Discrete trial training works by making the skill more manageable for the child

January 22, 2018

Trials are conducted in all of the classrooms at Crossroads Center for Children, and in all of the therapy settings too. Here is a little post to explain in a basic way how they work.

Discrete trial training is a way to teach skills directly. It’s a fundamental technique of Applied Behavior Analysis, and one that is used across the program at Crossroads. For students who do better when skills are broken down into simpler sets and steps, discrete trial training is the way to go. Sometimes when learning is only presented in a general way, or when concepts are assumed to be grasped incidentally, the challenges of learning can be great. 

Discrete trial training works by making the skill more manageable for the child. Taking a big skill and breaking it down into its parts can help a student can focus on the pieces first and put them together over time.  

Discrete trial training, also referred to as “trials” can help the learner focus on one part at a time, putting a big skill together a little bit at a time.

Let’s take the alphabet, for instance. The alphabet, A-Z, in its entirety, is magnificent, but might feel pretty abstract and overwhelming to some of our kiddos. Especially if they’re trying to take in upper case and lower case, letters and letter sounds, words that letters start with and what does this letter say… it can seem kind of like too much to grasp all in a big whirl like that. So, first off, the teacher would take a baseline to determine what the student already knows. She collects data. Actually, the whole team takes data. Depending upon the goal at hand, data may be taken by anyone on the team, including the Teaching Assistants, Speech Therapists, and Behavior Analysts, Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapist.  Also taken into account is what the parents say the child is able to do outside of school. Maybe baseline data shows that the child already knows certain letters. Or maybe none at all. Let’s say for this scenario that the child is able to identify A and T, but not label any letters, give their beginning sounds, nor come up with any words that start with letters. Letter identification coming first in this particular skill hierarchy, the teacher would pick a letter or letters for an “identify letters” goal to put into the child’s set to start off with. New letters will be added until the child can identify all of the letters A-Z. Next would come labeling them all, and then producing their starting sounds, and so on.  Prompting procedures, how to deliver the direction or “Sd”, preferred reinforcers and schedules of reinforcement are all parts of how goals are taught.

Here in Room 7, teachers are pictured conducting trials. You’ll notice that the instruction is one-to-one, but this is not always necessarily the case.

While some students are working in their one-to-one sessions, others are in small groups playing with toys and each other. Sessions are scheduled by rotation so that each student gets time and contact with each of the teaching team during the day.

You’ll also see that the materials are age-appropriate. One child is learning to discriminate colors, so using toys that he likes makes the goal feel more familiar and fun. Ms. Deanna, the teacher lays out an array of 3 different colors.    She establishes the student’s attention first and then delivers the direction of showing her red, or blue, or yellow.

New colors can be added into his sets as he acquires the sets written. This is based on baseline data, collected before starting the goal, when the need to address it was identified.

  In between trials, the student enjoys playing with the materials which reinforces his good working, attending and sitting with his teacher.

Another student works on identifying numbers. Again, three numbers are arrayed and the student is asked to select a particular one. Data is taken so that the team can monitor for progress and make changes to the way they run the goal as needed.

Array sizes can be increased over time, and goals can be phased into generalization when the criterion is met. This means that the same skill is practiced but with different people providing the direction, with different materials and in different places. This assures us that the child can access this skill in different environments than just the one of the classroom trial training setting where he or she first started learning the skill.

Lots of parents of our students take advantage of monthly parent training to observe sessions like these ones. This way they are able to carry over the skills at home, and in other environment scaffold to the generalization of the goal. Parents schedule sessions with their classroom teacher, and also share valuable insights for the team when they come in.

This is the way that students make such great progress at Crossroads.

Learn more:

Prompting Procedures




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