from the wait to fail models of the current special education systems, thereby freeing up monies and staff time. Instead, schools sit around waiting for students to "need" more help, rather than addressing core curriculum and special education issue more rapidly and effectively. RtI/MTSS is just good teaching, and it begins and ends in general education. Instead, each school needs to undertake these issues independently, thereby running into the same resource issues as are with SWPBS.

     While these initiatives may seem like fads to some veteran teachers and administrators, these are empirically-based service delivery models. In the beginning, they may require some diligence for teacher buy-in, but if staff is trained appropriately and to capacity and to train incoming teachers and staff, could go a long way in reducing strains within the district. This would free up money to put air conditioning in the schools that need them, keep the promises for benefits for teachers, and most importantly, increase student achievement. Achievement that, if it were happening, would require less of a focus on arbitrary standardized testing and unfair teacher evaluations.

     CPS needs to set-up ALL school environments for success.When students are successful across the board, we can spend more money on much needed enrichment programs without having to justify them at every turn. When all students are successful, we don't need to loose sleep over achievement gaps. And this is not only true of CPS, it's schools across the nation. SWPBS and RtI/MTSS are not fads, they are school management and teaching methods perfected that have an efficacious basis in data.

What Is Task Analysis?

     Task analysis is the process of breaking down a particular skill into a specific set of behaviors that lead to execution and completion of a task or skill. Task analysis is very helpful for inductively teaching skills because it helps to increase fluency while moving through the necessary steps.

     The first step to successful task analysis is to identify the target skill. The next step is to write out all of the necessary behaviors that need to occur to execute the target skill. So, for example, if the target skill is making a turkey sandwich, the behavioral steps may be: Step 1 --Take out a plate; Step 2 – Go to the refrigerator; Step 3 – Take out turkey; so on and so forth until there is a sandwich sitting on a plate ready to eat. The amount of specificity required for each behavioral step is going to depend on the current skill level of the learner. Therefore, while the behavioral steps may be objective, the task analysis is going to be subjective and suited towards the particular learner.

     The typical applications of task analysis for teaching a skill are either through forward-, backward-, or total task-chaining.

     Backward chaining is where the learner goes through all of the steps to complete a task with appropriate prompting on each step until the last step, where they are then given the opportunity to complete the step independently. Once the final step is mastered, the instructor then fades out the prompt on the last two steps, then the last three, so on and so forth until all of the behaviors required to execute the target skill are mastered. So, for example, in making a turkey sandwich, the instructor would assist or prompt with all of the steps up to the last one, which may be cutting the sandwich in half before eating it.

     Forward chaining allows the learner to complete the initial step independently followed by appropriate prompts for the remaining steps. Once the learner has mastered the initial step, then they are given the opportunity to complete the first two steps, then the first three, so on and so forth until all of the behaviors required to execute the target skill are mastered. So, for example, in making a turkey sandwich, the instructor would allow the learner to take out the plate, and then would assist or prompt with the remaining steps.

     Total task chaining is where the learner is given the opportunity to complete each behavior relating to the target skill with independence at each step, with the instructor providing prompts as necessary throughout the execution of the skill. So, for example, in making a turkey sandwich, the instructor may allow the learner to perform all of the steps independently, and when they get stuck, go in and prompt the target behavior, and then allow them to continue independently.

     In summary, task analysis is a way of breaking down components of a skill into specific behaviors required to execute a skill or complete a task.

Friday, September 7, 2012

An Overview of Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT)

     There are many different ways to teach skills and concepts to children. There are whole group, small group, and individualized strategies. While some are better for teaching certain types of content, one method that is very useful for teaching skills in an inductive way is through discrete trial training (DTT).

     DTT is typically done one-to-one with an instructor and a child in a very structured environment. The clinician contrives the learning environment very intently. Some general examples of these environmental manipulations may be to minimize distractions for acquisition targets, or have distractions present to check for mastery of skills and/or generalization.

     By generalization, it is meant that the skill or behavior is emitted under numerous conditions and across people and settings and materials. For example, if a target skill is to expressively identify a car, a clinician may start with basic pictures of cars, then use Matchbox cars. To oversimplify the concept of generalization, the goal is that the learner is able to understand that there are multiple examples of cars, but they are all still cars. Being able to identify multiple examples of cars can then lead to greater understandings about cars and the world in general, such as that cars drive on the road, but so do buses, and buses carry children to school, so on and so forth. Essentially, we want to make the child’s world larger, and a good way to ensure this is happening is by checking for generalization of skills and behaviors across examples and settings and people.

     Each trial in a DTT sequence is documented on a data sheet for correct and incorrect responses. When an incorrect response is given, we mark the level of prompting (vocal, gestural, model, physical, to name a few) necessary for the child to respond correctly. We then go into the next trial for the same target, to see if learning has occurred. As we move through the trials, the prompt is faded out; however, after 2 incorrect responses, the clinician typically goes into an errorless teaching format. 

     In errorless teaching the learner is fully prompted to respond, thereby not allowing for an opportunity to respond incorrectly.  We run the errorless procedure 3 times, and then run what is termed a transfer trial – or a trial that allows the learner respond independently – to check if learning has occurred. 

     DTT as a teaching protocol is not without some controversy. Some people claim it leads to rote responding, or creates mechanical like responding. However, in light of this criticism, one ought to ask themselves if it would be better to have the child not learning at all? Additionally, through checking for generalization, we ensure that rote responding is decreased. DTT is specialized in that it creates learning opportunities for children who may not have the prerequisite skills for larger group based instruction. With this in mind, DTT can therefore be useful for getting children to the point where they are available for more natural, group based instruction. 

     DTT is extremely useful because it has the learner practicing the skill or behavior with individualized support and opportunities for incorrect responding are lessened, thereby increasing the rate of learning.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


46% of teens with an ASD are bullied. You can read more here.

The flip-side of the coin is that there are resources available to combat bullying here.

Another reason why it is not only important to protect our children, but to teach them to also advocate for themselves!