As part of the Effective Interventions in ABA series, today I want to address one of the myths about discrete trials: that they have to be provided one-to-one. We have research that indicates you can provide them in small groups and even in larger groups, but there are a few things we need to think about when we decide how to use them in different situations.
Many people dismiss doing discrete trials in their classroom because they believe they have to be 1-1 throughout the day and that they don’t have the staff support to do that. There have been several studies using discrete trials in small groups and larger groups and have shown that students make gains with them (e.g., Taubman et al., 2001) and that adding discrete trials to activity-based instruction can increase student engagement and correct responding (McBride & Schwartz, 2003). Clearly the instructors need to be trained to competency in providing DTT whether it’s individually or in a group and it is sometimes easier to learn in 1-1 situations than in a group. However, here are 3 ways that you can use the technology of DTT within a group activity to enhance the intensity and systematic nature of the students’ learning.
In a sequential method of discrete trials, you would give the direction to one student, get a response, give a reinforcer (if appropriate), give that student something to do (like a file folder) and turn to give the direction ot the next student. Complete the trial with that student and move to a third or back to the first. An easy way to do this is to have the students engaged in an ongoing activity (like doing file folders or playing) and then interrupting that activity briefly with the trial. You want to make sure you can move quickly between the students and that you have all your materials and reinforcers ready to go before you get started. You can also do a short set of trials with one student before switching to the next student (provided the student you aren’t working with has something constructive to do in the interim). This works well if you have students who are using token boards for reinforcement. Then you can work on trials until they fill up the board (e.g., 5 correct responses), give that student a reinforcer, and switch to the next student. This allows you to increase the pace of trials while working with the student you are focusing on. This options allows the most differentiation of skills.
2. Choral Responding
Another great way to use DTT in a group is to work with a group of students who have similar goals. Then you present the direction to the whole group and have them all respond with the answer. A fun way to do this is with what I call Mystery Bag. Let’s say you are working with a group of students who are working on identifying characteristics of items (e.g., receptive ID by feature, function or class). One student pulls out an item and then every student has to call out something that describes it. The kids like it because it’s all a surprise and it’s a way to keep instruction moving and assuring that everyone is responding. You just need to be able to make sure that you can hear all the answers to figure out who has them right and that you can give reinforcers appropriately. If your kids are working in this type of group, they probably are able to use a token board or praise as the primary reinforcer.
Response cards are another way to use the same type of activities from choral responding but each student answers with a card of the answer. I’ve talked about response cards before in this post. Essentially response cards are a way that every student has a card with a set of answers. It might be yes/no, a clothespin card with 3 options they pick from (like the picture), or you could differentiate some with this approach if every student gets a different type of card to use. In the picture, the students I was working with were doing a transportation unit. I pulled out a picture of a form of transportation and they each had a card and had to use a clothespin to indicate if it goes on the land, in the water or the sky. You have to take some time to teach the students how to use the response cards, but it’s easy to scan the group and see who has the right answer and everyone has a trial with each direction.
Clearly you have to make sure you can use all the elements of DTT are provided with consistency and you need to have a way to take data that is easy to manage in a group. I often use the discrete trial data sheets from my DTT kits with multiple students on a page or my group data sheets you can see here.
So, have you used discrete trials in group settings? How have they worked for you and what tips do you have?
Until next time,