Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teaching Skills: Task A-What?

"In or Out" Program Update: The kids are remembering to take off their shoes AND to shut the doors on the way in or out of the house! Score one for the momma! We still need some work coming in or out when they are talking to someone in or out of the house (not standing in an open doorway). My husband and I will shape this up by making sure that if they are talking to us, we will gesture to the door and not address their question until they are either in or out. :) If they are talking to someone else (and this might be the "hold-out" behavior that takes the longest to "fix") it will likely require the husband or I to give them a little nudge (physical prompt) in or out of the house to finish the conversation.

Task Analyses
Frequently we want our children to gain independence in tasks that have multiple steps such as washing hands, getting dressed, or tying shoes. I frequently target each of these tasks with children that I work with. The goal when I teach any skill is to teach it efficiently and in such a way that the child WANTS to continue learning from me. One way of teaching skills with multiple steps is to write, then follow a "task analysis". A task analysis of a skill basically breaks the skill down into small, discrete, manageable steps; for example, opening a door. I bet you thought opening a door just involved one step, "Open door", right?  Well, for some kids, in order to master the "whole task" of opening the door, you might need to break it down into smaller steps. A task analysis of opening a door with a knob might be: 1. Put hand on door knob. 2. Grasp knob. 3. Turn knob. 4. Pull door open.  Voila!
Now that we have a task analysis of opening a door, we can decide how we want to teach it. We can "forward chain" the task or "backward chain". Typically, I recommend backward chaining. This means that I might physically prompt a child through the whole task, from the first step to the last (hand on knob, grasp, turn, pull).  When the child is following all of my prompts reliably, I start to fade the prompts at the end of the task. In the case of opening a door, I would physically help the child put his/her hand on the door, then grasp it, then turn it, then pull. When he/she is completing all of these steps (with help) reliably, I would ease up on my prompts of pulling the door. Instead of physically prompting the "pull", maybe I would just tap her fingers once we had turned the knob. When the door opens, I would praise her for opening the door.  The next time we practiced opening the door, maybe I would fade the prompts even more. Maybe I would prompt through the first 3 steps, then wait for her to "pull" the door open. Wow! She just completed the last step of the task analysis independently! Reinforce like crazy!  Maybe after a few more successes, I'd target the next step in the task analysis, turning the knob (see where the "backward" in backward chaining comes from?). I would fully physically prompt putting her hand on the door knob and grasping it, but prompt only half of her turning the knob, allowing her to complete the step.   See where I'm going with this?
Eventually, she would complete the whole task herself but along the way, she'd get lots of descriptive praise and reinforcement for completing the baby steps leading up to the "whole task".

Some things to remember when chaining:
1. Ideally, the child will know how to complete each of the steps in the task analysis independent of the chain. In the case of opening a door, I'd want to make sure the child could "grasp" objects, could turn her wrist back and forth and "pull" before targeting the skills in a chain "opening the door".
2. Reinforce baby steps, initially. Reinforce independence. Ultimately, reinforce task completion. Once you get to the last teaching step, you want to be able to only reinforce the completed chain, not necessarily every step in-between... you don't want to teach a child not to move on to the next step of opening a door until you praise each tiny step that comes before the door being open... so reinforce like crazy but fade your reinforcement, too.
3. Don't be afraid to follow the child's lead a bit. If you've been working on a 10 step chain and you are only on step 3 but suddenly the child is indicating that he/she can complete 7 of the 10 steps independently, go with it! Just make sure you are there to prompt steps that still need to be taught until the whole chain is mastered.

I wrote about tasks analyses today because I want to post some basic self-help/independence programs such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, tying shoes, etc. This should help give you a general idea of the concept.  Are there other programs you'd like to see?  And, maybe it's too late but I just couldn't think of a clever way of saying "teaching skills" up in the heading. Any ideas? :)