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Blog

Fast, but not too fast, right?

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

In my recent interactions with parents and teachers, I've noticed a common trend in the critique of a student's performance: “they just go too fast.”  In our world of behavioral fluency, going fast is one of our goals.  The slow, methodical student may not be performing the academic skill at a speed that will result in a permanent product resistent to regression. 

We all know by now that a fluent behavior needs to be not only accurate but performed at an unhesistant speed.  When performance is at these fluent levels of speed and accuracy, that skill is able to be retained, endured, and applied to more complex skills and situations.  Therefore, if the student is slow while reading words or solving math problems, he/she may not perform the skill at the fluent levels to ensure retention, endurance, and application, even if the skill is accurate. 

Yesterday, I was working with one of my clients.  This Kindergartner was reading 2-digit numbers.  In my attempt to motivate her, I mentioned the importance of going fast.  Her reply to me was, “Fast, but not too fast, right?” 

Again, I was confronted with the common notion prescribed by teachers and parents: “Take your time.  Don't rush.”  However, this suggestion is only given to those students who go fast and are inaccurate.  Rarely, if ever, would you see a teacher or a parent tell a student with accurate performance to slow down.  On the contrary, that student would be described as a top student, advanced for his/her class because he/she can quickly and accurately finish assignments. 

However, I understand the intention behind the request to go slow.  It is to ensure careful, accurate peformance.  My 1-year old daughter has a toy walker that comments, “Please go slow” as she ushers it across our living room.  But do I want her to walk slowly, maintaining the speed of a beginner?  Of course not.  She would likely not become a proficient walker, stumbling down frequently as it is more difficult to walk at a slower pace than at a fast pace.  If she was a slow walker, she probably would never become an athlete of any kind.  Further, slow walking may not build up her cardiovascular endurance to perform other unrelated tasks.  So, no.  My goal is not for her to walk slowly and carefully.

We can apply the same thought to academics.  If your child takes her time spelling, then she may take longer to write sentences and paragraphs.  Writing stories and essays may be challenging because she is stopping to ponder of the spelling of so many words.  Further, she may not quickly learn the concepts of grammar or how to embellish her prose with adjectives or anaphoras because she is so keenly focused on spelling.

Further, research indicates that careless, unsystematic errors dissipate when performance is at optimal speed levels.  So, unless it is an extremely new concept, or the student is making the same mistake repeatedly, ignoring the error (or mildy addressing it while having the student self correct) may be appropriate.

Therefore, my plea is this: please do not request students to slow down or take their time.  Our request should be to go as fast as you can, and don't worry if make a mistake here or there.  We can address those mistakes seperately if they are an issue.  Our suggestion should be to not guess but to use the tool skills the child has in his/her repertoire to attack each problem.  Our goal should be to build fluent, not just accurate, performance to ensure retention, endurance, and application.  We want to create atheletes, not just accurate walkers.