PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF DIRECT INSTRUCTION FOR FAMILIES INFORMATION FOR FAMILIES

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1 PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF DIRECT INSTRUCTION FOR FAMILIES INFORMATION FOR FAMILIES CENTER FOR EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION AND PRACTICE Some children with emotional and behavioral problems need to be systematically taught appropriate behaviors, especially during challenging routines (homework, chores), social situations (peer interactions, sharing toys), and transitions (from play to homework, from watching TV to bedtime). These children may benefit when their family implements a strategy called direct instruction. Direct instruction is a set of instructional methods in which complex tasks are broken into smaller components and then each component is taught through a demonstration of how to combine the separate components. Direct instruction has a long, successful history in our schools for teaching academic skills to children with disabilities. For example, direct instruction has been used to improve the math, reading, and language abilities of children with disabilities, especially those with emotional and behavioral disorders. Families can also use direct instruction in the home to teach appropriate forms of behavior for their children while also increasing the children s ability to perform a specific task or skill. MAJOR FEATURES OF DIRECT INSTRUCTION Direct instruction has multiple features that distinguish it from other instructional strategies. These features are aligned with effective instructional practices as well as with effective methods for teaching social and academic skills to children with emotional and behavioral disorders. These features are interwoven in the direct instruction process. Direct instruction assumes that every child can learn. Complex tasks are systematically taught as a series of simple-to-learn tasks. Tasks are carefully sequenced. The learning goals of each complex and simple task are made clear to the child. Family members provide clear definitions, demonstrations, and examples of how the complex and simple tasks should be performed. The family follows precise language (how questions are phrased, how many prompts to provide prior to re-teaching) when teaching the simple and complex tasks. The family teaches using an engaging and brisk pace, actively involving the child in the process. The child is given multiple opportunities to practice the simple and complex tasks. Family members ask for verbal and/or physical modeling of the simple or complex task by beginning with questions where the child will succeed and then asking more challenging questions. The family teaches the child simple and complex tasks to mastery, that is, the child can correctly perform them on his or her own. The family continually monitors the child s progress and re-teaches when necessary. DIRECT INSTRUCTION IN THE HOME For direct instruction to be successful, the family should use a 6-step process that combines the major features of direct instruction with specific directions on implementation. In the following tables, each step is paired with an explanation of its use and appropriateness at home. Then a home-based example is provided. This example was chosen because a child with emotional and behavioral disorders would likely display inappropriate behaviors if asked to engage in the task. 1

2 Family and Child Background Dennis and his older brother, Jake, live with their mother, Jacki, who is employed full-time by an accounting firm. Jake watches Dennis after school until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. when Jacki returns from work. During that time, Jake is expected to begin dinner preparation, do his homework, and help Dennis finish his homework. For the past three weeks, Jake has complained to Jacki about Dennis s escalating inappropriate behavior when told to do his homework. Jake reports that Dennis yells, hits, and refuses to do his homework. Jacki talks with both boys and repeats the family expectation that homework is to be completed before she gets home each evening. The next evening, Jake reports that Dennis s behavior is even worse. Step 1 Instruction Tell the child the reason that he or she is being taught a new skill or behavior. In the reason, link the new skill or behavior to a skill or behavior the child can already perform correctly. Establish learning goals. By establishing a reason for the child, the family increases the probability that the child will buy into the new skill or behavior. This buy-in is important because the child is the focal point of the instruction. Without a clear reason, a child may not make the connections between what is expected during specific situations and what his or her current inappropriate behavior is. While providing a reason, the family can highlight the appropriate skills or behaviors that the child does perform. By doing so, family members have an opportunity to recognize and reinforce the skills or behaviors the child can already do and build from there. This is commonly called taking a strengthbased approach. As the family gives the reason, they and the child should agree on the learning goals linked to the new skill or behavior about to be taught. The learning goals should be stressed throughout the direct instruction process so that everyone keeps the appropriate skill or behavior in sight. Jake: Mom and I are concerned that your homework is not getting finished every night. We understand that it is sometimes difficult for you to follow directions from me. But since she does not get home until dinner time and you need to have it finished before then, I thought we could work together to get your homework finished. We know that you have had a tough time getting your homework started and finished, and we have talked about some reasons why this is happening. You were distracted by the TV; you did not have all the materials ready at the desk; you were tired; and you wanted to be outside playing with friends. Jake: Let s try to change this situation so that you can finish your homework each night. There are nights when those things we talked about don t stop you from finishing your homework, like when you turn your back to the TV or close the window shade so you don t see your friends playing outside. We re all so happy when you have time to do the things you want to do after your homework. Jake: Let s set a goal so that we will all know when you are successfully finishing your homework. Our goal could be that you complete your homework assignments neatly and to the best of your ability. When you accomplish that goal, you may either watch TV or go outside and play with your friends. Does that sound like a goal you would like to work toward? Good. 2

3 Step 2 Presentation/Discussion Model and describe the new skills or behaviors through family member questioning and answering. Ask the child questions related to the new skills or behaviors and allow the child to answer. Reinforce correct child answers. During the initial discussion, the child is walked through the expected skill or behavior by the family member who is doing the implementation. This walk through gives the child an actual physical model of the expected skill or behavior during the problematic situation as well as a verbal model through questioning and answering. At first, family members will do both simultaneously, modeling the skill or behavior while asking and responding to questions related to the simplified steps. The family member will want to keep the initial presentation and discussion of the new skill or behavior as constant as possible. One way is to model and ask and respond to questions in the same order and with the same actions. This consistency will provide the child with an exact replica of what the family expects him or her to do. Sometimes writing out this step clarifies what skills or behaviors the family wants the child to engage in prior to presenting them to the child. Another way is to have one family member begin and then a second family member join in the teaching. In the second phase of presentation, the family still verbally models the expected skill or behavior but asks the child to respond verbally or physically to the questions. The same sequence of steps and questions are asked as in the initial presentation. If the child is unable to answer correctly, then the family member will provide prompts and cues to point the child in the desired direction. For example, a family member may say, First we do what? Then what happens? and We do this to meet what goal? Giving prompts and cues should be expected because the child is being taught something new. Just remember to be systematic so that the simpler steps are reinforced before more complex steps are introduced. Whenever possible, praise the child for correct responses and actions. Learning new skills or behaviors can be frustrating. Encouragement for even partially correct responses is likely to encourage the child to continue to display the new skills or behaviors. Jake: OK, it s 3:30 and we will eat tonight at 6:45, so if you meet your goal, you ll finish your homework in time to play a bit before dinner. The first thing we need to do is to get you ready to do your homework. You need to take your assignment notebook and math text from your book bag; get your calculator, graphing paper, pencil, and eraser; and turn off the TV. That s everything you will need to complete your math homework. Now you re ready to begin. Just remember to try hard and to write your answers neatly. Jake: So what do you do to get the homework area ready? What materials do you need to get together in your homework area so that you can finish your math homework? And what is your goal for your homework tonight? (Provide time for the child to respond to each question. If the child responds incorrectly, restate the question along with the correct response. Prompts and cues, such as First we did what? and Then what? may help the child respond correctly.) Jake: Great! You are ready to complete you homework, and if you meet your goal, you can go out and play before dinner. Mom will be so proud of you. Step 3 Guided Practice With Feedback Provide ample opportunities for the child to practice the new skills or behaviors. Use prompts and cues only if the child does not know the correct response. The more opportunities the child has to correctly practice the new skill or behavior with family supervision, guidance, and feedback, the more likely it is that the child will be able to independently display the desired skill or behavior. During guided practice, the family member presents only an initial cue to signal the child to begin the new skill or behavior or may cue the child 3

4 by stating the learning goal. No matter the cue used to begin the sequence, the family member does not provide any additional prompts or cues unless it is obvious that the child does not know what to do next. The child may say I forgot what s next or may hesitate in his or her actions. If this occurs, the family can offer the minimal number of prompts and cues to assist the child. Ask the child to display the new skill or behavior with minimal assistance but with praise for appropriate behavior. Even without providing prompts and cues while the child is performing the new skill or behavior, the family member can offer praise when portions of the sequence are performed correctly. The family member should make a conscious effort to praise as much as possible without disrupting the flow of the child s performance. Jake: You have until dinnertime to complete your homework neatly and to the best of your ability if you want to be able to play with your friends. You know what to do. (Wait for the child to begin the skill or behavior sequence.) What should happen after you turn off the TV? (The overall number of prompts and cues should decrease each time the homework routine begins.) Jake: Great job. You ve removed all the things you said stopped you from doing your homework. Now you re ready to start. (Wait for the child to engage in the appropriate skill or behavior.) You re doing a great job working on your homework. Step 4 Feedback and Re-Teach After asking the child to display the new skill or behavior, provide feedback about the child s performance for each step accomplished in relation to the overall goal. When the child makes errors, assess those errors with the child, practice the correct skill or behavior, and then praise the child for the correct response(s). After guided practice, the family gives the child feedback on his or her performance by highlighting correct responses and the way the child is moving toward the learning goal. When possible, the family member should group the sequenced responses performed accurately so that the child can better understand how all the skills or behaviors are needed to reach the learning goal. Incorrect child responses are discussed from the perspectives of both the family member and the child. The family member then re-teaches the necessary skills or behaviors. During the re-teaching of the responses, the child should again have multiple opportunities to practice the skill or behavior with praise provided for success. The family member also highlights how the correct responses bring the child closer to his or her goals. 4

5 Jake: I liked how you gathered all your supplies at one time and then positioned your chair. That is a great way to prepare yourself to begin your homework and certainly helps you finish your homework faster. Jake: Did you have difficulty remembering any of the steps? Dennis: I forgot to turn the off the TV and you had to remind me. I didn t like that. Jake: Do you think you would remember to turn off the TV if you did that first and then got all your supplies together at the desk? If you do, let s practice that. First, turn off the TV, then open your book bag and take out all the supplies you need. Now you do that. Great job. That way, I won t have to remind you because you can remember to do it all by yourself. Step 5 Independent Practice Give the child an opportunity to independently perform the new skill or behavior after a single prompt. This step is critical. It is unrealistic for the family member to be with the child during every typically problematic task. Because a goal of direct instruction is to teach to mastery, there will come a point when the child should need a single verbal or nonverbal prompt to engage in the new skill or behavior. These opportunities to independently practice the new skill or behavior are crucial to the child s overall development and social growth and an important step toward independence. Again, the single prompt is used to begin the skill or behavior sequence the family wants the child to engage in. Jake: It s time for you to do your homework. Remember your goal. Mom and I know you can do it. (The family member may not say anything more specific about the desired skill or behavior. Occasional praise is appropriate.) You re doing great! Step 6 Monitoring and Generalization Tell the child the progress he or she has made, how he or she is able to independently perform the new skill or behavior, and how the family is there to support him or her in continuing to use the new skill or behavior. Give the child a rationale and teach how this new skill or behavior can be used in different situations. At this point, the family member and child have gone through the steps of direct instruction, and the child can now consistently and reliably perform the new skill or behavior with little supervision from the family member. The family member will continue to reinforce the child for the desired skill or behavior but should not be re-teaching at this point. Remember it may take the child several days or weeks before reaching this step. Now the family member can direct the child to use the new skills or behaviors during other challenging, yet similar situations. In doing so, the family member will need to follow steps 1 through 5 but can do so in a condensed fashion since the child has the skills or behaviors necessary to perform appropriately in the new situation. Jake: It has been two weeks and you have reached your homework goal almost every single night. Way to go! And some nights, I didn t even have to prompt you to begin. We are so proud of you. Plus, you get to spend more time with your friends and that seems to make you happier. Mom and I think that you can use your goal during other times when you may have some problems. Like sometimes, you would rather be outside playing with friends instead of cleaning your room, and so when Mom or I ask you to clean your room, you spend the morning screaming and yelling at us and then do not get to go outside. We could change your goal for when you need to clean your room so that you will still have time to go out and play with friends We know you can do 5

6 it. Jake: How about on Saturday morning Mom will work with you on setting a learning goal for cleaning your room and you can show her how quickly you can achieve it? That way, you will spend less time fighting with us about cleaning your room and more time with your friends once your room is clean. POINTS TO REMEMBER Families can implement direct instruction in the home for a variety of challenging routines in which their children display inappropriate behaviors. When implementing direct instruction, it is important that the family work together toward realistic learning goals for their child. It is also important that the child be included in some of the decision-making processes. For example, the child may have a unique insight into why he or she did not display the desired skill or behavior during the routine. Giving the child an active voice during the direct instruction process, no matter the situation, will again increase the likelihood that he or she will use the new appropriate skills or behaviors. RESOURCES Archer, A. L., & Gleason, M. M. (1995). Skills for school success. In P.T. Cegelka & W.H. Berdine (Eds.), Effective instruction for students with learning difficulties (pp ). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Mercer, C. D., & Mercer, A. R. (2001). Teaching students with learning problems (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall. Prepared by Kristine Jolivette, Ph.D. Amy Shearer-Lingo, M.S. Linda J. Gassaway, M.Ed. Debra A. Harley, Ph.D. Katherine M. McCormick, Ph.D. University of Kentucky 6

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