It’s way too easy to fall into a rut of un-reflective discrete trial training (DTT) use. The data is hard to argue with: students work their way methodically to mastery of each item, and when you’re talking about basic identification skills they do master item after item. For many students, they fall into the same rut. It’s comfortably predictable: “I point to this, I get what I want.” Is it any wonder that so many students (and their teachers) have trouble “going beyond” DTT practices? It’s a monster of their own creation.
And so, the question remains: how can we give students that predictable instructional environment without feeding that monster? How can we encourage them to grow as learners while supporting their need for security and sameness in a world that, often, doesn’t make any sense to them?
The first answer is easy: let students stim. That’s a no-brainer. But the second isn’t that far behind: Build on the objects and properties that interest the student. Our students tend to notice and focus on properties no one else is paying attention to. It’s one of their strengths and it’s one of the reasons neurotypical teachers find them hard to reach. They’re busy focusing on how the object tastes or if it flies when the teacher wants them to count! Let students get to know all the properties of the objects you’re working on. (Yes, explore the textures, tastes, how far they fly, if they bounce, etc.) It might take longer to learn to count, but if you step into the learning, use your language learning strategies (e.g. aided language modeling), the student will actually come out ahead on the other side. More importantly, they will come out with their sense of self intact and validated. They will be ready to take on bigger and more complex learning challenges because they have the foundational skills and because they have the belief in themselves as learners. Even the best intended teacher-driven task memorization cannot accomplish that.