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Apart From the Rest: Content of Relevance

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

January 2010

            This month’s article is the second in a series, Apart From the Rest, where I differentiate my services from those of traditional learning centers.  Last month I introduced Precision Teaching (PT) and described its philosophy and approach to learning.  The present article will explain why teaching to the subject specifically is not necessarily the most efficient and effective method in helping students academically succeed.

            If your student is struggling with a particular subject area, for example science, some traditional learning centers will tutor your student in that specific subject area.  They even may use his/her own textbook and homework as a resource.  However, one of the pillars of PT is to establish mastery at the fundamental skill level before proficiency can be achieved at a broader, more complex level.  If a student is struggling at science, I look at what behavior components are required to be proficient at science.  Depending on the type of science class, an element of math is likely required.  The most essential behavior, however, is reading comprehension.

            Mastery in most subject areas require proficiency in 1) reading fluency, 2) reading comprehension, 3) numeracy, 4) basic and advanced computation, 5) other various math concepts, and 6) handwriting/typing.  Therefore, PT trains these behaviors that are then generalized to more complex subject areas, like science.

            With training the component skills to impact the complex skills, when a student is assessed to identify his/her grade level performance, it is the previously mentioned skills that are evaluated as opposed to history, science, etc. in order to devise an effective intervention.  More often than not, deficits in the more complex skills will usually be explained by deficits in the fundamental skills.  Therefore, a curriculum-based assessment is used to highlight these deficits and assist in planning an effective and efficient learning intervention.

            The curriculum-based assessment is devised based on state standards, but also closely relates to the curriculum of the PT learning center.  Therefore, standardized tests conducted by schools or diagnostic assessments conducted by psychologists do not lend themselves to identifying concrete solutions to any problem areas.  They are merely descriptive.

            In contrast to PT learning centers, traditional learning centers rarely assess the student’s ability to identify the true areas of deficiency.  Mainly, these centers rely on self-report or parent-report.  Although self-report and parent-report are very important elements when devising a learning intervention, serving as the only informative elements will likely lead to a weak and often inaccurate strategy to remedy the problem area. Therefore, PT learning centers employ an objective assessment to further identify the deficiencies.

            In summary, the two major differences of content relevance are 1) PT learning centers train the missing fundamental skills to improve performance within a subject area, and 2) conduct curriculum-based assessments to objectively identify these missing skills and to help devise an effective and efficient learning plan to remedy such deficits.