As the new academic year approaches, it’s time to explore avenues…
Although Applied Behavioural Analysis is often seen in connection with Autism treatment, it can be effective in teaching and intervening with many populations. This includes in corporate employees, families at home, learners in schools and children with and without special needs or behavioural issues. Knowing and implementing these principles can be especially effective in remedial schools.
So what does a remedial teacher need to know to effectively implement ABA? The first thing is that the science of teaching through behavioural therapy is complex, requires many hours of training and is an ever-expanding scientific field, with new research appearing in the literature weekly. So, take this article for what it is, a very brief overview of what you can expect if you decide to delve into the world of ABA, and the teaching power it can provide. ABA is not only suited to teaching new skills, but also to manage behaviours which prevent the child from learning and disrupts the classroom. Thus, remedial schools, with children ranging from severe learning delays to learners on their way to being mainstreamed, can benefit greatly from training in ABA.
More than anything else, a teacher should understand the relationship between what happens just before a behaviour occurs, and what happens just after it occurs. Even outside of remedial schools, or in 1 to 1 instruction, the most effective ways of creating long lasting change, is by creating an environment that promotes learning. If a certain environmental effect always (Every. Single. Time) indicates that certain favourite activity is now available, it is likely to have a noticeable effect on the behaviour which results in the favoured activity actualising.
Let’s say, for example, a feisty and passionate remedial teacher, has a child in her class which can take up to 1 minute to write a single, 4 letter word. After all, each letter needs to be perfect and tracing over it several times leaves a funny indentation, full of tactile delight. Why wouldn’t the child take her time? It’s rewarding to do so. Our excellent teacher thinks for a moment and then picks an antecedent (an environmental event specifically chosen to occur before the target behaviour) which will indicate to the child exactly what the requirements are. She says “quick sticks” when presenting the next word. Our teacher, of course, knows that this isn’t going to make much of a difference the first time it is presented. So, she sits next to the learner and demonstrates, by writing the same word, how quickly the learner should be writing. With the teacher’s help, the child now takes only 30 seconds to write the whole word! Great! The teacher laughs and praises her child and tells her that she can relax for a minute. Afterall, she worked so much quicker than usual that she has some free time now. After a minute or so, the teacher returns and presents the next word, this time she only writes 3 out of the 4 letters, modelling it for the child. The child writes the last letter independently and quickly, and once again the teacher shouts with joy and leaves the child to have a break for another minute or so.
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.