Athanasios (Thanos) Vostanis, Lecturer in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the University of Kent, opened the November CEDAR seminar series talk by highlighting the need to extend the Precision Teaching Framework beyond the classroom environment.
What is Precision Teaching?
Precision Teaching is a behavioural approach that focuses on building of essential skills in the most effective and time efficient way possible. These new essential skills can then be used by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to reduce challenging behaviours when trying to meet their needs.
Professionals use Precision Teaching to refine their teaching instruction, informed by the information acquired, so progress in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is maximised. Therefore, Precision Teaching is not a teaching technique as such but rather a systematic way of monitoring the effects of any instruction/teaching provided.
The Five Steps of Precision Teaching
Precision Teaching was described as a five-step framework:
- Pinpointing the target skills which need to be increased (for instance daily living skills)
- Delivering the practice that is appropriate depending on the setting and population receiving the teaching/instruction (for instance practices appropriate for supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a specialist setting)
- Ongoing measurement of the effectiveness of that practice and creating a specific type of chart (named the standard celebration chart) with the data collected
- Decisions are made, based on the collected data and charts created, about whether changes are needed to the practice so that instructional time is not wasted and learning is optimised
- The final step involves the try again phase in case the current practice is not effective which means that changes are made to the practice, after identifying what does not work well, so that the practice used can become effective and more precise.
The second part of the seminar focused on the historical context regarding the development of Precision Teaching. Precision Teaching was founded by Ogden Lindsley in the 60s, who was influenced by the work of B. F. Skinner, and it emerged as an approach from the field of the experimental analysis of behaviour. Precision Teaching was usually combined with different approaches (for example direct instruction) to maximise positive results for the individuals receiving support.
Moreover, Vostanis emphasised that although Precision Teaching is sometimes considered the same as fluency training because it has been primarily used to improve educational outcomes for typically developing learners it is not the same as fluency training. Precision Teaching can and has been used for other areas such as fine and gross motor skills and to support other populations such as individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Research on Precision Teaching
The third part of the seminar focused on previous systematic reviews on Precision Teaching highlighting that the main results showed that the approach seems promising in terms of effectiveness. However, more high-quality research is needed especially for certain areas such as how to increase the ability to learn faster (i.e., learning/behavioural agility) and, in particular, the use of Precision Teaching to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Furthermore, initial findings of an ongoing systematic review on Precision Teaching by Vostanis, Thompson, Padden, Rizos and Langdon were presented. The systematic review looks to collect together evidence from many published studies and look at the findings overall to see what the evidence, as a whole, tells us. The findings showed that the majority of studies were conducted in the US and also that the majority of studies had considerable methodological limitations. Regarding the focus of the studies, almost 50% had a focus on literacy and mathematics, and almost 60% were conducted with children while less than 3% were conducted with adolescents.
Almost 50% of the studies included typically developing learners and almost 50% were conducted in preschools or schools. Demographic information of the participants (such as sex/gender) were not always provided, there was a lack of measures of social validity for most studies, and 40% studies did not include assessment of fluency. In terms of outcomes, the studies included in the meta-analysis (calculation to provide an average of the results from all published studies looked at in the systematic review) demonstrated encouraging results, but the assessment of the target outcomes was different across different studies.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Precision Teaching is not meant to be a stand-alone system and it is usually combined with other interventions when supporting learners, thus there is a need to check how effective it is in an indirect way. Although Precision teaching seems to be a promising approach, the available evidence that exists is still not enough to make a clear decision about its contribution and more high-quality research is required (such as randomised controlled trials, or studies utilising interviews to explore experiences with the approach).
Moving forwards, it was suggested that future research should place further focus on populations that are not commonly included in research about Precision Teaching (such as adolescents) and experimental questions about how to increase the ability of learners to learn faster, whilst making a clear discrimination between Precision Teaching and fluency training since they are two distinct approaches.
Moreover, it was suggested that moving forwards innovative applications of Precision Teaching that incorporate all five steps of the system should be considered since the Precision Teaching system can be combined with various procedures and approaches (such as Speech and Language Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy etc.) and can be implemented across various fields to support learners, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Athanasios (Thanos) Vostanis is a Lecturer in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the University of Kent, a Board-Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) with a Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), an Associate Editor for the Tizard Learning Disability Review, and the Vice President of International Relations for the Standard Celeration Society.
Lorena Beqiraj is a PhD student at the Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal, and Research (CEDAR) at the University of Warwick.