Applied behavior analysts seek to break down and examine the fundamental human behaviors that most people take for granted. While the insights it reveals have applications in numerous fields, like prison reform, adult health and social sciences, applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is also well known for the benefits it confers upon teachers and students. Applied behavior analysis teaching methods revolve around using scientific data to improve instructional and interactive techniques. University students who pursue ABA degrees are often better-equipped to become educators or perform research that helps other teachers and students connect.
Many now-commonplace modern teaching strategies were originally rooted in ABA studies. Here are five you may have encountered.
ABA Teaching Strategies
- Discrete Trial Teaching
- Naturalistic Teaching
- Pivotal Response Therapy
- Token Economy
- Contingent Observation
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1. Discrete Trial Teaching
Some of the educational concepts students have to absorb are complex. While it seems like common sense to break a big task down into more manageable parts that are easier to teach, this is actually a key component of the ABA technique known as discrete trial teaching.
Discrete trial teaching, also referred to as discrete trial training or learning, is firmly rooted in behavioral learning theory. DTT employs a cue-and-response structure to work through the component tasks of a behavior or skill. In this model, a child who provides a response after receiving a prompt, known as a discriminative stimulus, will then be given a consequence in the form of a reward, error correction, a break, or some other reaction.
In addition to incentivizing engagement with peers and teachers, discrete trial training can help teachers interact with students who lack certain social skills. It’s also commonly used to highlight specific deficiencies for reinforcement.
2. Naturalistic Teaching
Naturalistic teaching focuses on letting the student set the pace of learning in the context of their regular daily routines. By following their students’ interests and offering coaching and feedback on target behaviors as they occur, teachers are still able to act as mediators, but by giving the learner more control over their learning, minimizing problematic behaviors that might otherwise interfere with learning.
According to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, naturalistic methods can also be easier for parents, siblings and others to implement to help learners outside the classroom. These techniques are also known for providing students with broadly-applicable skills and facilitating therapy.
3. Pivotal Response Therapy
Pivotal response therapy, or PRT, builds on naturalistic teaching, yet it provides a bit more structure. While still student-directed, this method focuses specifically on improving core skills such as motivation, being able to respond to more than one cue, induction into social structures, self regulation, and other critical development areas.
PRT’s focus on imparting pivotal behaviors is no coincidence. The methodology was specifically designed to help those with autism spectrum disorders, and its supporters say improving these key skills lets those with autism spectrum disoder make strides in other domains. Notably, an extensive review of 33 autism interventions by Richard Simpson and colleagues recognized PRT as one of four scientifically-grounded autism intervention techniques.
4. Token Economy
Token economies motivate learners and selectively promote or discourage specific behaviors. Tokens, also known as conditioned reinforcers, are usually rewarded or taken away for predefined behaviors, and they’re similar to how money functions in the real world.
Tokens can take many forms, such as points, stickers or even marbles and other simple counters. Unlike discrete trial teaching rewards, the token systems aren’t necessarily dependent on providing the correct responses to given stimuli, and they may incorporate exchange methods. For instance, at the beginning of the semester, teachers might tell students they can earn points for completing assignments on time and allow them to trade in these tokens for privileges later.
5. Contingent Observation
Contingent observation is a method of controlling disruptive behavior. It’s frequently employed with groups of young children. In essence, individuals who misbehave are given instruction on better ways to act. Then they’re asked to remove themselves from the social group temporarily while they watch the other students behaving appropriately.
You may have experienced something similar in the form of a timeout. Unlike punitive measures, such as simply telling a disruptor to go stand in a corner, contingent observation focuses on having students learn from peer examples.