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Direct Instruction

Direct Instruction (DI) is an instructional design and teaching methodology originally developed by Siegfried Engelmann and the late Wesley C. Becker of the University of Oregon. Although they came from different backgrounds--Engelmann was a preschool teacher while Becker was a trained researcher from the University of Illinois--both sought to identify teaching methods that would accelerate the performance of historically disadvantaged elementary school students.

The DISTAR (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading) program gained prominence during Project Follow Through (1967-1995), the largest federally funded experiment in public education.

Features of DI include:

  • Explicit, systematic instruction based on scripted lesson plans.
  • Ability grouping. Students are grouped and re-grouped based on their rate of progress through the program.
  • Emphasis on pace and efficiency of instruction. DI programs are meant to accelerate the performance of students; therefore, lessons are designed to bring students to mastery as quickly as possible.
  • Frequent assessment. Curriculum-based assessments help place students in ability groups and identify students who require additional intervention.
  • Embedded professional development/coaching. DI programs may be implemented as stand-alone interventions or as part of a schoolwide reform effort. In both instances, the program developers recommend careful monitoring and coaching of the program in order to ensure a high fidelity of implementation.

Direct Instruction Links

Direct Instruction Reading List

Precision Teaching

How many can you do in one minute? That is a simplification of Precision Teaching. By looking at learned skills that are observable (number of words read, how many times you can pick up a pencil), you are able to measure the skill and focus on improvements by using a chart. Often, this is done in 1 minute increments.

How many states can you identify in one minute? How many math facts can you do in one minute? How many sit ups can you do in one minute? These are just a few examples.

Now chart how many you get right and how many you get wrong. Precision Teaching folks often use a logarithmic chart because learning accelerates. Remember how you start out learning a new concept or skill very slowly. Then you start getting better, faster, always correct. This is FLUENCY.

Precision Teaching Links

Precision Teaching Reading List

  • The Precision Teaching Book by Rick Kubina ISBN 978-0-615-55420-4

Verbal Behavior

Verbal Behavior is a book published in 1957 by B.F. Skinner that analyzes what we say, write, and think based on motivation, an event before a behavior, the behavior itself, and reinforcement of the behavior so that the behavior is controlled in the future.

Although this sounds technical, Skinner divided communication up into effective teaching sections including Mands, Tacts, and Intraverbals. He further extended the analysis beyond just talking back and forth but he distinguished between a listener and communicator.

This has great implications in teaching children with autism. In essence, Verbal Behavior teaches children with autism that communication makes their world better and then you slowly teach toward full conversation. This is done by teaching Manding, or requesting behavior first so that the child is able to see his or her environment as a place of good where communicating wants and needs gets wants and needs.

Early Learner - Pairing

In the very beginning, it will look like much time is spent playing. This is not playing but Pairing. The focus is on early play and social skill development by teaching the child that it is fun to interact with parents, teachers, therapists, and peers along with fun items and activities.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) and Manding

The focus will slowly morph to teaching functional communication skills. Here, you will teach the student that communication makes their world better. We do this by developing manding skills by either shaping verbal or sign language in order for the child to communicate requests of items or activities. In this way, the student learns that talking, signing, or exchanging pictures (PECS) is fun and provides immediate benefit. These skills are often present in 1-2 year old children but must be discretely (directly) taught in most children with autism.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) takes advantage of a more loose teaching environment (generally not a table with chairs). In NET, you can find more items and activities to motivate and reinforce the student. You are able to take advantage of a larger array of learning environments: kitchen, backyard, playground, store. Although it may look like teaching is taking place in a haphazard way, there is always a plan with reinforcers at hand.

Intensive Teaching/Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Echoics, Imitation, and Tacting

The focus then morphs to gaining and maintaining instructional control and compliance. Often at a table with cards, objects, puzzles, and toys, students learn to respond quickly and accurately to teacher directed demands for increasingly longer periods of time.

By pairing reinforcers with low preferred activities/toys and using errorless teaching (don't let the student guess at answers) a therapist is able to build the number of demands (finishing a puzzle, identifying flashcards), the effort of the response, and the complexity of the task(s). It is here where tacting (labeling and identifying) is mostly taught. The student tacts (labels) items because he or she can see, hear, small, taste, or feel something.

Echoic - repeating what someone else says - you say it because someone else says it

Imitation - repeating someone else's motor movements - you move because someone else moved the same way

Listener Responding/Receptive - following directions - you do what someone else asks you to do

Advanced Natural Environment Teaching (NET) - The focus moves to teaching conversation skills and generalizing skills learned in intensive teaching. The student learns to ask and answer "Wh" questions, expand sentence structure and length with adjectives, adverbs, and discuss items and activities without them being present. These skills all fall under the Intraverbal skills. At some point, the student can answer "How was school today."

Social Skills with Peers - Students will need to learn to give and take in discussions, sharing or objects, and cooperative groups with peers.

Academic and Group Skills - A focus on teaching basic and advanced academic skills for home schooling or schooling in the classroom. Often Direct Instruction materials by SRA are used to teach reading, math, writing, and spelling.

Who is the teacher? - A teacher is anyone who interacts with the student with disabilities. One parent doesn't have to be the only teacher - you can also recruit the other parent, grandparents, aunts/ucles, church members, neighbors, high schoolers, and even college students. Sometimes you can find volunteers. You may also be able to hire individuals ($8-$15 per hour) from your local college, university, even high school. You’ll need to train everyone, regularly supervise each therapist via video taping or sitting in on sessions, and ensure quality control through regular team meetings.

Do I need a consultant? - It is highly advisable to hire a consultant to review the student's progress and ensure appropriate teaching procedures. A team (therapists and parents) can lose valuable teaching time by getting off track.

Finding qualified professionals can be difficult. It is best to find a Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or, in the minimum, a Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). However, because of the lack of certified professionals and the high demand for ABA consultants, some families may be forced to go out of state for ABA expertise. Another way to bring in experts is by banding together to bring an outside consultant for periodic visits and share the associated travel expenses. Email listserves are one way families can get in touch with each other to hire a consultant.

According to Association of Behavior Analysts, it is recommended that at minimum consultants:

  1. Hold a master’s degree in psychology, special education or related field;
  2. Have two years of experience using ABA to treat autism in young children;
  3. Provide customized program design and monitoring;
  4. Provide training of line therapists. Expert consultation is essential to successful ABA programs.

Verbal Behavior Links

  • Verbal Behavior Network
  • Verbal Behavior Reading
  • Verbal Behavior Wikipedia
  • Verbal Behavior Approach by Mary Barbera
  • Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities by Mark Sundberg and James Partington
  • Verbal Behavior Analysis by Greer & Ross (2008)
  • Verbal Behavior by BF Skinner - 1957
  • VB-MAPP: Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program by Mark Sundberg
  • ABLLS-R - The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills - Revised by James Partington
  • Verbal Behavior Targets by Diana Luckevich



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