Our heroic teacher does this ten times, every time praising the child and providing them with a break, and every time saying “quick sticks” as she presents the word. She never says “quick sticks” casually, since she always wants to be ready to reward the child if she does say these magic words. Very soon, the phrase has not only become a clear indicator of what is required, but also informs the child that praise and breaks are up for grabs, if she engages in the required behaviour.
The teacher can feel proud of herself, she has managed to improve the child’s speed by being consistent, never giving up, and designing an intervention tailored for that specific child’s needs and likes. However, we aren’t done yet. What occurs when another teacher asks a child to write a bit faster, using different words and in a different class? Well, you guessed it, we’re back to designing new hieroglyphics with every letter written. Thus follows the next challenge for our teacher. She has passed the test of teaching a new skill, now that skill must be applied and generalised to a variety of different settings, so that it can have a meaningful difference in that child’s life.
Let’s present another challenge to our hero. She finds herself faced with a child who runs around the class, disrupting others, interfering with their learning and often being aggressive towards them or even to the teacher. Remedial schools often have to deal with the challenge of having children with a variety of different needs in one classroom. Our teacher knows that by teaching this child the skills he requires to gain what he needs in a less disruptive and more functional way, she will not only be teaching her student a valuable skill that will aid him in many different settings, but will also benefit the entire class room.
“So how about this,” the teacher thinks to herself, “all you need to do is sit down for 10 seconds, scribble on this paper with your favourite colour in whatever way you wish, as long as you don’t damage the paper, and then you can run a lap around the playground equipment.” She even puts up a streamer by her door that he can dash through, breaking it apart and winning the pretend race. Of course, trying to have her student stay still long enough to explain this to him is a bit of a catch 22. Anyway, actions speak louder than words. She captures the child’s attention for but a moment, engages him for 10 seconds in an exercise of chaotic colour creation, and then off they go, running and running. Our teacher, with her energy levels fading, knows she only needs to run the lap with the child two or three times before her enthusiasm makes the activity, itself, reinforcing. Despite this knowledge, she wishes she had decided to wear more sensible shoes today.
Soon, the student is more than willing to sit for 10 seconds and do any easy activity. In fact, when, after 4 or so easy scribbles, the teacher asks the student to trace a star, following the dotted line as close as he can, he does so with, relatively speaking, infinite amounts of patience. Maybe it takes a few weeks, maybe a few months, but soon the student is willing to sit for as long as his peers and feels good for doing so, because the road to this achievement was lined with every challenging step producing such rewards, that the effort of it seemed trivial. However, looking back, the child can marvel at how far a hundred small, rewarding steps have brought him.
These principles, although seemingly simple, take training and lots of practice to perfect. ABA techniques can be used to teach a variety of different skills, everything from how to be a good fielder when playing cricket, to figuring out what emotions another child might be feeling when you bump over their tall block tower.
Teachers are the champions of Remedial Schools
Remedial schools are often one of the last lines of defence. The remedial teacher is the champion of the child whose parents refuse to allow her to be left behind. Equip yourself, then, with the most powerful tools to empower children with the skills they need to return to, or arrive at for the first time, a mainstream setting. Even if mainstreaming is not to be the end result, allow them to walk away from their school career with the ability to control their own behaviour and the skills they need to be successful. Just before they go, to wherever they go, have your last lesson to them be to teach them a catch phrase, something like: “Look who’s back!” or maybe “ain’t no stopping me now.”