Sunday, February 11, 2007

Discrete Trial Teaching within Reason

Thanks to a comment by Mama Squirrel on an earlier blog post, I experienced an epiphany in my thinking about autism and Charlotte Mason's concept of masterly inactivity, which we are discussing at the CM Series email list. Before I can adequately explain it (in a post down the road), I need to outline my principles. Why? Unlike Pamela who is a concrete sequential thinker, I am abstract sequential and enjoying researching options, thinking through ideas, and figuring out how they relate to my principles. So, please bear with me all of you concrete and random readers!

I have found Discrete Trial Teaching useful when kept within bounds. DTT is a technique used to teach a wide variety of skills to everything from animals to people following the principles of behaviorism. Today, therapists trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis teach autistic children using methods far more sophisticated and humane than Pavlov's dog. By humane, I mean that ABA practitioners have developed ways to avoid the aversives originally used in early ABA trials with autistic children.

Here is what I like about DTT: breaking skills and tasks into the smaller steps, teaching each step until mastered, and providing lots of repetition. The word discrete means that you teach the steps in order with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. The word trial means that you repeat the steps a certain number of times per session. Part of the process involves identifying the antecedents (events, prompts, or stimuli to start the skill or task), behavior (the steps you are trying to accomplish), and consequences (feedback to let the child know if correct or incorrect).

This week Pamela needed some DTT because she did not catch on at all to her math lesson that introduced introduce inequalities like ≤ and ≥ and the language that goes with it. The first step I took was to find her baseline: what she had mastered. I found that she was able to go from back and forth from words to graphs to mathematical symbols without a struggle for simple inequalities. This meant she remembered material learned previously:
My number is seven. N=7
I have less/fewer than 10. N<10
It is greater/more than 13. N>13

I checked to see her comprehension of phrases like X or more/greater, X or less/fewer, greater/more than or equal to X, and less/fewer than or equal to X. She did not see the connection between the key words and the need to use the symbols ≤ and ≥. As her math book had not previously covered this material, I was not worried. However, the author assumed the student would immediately see the connection. Pamela did not.

Here is my strategy to teach this next week via DTT.

1. Teach her to match index cards with ≤ and ≥ to the mathematical expressions < + = for and > + = for .

2. Teach her to match index cards with the new information. The symbol ≥ goes with X or more/greater and greater/more than or equal to X. The symbol ≤ goes with X or less/fewer and less/fewer than or equal to X.

3. Make cards for the matches already mastered. The symbol > goes with greater/more than and the symbol < goes with fewer/less than. Make sure she can distinguish what symbol ≤, ≥, <, and > goes with what language.

What are my ABC's? The antecedent is the pile of index cards with information. The behavior is to match the cards correctly. The consequence will be for me to show Pamela the correct match if wrong and encourage her if right. I will teach her step one until she masters it. Then I will teach step two and, once mastered, step three.

Pamela is advanced enough in mathematical understanding that once she learns what math symbols goes with what language, I think she will easily make the leap to translating from language to number sentences and vice versa. If not, I will use DTT to teach this process. I suspect that making graphs will require more DTT.

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