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Blog

Precision Teaching Meets Response to Intervention: A Scientific Investigation

Kerri Milyko

When describing our services to educators, we say that we are a Tier 4 intervention to the Response to Intervention (RtI) frame work that the school employs for student who are struggling with learning in the typical classroom setting (Tier 1) (see our blog for more information about RtI, PBS, and MTSS: http://www.precisiontlc.com/blog/2013/7/22/it-takes-a-village-mtss-in-schools.html).  It is rather tongue-in-cheek since RtI consists of only Tiers 1-3, with Tier 3 being the most intensive intervention.  While working on a grant at USF, our own Samantha Spillman, M.A., completed her thesis looking at how Precision Teaching and Direct Instruction serve as beautiful Tier 3 interventions to children struggling with math in the public schools.  We would like to take this month’s blog to describe her study with the hopes that some teacher and/or RtI Team would implement this or something similar with their students.

Five exceptionally struggling 1st graders were recruited to participate in the study.  All five students were “failing” their math class and required intensive intervention.  They met the study’s inclusion criteria of being significantly inaccurate and slow at answering simple addition facts.  These students were pulled from their class for no more than 10 min, 3 days a week to participate in the study.

Two interventions were examined with respect to students’ accuracy and fluency (speed + accuracy) on addition facts.  The first intervention was simple error correction following the practice interval.  The second intervention required a direct instruction, multi-sensory (multiple learning channel) 1-min priming.  Therefore, the students said, pointed, and wrote answers to addition problems they heard or read.

When compared to baseline classroom performance, the first intervention of error correction improved the accuracy for four of the five participants.  However, their speed at answering math facts was still quite low (ranging from 5-8 facts correctly answered per minute).  Upon intervention of the direct-instruction, multi-channel warm-up, all students not only performed at 100% accuracy on these math facts, their speed immediately jumped to 10-20 correctly answered facts per minute, rising to 25-45 per minute at the end of three weeks (9, 10-min sessions). 

Precision teachers for years have been preaching about the powerful effects of our technology; so, the robust effects of the multi-learning channel intervention were not a surprise to our community.  What was more powerful than the improvement on the trained skill (math facts, adding with 3’s) were the results on untrained skills.  Spillman assessed the application of these students’ learning on inverse addition facts (e.g., Commutative Property), math facts containing larger numbers, and grade-level addition/subtraction facts on a Curriculum Based Measurement assessment.  For all five participants, accuracy and speed increased on all of these untargeted measures. 

There are numerous implications of this study, with the most basic of them all being that Spillman created an effective Tier 3 intervention to aid with improving grade-level computation skills for 1st graders.  This intervention could be slightly edited to have a small group participate in the multi-learning channel warm-up on possibly new or troublesome math facts prior to their math lesson for the day.  Even a slightly few more revisions to the intervention could entail a Tier 1 intervention of having all of the students pointing, saying, writing to math facts that they see or hear, collectively as a group.

Even more generally, a global implication is that refined behavior analysts are trained at not just solving behavior crises.  BCBAs are equipped with the knowledge and techniques to participate in creating interventions to improve academic performance.  The BCBAs who are employed by school districts spend most, if not all, of their time dealing with problem behavior.  However, they are being underutilized.  If education could open its doors to allowing behavior analysts, particularly precision teachers, to participate in Response to Intervention teams, we could really make a profound impact on student performance.   We would love a seat at the table; all they have to do is ask.