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26837 Tanic Drive
Wesley Chapel
United States


Flexible Responding

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

Parenthood is so fun.  Our oldest is nearly 2.5 years old and is learning many new things: pre-reading skills, vocabulary, sentence formation, gross and fine motor skills.  Ethan and I are having the best time teaching our daughter and seeing her love for learning develop. 

While working with Kaelin, we recognize various opportunities to help promote her to flexibly respond to things and events.  We see similar, yet more sophisticated, opportunities when working with our students at the center.  Flexible responding is engaging in different behavior to the same stimuli while being sensitive to the contextual cues.  It can be as simple as seeing “A” and saying the letter sound instead of the letter name.  It can be as complex as teaching a student to “go with the flow.” 

Often, students only learn one way to respond to academic stimuli.  For example, the student can just write one main idea of a story, knows 6+7 but not 7+6, or can only describe traditional functions of a pencil.  In all of these examples, the student lacks the flexible responding to help build further connections to respond in different ways than what was explicitly taught.   When your child lacks this flexibility, complications may arise in the classroom.

You can help target flexibility at home.  With our daughter, we are asking her multiple questions about one word she reads: What is the last letter in the word?  What sound does the first letter make?  What is this word?  Give me an example of the word.  So, if the word is “kitten” she would respond with “n” (letter name), “k” (letter sound), read the word “kitten”, and then tell me about Katerina Kittycat from her favorite show, Daniel Tiger.  All of these great responses can occur while just seeing the one word, “kitten.”

This flexibility is essential in every subject area.  While I’m one to join in on the Common Core criticism, it seems as if some the curricula are attempting to target the same principle, especially the math.  While looking at a number, say 3,451, the student can not only read it, but understand that that the entire thing is a number made up of 4 digits, the “4” digit is in the hundreds position and has a value of 400 or four one-hundreds, 40 tens, or 400 ones.  Flexible responding in math can be classified as “number sense.”  

You can try it out with your older student.  For example, instead of having your child always respond to the front side of the flash cards when studying for a test, quiz him/her with the back side of the card in a Jeopardy fashion.  Instead of creating a main idea from a story he/she read, start with a main idea and develop different stories that could share a main idea.  If your student takes one position about a scenario, see if they could play Devil’s advocate to see the opposing position’s perspective.

This type of flexible responding is essential for complete mastery and proficiency of academic material.  To truly know something, you should be able to respond to that material in multiple, intricate ways as opposed to a simple memorized, rote fashion.  There is an extremely important role for rote memorization; however, following that step, more complex, flexible responding needs to be further established for true mastery.

If your student seems to be stuck in a rut with learning and is not flexible with his/her academic material, give us a call!  We would love to work with your student to promote true mastery.  Our systematic approach continually tests for flexible responding and is designed to promote it if not developed naturally.