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Boarding the Academic Train

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What are prerequisite skills? The research on instructional interventions such as programs for students with Autism stresses the importance of early, intensive, instructional intervention. Some highly respected university research clinics, such as the UCLA medical school, have used intensive programs for preschoolers involving at least 30 hours per week. The curriculum in these research clinics stresses prerequisite skills in social participation skills and early academic skills. The social participation skills are the skills needed to effectively participate in the instructional process and include language skills, learning from a peer model, taking turns, and attending to an instructor. The early academic skills are skills needed to master higher-level skills. For example, a student needs the skill to identify similarities and differences in letters of the alphabet before the student can attach names or sounds to specific letters of the alphabet. A program for teaching a student visual discrimination skills. The program, Matching Sizes, Shapes and Colors, is a research-based program, field tested with both teachers and parents. Two of the most important prerequisite skills needed for social and instructional participation are the concepts “same” and “different.” These concepts are specifically mentioned in the research. This matching program teaches these skills to students with limited oral-language skills. Too often, preschool programs require students to have “age appropriate,” expressive and receptive oral language skills as a prerequisite for instruction . For many students with more severe disabilities this requirement essentially denies the student meaningful access to instruction. A case study with students with severe disabilities. In a recent dissertation report students with severe disabilities received intensive instruction in receptive language. Specifically, the students were being taught to relate an oral instruction to a set of pictures, e.g., “Which one is crying?” The students had to have the receptive language skills to pick the picture showing a person crying. The instruction failed because the students lacked prerequisite concepts. The researchers concluded: “Neither Allen or Dino reached criterion….The study was terminated…..Upon review of assessment data none of the students were reported to have mastered the difference between ’same’ and ‘different’.” The above listed Matching Program serves to teach these important prerequisite concepts. What is a scripted program? A review of the above-listed “Matching Sizes, Shapes and Colors Program,” which can be downloaded at no charge, will reveal a number of characteristics of many research-based instructional programs. One important characteristic is scripting. This scripting, like a movie or theater script, details the language and actions of participating instructors and students. The scripting allows the program to be used as designed and field tested. The scripting also allows all members of the instructional team, including aides, volunteers and parents, meaningful and effective participation roles. A program that is not implemented as the program designers and researchers required, may not generate the student outcomes the researchers reported. One of the most common errors made by program users is a failure to do the reteaching or correction procedures required by the program script. What are general and specific correction procedures? One of the most important practices in a quality program for at-risk learners is the systematic use of “Correction Procedures.” In the above-listed program the owl graphic is used to denote the presence of a correction procedure. If the student makes an error, the general correction procedure is : “Tell, Show, Help.” “Tell” requires a repeat of the command without any aversive tone in the instructor’s voice. “Show” requires the instructor to model e.g., “watch me do it.” “Help” requires the instructor to help the child complete the task with a physical or verbal prompting. As the child learns, the instructor “fades” the prompting help until the student can do it without instructor help. See page 4 of the program for this general correction procedure. Very often, a program will have specific as well as general correction procedures. In the above-listed program the owl graphic denotes a specific correction procedure. The specific correction procedure is more specific for the context. See page 7 for an example of a specific correction procedure next to the owl at the bottom of the page. Remember, correction is a normal part of learning for all students, and corrections should be made without negative or condescending tones. Also, please, no condescending facial or body gestures, and certainly no hands on hips. A successful repetition of a previous error should be immediately recognized by specific praise. See page 4 for praise suggestions. Giving clear commands. The research on effective interventions for many students at-risk of school failure places an increased emphasis on the correction procedures listed above. For students with Autism the findings of researchers stresses the use of very clear instructions. Effective correction procedures require very clear instructions at a very important time. Namely, the teacher response to a student error. The research on effective instruction for students with ADHD arrives at a similar conclusion. The Precision Command Checklist is an excellent classroom tool for prompting all members of the instructional team, including parents and siblings. Teachers of students with severe disabilities will find the checklist invaluable. The checklist provides examples and non-examples of giving appropriate instructions to students. Monitoring progress using curriculum-embedded assessment. Effective instructional programs provide support for curriculum-embedded assessment. In this matching program the curriculum-embedded assessment instrument can be found on page 5. Typically, an instructional program is taught in small steps and the instructor moves on to each new step after the student has mastered the previous step. The series of small steps, the task analysis of the larger task, makes learning easier for the student and provides the consistent demonstrations of success the student needs for a growing positive attitude to the curriculum area. In the progress recording chart on page 5, the most important information will be the record of mastery of each small step. The presence of these assessment records allows all members of the instructional team to work cooperatively in the student’s long-term interest.

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