I’ve spent a lot of time lately with folks who are trying their hand at Precision Teaching for the first time.
Through this process, I’ve learned a lot about common “rookie” mistakes and have been reminded of those I made while getting started. It is fascinating to watch people transform into Precision Teachers as they embrace precise measurement and strive for effective teaching practices.
Here’s a rookie move that I found surprising, and surprisingly common: People go through all the work to pinpoint a behavior, create teaching materials, measure and chart behavior on the Standard Celeration Chart… but their charts have no aims!
The utility of aims
Here’s what I mean.
This is a chart with an aim star to represent the frequency aims for both acceleration and deceleration pinpoints.
After a few days of practice, my celeration lines can be projected out. Both my acceleration and deceleration projections reach their respective aim stars. It looks like, if Johnny continues to practice, he will hit aim (and be fluent) right on time!
Here’s the exact same chart without aim stars.
What’s in an aim?
- Aim = “Performance Standard.” These terms are interchangeable in Precision Teaching.
- An aim is typically a range of frequencies within which fluent behavior is observed.
- The higher frequency often comes first (ie, 100-80) to encourage teachers and students to shoot for the higher frequencies.
- Reaching these aims tends to be predictive of the outcomes associated with fluency (Maintenance, Endurance, Stability, Application, and Generativity, or MESAG).
- Many of the aims used in Precision Teaching have been empirically validated through years of research and classroom practice.
Finding and creating aims
Let’s see if this quick guide helps…
Step 1: See if the aims are already out there
The Precision Teaching Book has a long list of Performance Standards from Precision Teaching literature in the Appendix. Dr. Kubina shared it with me to share with you -- check it out here.
If you buy materials created by Precision Teachers (ie, Morningside Press, Haughton Learning Center, The Maloney Method, Essential for Living, to name a few), aims are often included with practice materials. You can assume all of these aims have been tested with many learners. If you’re ever unsure, contact the author.
No luck? If you can’t find an aim for your pinpoint+, try:
Step 2: Get a sample
The best sample would include a range of performers who are competent in the skill area related to your pinpoint.
It’s good to start with professional adults for a few reasons:
- Unless you work alone, there should be plenty of these in your workplace.
- For many skills, it is easy enough to assume most adults are fluent in the behavior of interest.
- Sampling a bunch of adults is quick and easy. You usually don’t have to spend much time explaining the task or helping them time and count their behaviors.
- It can also be a nice way to interrupt a work day with 1-2 minutes of aim-setting timings. Have fun with it!
Another option is to look at performances from a sample of peers or near-peers to the performer for whom the pinpoint was selected. This can help you be sure your aims are appropriate for your learners. But be careful! Look for peers who are assumed to be masterful in the behavior of interest. We’re not looking for norms or averages because performing at the 50th, or even 80th percentile for one’s grade is nowhere near synonymous with fluency.
Look out for fatigue (time matters!)
An important part of an aim is the terminal timing length (the optimal counting time at which a performance can be considered masterful). If the folks you are sampling start slowing down in the middle of the timing, this may be a pinpoint you want to practice at shorter timing lengths.
Consider the learning channel
Be sure to set an aim that is appropriate for the learning channel. For example, the aims I’ve used for math facts vary drastically depending on the learning channel:
See-Say answers addition fact: 100-80 answers per minute
See-Write answers addition fact: 80-60 answers per minute
Hear-Say answers addition fact: 40-30 answers per minute
Watch out for potential ceilings
Ceilings are especially important to consider when working with young kids or those with physical limitations. Aims for targets that require writing, like math facts or writing words, should never be higher than a learner’s frequency of Free-Writes letters or numbers. Similarly, it may not be appropriate to set an aim for See-Say targets that is higher than a learner’s conversational speaking rate.
Remember what you are counting
Look back at your pinpoint+ for reminders about whether you are counting digits or answers, letters or words. In my experience, whenever an aim feels “not quite right,” it is usually because my aim and count don’t align.
Getting aims on a chart
There are two methods for displaying your aims on a Standard Celeration Chart.
If you have a hard “deadline” for achieving fluent performance, the aim star is your best bet. On Chartlytics, you can enter the calendar days to aim when creating or assigning your pinpoint, and the aim star will be placed on that date on your chart.
Follow the data
Check for the indicators of fluency: Maintenance, Endurance, Stability, Application, and Generativity (MESAG). If you get all those before reaching aim, you may be able to move on. If you get to aim but aren’t getting these outcomes, consider modifying your aims.
Staying true to your aims
“The ‘resource’ child has been too frequently branded with the reputation of ‘slow learner’. Teacher expectations very often follow suit. Fortunately, evidence contrary to that kind of thinking and feeling is being produced by those who ‘care enough to chart.’” -Bower & Meier, 1981, p.27
If you find yourself concerned about your aims being too high and your learners being too low, consult the literature on fluency and precision teaching. This has helped cure my second-guessing tendencies in the past.
About the Author
Amy L. Evans, M.Ed, BCBA
Amy Evans is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and a licensed special education teacher. Over the past nine years, Amy has worked in private learning centers, public school classrooms, and homeschool settings, combining the principles and tenets of Behavior Analysis, Precision Teaching, and Direct Instruction to solve educational and behavioral challenges. Amy runs her own tutoring business in Denver, Colorado and serves as Assistant Vice President of Finance for the Standard Celeration Society. She currently works with Chartlytics to provide instruction and ongoing support to behavior analysts and educators who are new to Precision Teaching.
Meet Amy on Linkedin: Amy Evans
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