Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Improving Discrete Trial Instruction by Paraprofessional Staff through an Abbreviated Performance Feedback Intervention

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Improving Discrete Trial Instruction by Paraprofessional Staff through an Abbreviated Performance Feedback Intervention

Article excerpt


We evaluated an abbreviated performance feedback intervention as a training strategy to improve discrete trial instruction of children with autism by three paraprofessional staff (assistant teachers) at a specialized day school. Feedback focused on 10 discrete trial instructional skills demonstrated by the staff during teaching sessions. Following sessions, staff received verbal praise from a trainer for skills displayed correctly, and clarification/redirection was given contingent on incorrect performance. As demonstrated in a multiple baseline design, staff rapidly acquired the discrete trial instructional skills with intervention. Improved instruction was maintained up to 11 weeks post-training, and procedures were judged highly acceptable by staff. The benefits of performance feedback, and issues related to staff training, are discussed. KEYWORDS: performance feedback, staff training, discrete trial instruction, autism.


Discrete trial instruction (DTI) is an effective teaching methodology for children who have autism (Lovaas, 1987; New York State Department of Health, 1999). DTI is based on principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA), emphasizing systematic presentation of learning opportunities, prompting accurate responding, delivering positive reinforcement, and correcting response errors. With DTI, learning objectives are defined in behavior-specific terminology, acquisition criteria are established, and progress is measured through continuous data collection. Many educational settings for children with autism incorporate DTI as an integral component of service delivery (Green, Brennan, & Finn, 2002; Maurice, Green, & Foxx, 2001).

Paraprofessional staff members frequently teach children who have autism and accordingly, must be trained to deliver instruction properly. Many staff training protocols have been researched, and although different strategies are possible, several key elements are noteworthy (Ducharme & Feldman, 1992; Ivancic, Reid, Iwata, Faw, & Page, 1981; Parsons & Reid, 1995; Shore, Iwata, Vollmer, Lerman, & Zarcone, 1995). First, training should be practical and time efficient for both trainers and trainees. Training programs that are complex, labor intensive, or require inordinate oversight are unlikely to be embraced by most human service agencies. Second, the training they recieve should be judged favorably by staff. Like other behavioral interventions, acceptability by practioners is a critical determinant of social validity (Kennedy, 2002). Finally, competencies acquired during training should not deteriorate but instead, be maintained long-term. For most educational settings serving children with autism, easily implemented staff training, which produces lasting effects and has good social validity, would be valued by administrators, practitioners, and learners alike.

The study described in this report evaluated a training program to improve DTI by paraprofessional staff at a school for children with developmental disabilities. In a recent study, Lavie and Sturmey (2002) trained assistant teachers to perform paired-stimulus preference assessments using verbal review, videotaped demonstration, and performance feedback. Similarly, Moore et al (2002) used performance feedback, which was combined with written scripts, verbal review, rehearsal, and modeling, in training teachers to conduct functional analyses. Each study documented rapid acquistion of target skills but neither reported maintenance outcomes. Further, although the multicomponent training programs designed by Lavie & Sturmey (2002) and Moore et al (2002) may be required to achieve optimal results, it would be advantageous to identify an approach that is less rigorous but equally effective. In the present study, we selected abbreviated performance feedback as a singular training method, measured outcome several months post-training, and assessed staff acceptability of the training program. …

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