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Precision Teaching: Theories, Implementation and Research

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  • Tiffany Elmore

Introduction to Precision Teaching

Precision Teaching (PT) has been applied in many settings and has been greatly successful in increasing learning performance in learners with a wide-range of abilities (White, 1986). It is an approach that measures whether an instructional method is successful in achieving learning goals. It focuses on directly observable behavior, monitors the frequency of the behavior performed in time and analyzes the behavior on a uniform visual display called a Standard Celeration Chart (SCC). Precision Teaching does not determine what curricula should be taught but offers a systematic approach as to the instructional tactics to apply (White, 1986). It bases the curriculum on the child’s performance, in other words, the learner knows best (Lindsley, 1971). The learner’s progress demonstrates whether the program is appropriate for the learner or if changes need to be made to the program.

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In order to gauge a learner’s progress, the target behavior must directly observable. For example, reading a book aloud can be directly observed to determine the reader’s skill level of the words and comprehension. However, there has been some recent support for using Precision Teaching on inner behaviors. Although, it has been shown to be effective in reducing feelings of depression (Kubina et al., 2006), it is widely used on observable behavior.

In Precision Teaching, a learner’s performance is based on behavior frequency which is the average number of responses during each minute of the assessment period (White, 1986). Behavioral fluency is that combination of accuracy plus speed of responding that enables learners to function efficiently and effectively in their natural environments (Binder, 1996). Accuracy alone is not the best gauge of learning progression as it may show skewed improvement in performance. Essentially, by only assessing the accuracy of a learner’s response, an improvement in the learner’s performance is not truly reflected because the responses may be correct but the lack of speed in providing those responses also demonstrates a lack of mastery.

Frequency is measured by counts per minute. The speed of a learner’s performance of responding and the accuracy of the responses indicates the learner has either mastered the material, in other words, achieved fluency, or the progress has stalled and the instructional program must be altered. Fluency applies three learning outcomes associated with fluent behavior: Retention, endurance and application (Binder, 1993, 1996 as cited by Kubina, Morrison & Lee, 2002). Retention is the ability to perform the behavior after the intervention is terminated. Without retention, the learner loses the ability to perform the behavior. Endurance is the ability to perform a behavior at a specified level over a duration of time (Binder, unpublished doctoral dissertation; Binder, 1996, Binder, Haughton & Van Eyk, 1990 as cited by Kubina, Morrison & Lee, 2002). For learners who lack endurance may find it difficult to perform behaviors within a 30-second or 1-minute intervals and may ultimately stop performing the desired behaviors. Application is applying some element of a behavior to the entire behavior. For example, if the learner has difficulty in basic writing techniques then the application of increasing fluency in writing spelling words quickly cannot be achieved.

The progress of a learner is recorded on a visual display called a Standard Celeration Chart (SCC). The chart is called a standard celeration chart since it always depicts rate of change or progress in a standard manner, regardless of the initial frequency of the behavior (White, 1986). The SCC utilizes a ratio scale which means that all changes in performance will be measured in equal ratios regardless of where they are marked on the chart. The change in frequency from 1 to 2 is the same ratio as 50 to 100 on the SCC. The charts shows whether there is an acceleration, deceleration or no change in behavior. When a behavior frequency doubles, or moves from 1 to 2, it is considered a “times 2” acceleration. Likewise, when a behavior is halved, or moves from 2 to 1, it is considered a “divided by 2” deceleration (Lindsley, 1990a).

Implementation of Precision Teaching

Five steps are involved in the implementation of Precision Teaching: (1) select a task, (2) set an aim (3) count and teach, (4) develop a learning picture and (5) decide what to do (McGreevy, 1983). The first step of implementation is selecting a task for the learner to learn. A task has five parts: (1) a movement that can be counted often each day, (2) a counting period, (3) a correct/incorrect pair, (4) a learning channel set, and (5) a movement that is “hard to do” (p. II-1). A movement is an observable, physical movement, something that the learner is doing. To make sure the movement occurs often, the learner should have 8-10 learning opportunities per day (p. II-5). If the movement is too hard, then the movement can be changed to a slice back, a step back or a tool movement and, conversely if a movement is too easy it can changed to a leap up movement (p. II-11). A slice back is a smaller movement of the original movement. A step back is an easier movement than the original movement. A tool movement is the prerequisite body movement required to perform the original movement. A leap up movement is a movement that is harder to perform than the original movement.

A counting period is amount of time spent each day counting the movement (p. II-12). The period should be long enough so the movement can occur at least 8-10 times. The counting period should not be so long that it proves difficult to count the movement. However, adjustments can be made if the counting period is too long or too short to count the movement. Similarly, Kubina and Yurich (2012) incorporated these two parts into their analysis PT. They suggested that the first step of PT is pinpointing. Pinpointing applies focusing observable behavior and measuring behavior based on frequency. Consider the Dean Man rule that states if a dead man can do it then it is not behavior. The idea is that any directly observable behavior should involve some physical movement. For example, instead of observing a child sitting still in a chair, the teacher can observe the number of times the child gets out the chair.

A correct/incorrect pair involves counting the correct movements and incorrect movements (McGreevy, 1983, p. II-15). Instead of focusing on eliminating a movement without adding a replacement movement. For example, rather than decreasing screaming, it best for the learner to increase talking in softer voice.

A learning channel set outlines the input channel (received) and output channel (sent). The input can vary from hearing, touching, seeing, smelling, etc and output can include saying, writing, doing, pointing, etc. The learning channel sets “tells [others] how we are teaching a task” and “reminds us that are many ways for a [learner] to learn the same movement (McGreevy, 1983, p. II-18).

Lastly, the movement must be hard to for the learner to perform (p. II-20). The objective is to learn a new task rather than working on previously learned tasks. By selecting tasks that are hard to do, the learner, provided with ample learning opportunities, will hopefully achieve more corrects and fewer corrects over time and ultimately reach or come close to the aim.

The next step in implementing precision teaching is to set an aim (p. III-2). The aim is final chosen objective of the performance likely achieved by a high frequency of correct responses and low to zero frequency of incorrect responses. It is critical that learners learn to perform correct movements in a prompt, smooth and decisive manner. If the learner is having difficulty reaching aim, it may be necessary to change the way the movement is taught, change the learning channel or change the movement as indicated above as a step back, slick back or tool movement.

The third step in implementing precision teaching is to count and teach (p. IV-1). This steps requires counting the correct and incorrect responses and teaching the task to the student (p. IV-1). A movement is learned when the learner knows what the correct and incorrect responses are. Each task will be counted and taught daily until the learner reaches aim or the learning picture reflects a need for change.

The fourth step in implementing precision teaching is to develop a learning picture. Utilizing the Standard Celeration Chart, the charts displays the correct and incorrect responses provided daily by the learner (p. V-1). The trends of the chart develop the learning picture. The learning picture shows how quickly the responses are increasing or decreasing and predicts whether the learner will achieve aim.

The final step in implementing precision teaching is to decide what to do (p. VI-1). Once a learning picture has been revealed, a decision can be made as to whether to continue the current program or make a change. If the learner is not learning or not learning quickly enough, it may be necessary to make changes to the movement (i.e. a slice back), the counting period (i.e. increase 10 seconds to 20 seconds), the learning channel set (i.e. see-write to see-say), the aim (i.e can be lowered), or how the task is taught (i.e. lessons, untimed practice).

Precision Teaching in Research

Precision Teaching has been applied in a variety of settings and environments. It has proven useful in improving fluency in learners of all ages and all learning abilities. Precision Teaching has been implemented in professional environments as well as classroom settings. In 2002, Binder analyzed the fluency performance in a customer call center. After attending a FluencyBuilding workshops, the manager and supervisors of customer service call center decided to modify their traditional new hire training program. They focused on increasing fluency of the core fundamentals required to perform the job well. Within the fluency-based training, trainees were given lecture and tested on lecture material with a 2-minute quiz (see-mark), a 3-minute hear or see-say providing verbal responses to questions in addition to other fluency-based activities. Daily fluency goals for each exercise were set and each trainees’ performance was monitored against those goals. Trainees recorded their own performance and reported their performance to the training coaches.

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As a result of the fluency-based training, correct performances tripled each week and all participants performed within the fluent range. The participants mastered the core material much faster than in previous training programs and thus reduced the required training during from three weeks to two weeks. New hire trainees were much more fluent in the fundamental skills and knowledge than their veteran counterparts. The dramatic improvements within this program demonstrate that fluency-based programs to be successful in education, training and coaching programs involving all ages of participants within various skill sets.

Precision Teaching applied within a classroom setting has proven to increase reading ability, maths skills, and improving academic interventions overall. Chiesa and Robertson (2000) utilized Precision Teaching and fluency-based training to enhance maths skills in five primary school children. The students were selected because their maths skills were not improving at the same pace as their peers. They were in jeopardy of being referred to a remedial program. The training program focused on one observable behavior, the division of two-digit numbers by one-digit. Pre-tests were taken on both multiplication and division skills to determine each student’s skill level. The students were taught how to use digital timers, plot scores and understand learning pictures on the SCC. The students were responsible for completing their maths practice sheets without teacher instruction or assistance. The five students sat together as a group during the maths period and had a personal folder that contained the practice sheets, answer key and charts. They completed their practice sheets within a one-minute time probe, each completed sheet was marked by a peer and the correct and error scores were recorded on the SCC.

Each week one of the researchers met with the students during maths period while the teacher was working with the rest of the class. The researcher reviewed each student’s progress and determined what changes would be taken. Students that met the aim, moved on to the next level, those who did not meet the aim were provided with skills that were further reduced, or sliced back until they were able to improve to a satisfactory level.

At the conclusion of the 12-week training program, the PT group had significantly improved their fluency in the maths skills task. Their responses ranged from 10 to 15 correct in one-minute which was an increase of 10 to 15 responses per minute before the program was implemented. The PT group surpassed all but one of the students in the entire class on the maths skills task. The results show that children performing at a low academic level can improve their learning significantly through Precision Teaching and fluency training. The training program did not require any more time than the allotted maths period and did not provide more instructional assistance or interaction from the teacher. This shows that PT can be beneficial and effective in the mainstream classroom and offers an alternative to expensive and time-consuming academic programs.

Precision Teaching has proven to be effective in improving skills in participants with intellectual disabilities as well (Kubina, Morrison & Lee, 2002). Schirmer et al. (2007) examined the effectiveness of precision teaching on teaching storytelling to child with autism. The child began working on a hear information-say story program for 10 minutes per day in order to increase the frequency of syllables used. The teacher would describe a scenario to the child and the child would create a story based on the information provided to him. After goals of increased syllable use were met, the teacher moved on a timed practice where the number of correct syllables produced in one minute was recorded. The number of corrects syllables produced increased from 21 per minute to 90 per minute in 5 days. In the last phase, the teacher changed the child’s learning channel from hear-say to see-say. The child was given a photograph and would create a story based on the photograph. Although there was an initial drop in the frequency of correct responses, the child reached the set aim very quickly.

Precision Teaching and Practical Application

As previous studies have shown, Precision Teaching can be applied in various learning environments with learners of diverse learning abilities. It is an instructional approach that can be applied to any established program or curricula. The main directive guiding success of the learner’s performance IS the learner. Fluency is key to the learner’s progress and any deficits in learning can be easy ascertained with the Standard Celeration Chart. This visual display allows the teacher to easily determine the learner’s progress and either continue with the program on course or make adjustments to program that are most beneficial to the learner. The SCC also helps teacher to predict future progress as to whether the learner will achieve aim or the number of incorrect responses will reach 0. Studies have shown that Precision Teaching can be used in conjunction with other instructional programs and can be effectively applied in both professional and classroom settings without requiring additional time to perform the program in the workplace or classroom. Precision Teaching daily timings are recorded on the SCC but no other data is required. Also, it does not require management or teachers to provide additional instruction outside of the program or curricula already in place. Its versatility in practical application makes Precision Teaching a favorable approach to utilize.

References

Chiesa, M., & Robertson, A. (2000). Precision teaching and fluency training: Making maths easier for students and teachers. Educational Psychology in Practice, 16(3), 297–310.

Kubina, R. M., Morrison, R., and Lee, D. L. (2002). Benefits of Adding Precision Teaching to Behavioral Interventions for Students with Autism. Behavioral Interventions, 17, 233-246.

Lindsley, O. R. (1971). From Skinner to precision teaching: The child knows best. In J. B. Jordan & L. S. Robbins (Eds.), Let’s try doing something else kind of thing (pp. 1-11). Arlington, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.

Lindsley, O. R. (1990) Precision teaching: By teachers for children.Teaching Exceptional Children, 22, 10-15.

McGreevy, P. (1983).Teaching and learning in plain English(2nd. ed.). Kansas City, MO: Plain English Publications.

Schirmer, K., Almon-Morris, H., Fabrizio, M. A., Abrahamson, B. and Chevalier, K. (2007). Using Precision Teaching to Teach Story Telling to a Young Child with Autism. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 23, 23-26.

White, O. R. (1986). Precision Teaching–Precision learning.Exceptional Children, 25, 522-534.



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