Tip of the Week: Using Economy of Language in Your Teaching

Sometimes our learners don’t comply with instructions simply because they don’t fully understand what we are asking of them. At times, I find myself making the error of using too many words when I give directions, especially if I’m in a rush during a transition. For instance, I might say “Grab your shoes, put them on, and meet me by the door.” A few seconds later my learner meets me at the door, but with no shoes.

Using economy of language in your teaching. I may feel frustrated or irritated, but ultimately I realize my instructions are provided in a poor manner. I am at fault! It would have been more effective to point towards the shoes and say “Shoes on.” In his book Teach Like A Champion, Doug Lemov refers to this as Economy of Language, a phrase that essentially means the fewer words you use, the clearer your message. (It should be noted here that Teach Like A Champion is written for ALL teachers, not just special education teachers. This is a strategy that works across the board!) This is especially true when working with learners who struggle with listening comprehension, attention, or multi-step directions.

Here are a few suggestions to help you with economy of language:

Plan ahead. I actually write out instructions that I will be providing often and plan precisely how I will be giving them. I might plan a few variations, but, especially when working with young learners with autism, I want to provide lots of opportunities for success, then build to more complex instructions.
Consider hand signals. I often pair a hand signal with an instruction. For instance, one of my current students often sticks his fingers in his nose during instruction. I pair “Hands down” with a hand motion in which I move my hand from about shoulder-height to my lap (down). This is helpful because the learner also comprehends the signal, and I can begin providing the signal without the vocal statement. This allows me to provide instructions without interrupting the lesson.
One step at a time. Be aware of your learner’s listening comprehension and attending skills. If you notice that your learner is often only completing the first or the last thing you asked, this is a good indication that you provided too many instructions at the same time.
Avoid lengthy explanations. Sometimes I’ll hear an adult say something like “You need to hurry up and put your shoes on because your father is going to be here in a moment and we need to meet him outside and get in the car quickly so you’re not late for swim practice.” This is an easy trap to fall into, especially if vocalizing the explanation is helping you remember everything you need to do during a transition, but it may result in inaction from your learner.
Take a deep breath. If your learner is not responding correctly to instructions you’ve provided, step back, take a deep breath, and think about how to simplify the instruction.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Pick of the Week: Executive Function Books & Curricula

Executive function is a set of mental processes that help us organize, make plans, focus our attention, remember things, and juggle multiple tasks. This week, you can SAVE 15%* on any of our books on executive function in students with autism. Use use our promo code EXECFXN at check-out!

Executive Function Books

Unstuck & On Target is a robust classroom-based curriculum book that helps educators and service providers teach executive function skills to high-functioning students with autism through ready-to-use lessons, materials lists, and intervention tips that reinforce lessons throughout the school day. Topics touched upon include flexibility vocabulary, coping strategies, setting goals, and flexibility in friendship. Lessons will target specific skills, free up the instructor’s time, fit easily into any curriculum, ensure generalization to strengthen home-school connection, and best of all, make learning fun and engaging for students in the classroom! The guide also comes with an accompanying CD-ROM that contains printable game cards, student worksheets, and other materials for each lesson.

Solving Executive Function Challenges is a practical resource for parents, teachers, and therapists helping high-functioning students with autism improve on their executive function skills. To be used with or without the curriculum Unstuck & On Target, this book contains strategies to teach EF skills, including setting and achieving goals and being flexible, as well as ideas for accommodations and actions to address common problems, such as keeping positive, avoiding overload, and coping.

Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents explains how executive function processes develop and why they play such a key role in children’s behavior and school performance. With more than 24 reproducible checklists, questionnaires, planning sheets, and assessment tools, this manual provides step-by-step guidelines and practical tools to promote executive skill development by implementing environmental modifications, individualized instruction, coaching, and whole-class interventions.

*Promotion is valid until May 24, 2016 at 11:59pm EST. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with anyother offers, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged for cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at differentroads.com, enter promo code EXECFXN at checkout.

Pick of the Week: Self Management Planner, created by Daniel Sundberg, PhD

Created by Daniel Sundberg, PhD, the Self Management Planner offers a better way to organize your life and check things off your to-do lists, utilizing the concepts and principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to help you to get more done!

The Self Management Planner is designed specifically for users who have busy and frequently changing schedules and want something that will do more than schedule time in the day. Not only is this planner perfect for effective time management and organizing your activities, but it also allows to set and track your goals (it even includes graph paper so you can watch your progress!).

This week, save 15% on the full-page Self Management Planner and the compact Self Management Planner and get a head start on keeping your New Year’s resolutions on track! Enter our promo code PLAN2016 at check-out to redeem your savings.

This is a perfect tool for those data collectors out there who are looking for an excellent organizational and record-keeping tool. The Self Management Planner includes:

  • Appointment book with full 18.5 hour days and 7 day weeks, to accommodate those who work on variable schedules
  • A tutorial on using the planner, appointment book, and measuring your success
  • A guide to setting long term goals, and figure out ways to accomplish those goals
  • A system for that allows you to select and track your daily activities. People have used this section to track a huge variety of important things like spending, hours billed, driving mileage, activity goals, and more.
  • Graphs to help you see and track progress on your goals
  • Lined note paper
  • Blank date periods that allow you to start the planner on your own schedule to prevent page waste
  • Weekly and daily to-do lists
  • Space to make note of all day events

Don’t forget to use our promo code PLAN2016 this week to take 15% off your order of the Self Management Planner, now available in two different sizes!

Tip of the Week: Sticking to Your Intervention

Recently I received a phone call from Barbara, the mother of a 14-year-old boy who was displaying inappropriate behaviors on the train during his commute to school. We had put an intervention in place that had been successful for two months. But Barbara reported that it wasn’t working as well anymore, and the inappropriate behaviors were increasing in both intensity and frequency.

Barbara was concerned and fearful that her son’s behaviors could put him in danger. As we began discussing each incident in detail, it became clear that Barbara and her son’s other caretakers had unintentionally stopped following the intervention. A strong intervention will have multiple components, so straying from the intervention is quite common for both parents and teachers (including myself). It’s important to try to address it before it happens to help ensure long term success for your learner.

There are two simple strategies you can implement to help everyone stick to your intervention.

  1. Close up of woman writing in plannerWrite it down. Some parents I work with choose to print out the steps for their child’s intervention and place them near their computer or in their wallet so they see it on a regular basis. Having access to a reminder of the steps can be an essential part to ensuring success. For example, one of the steps in Barbara’s son’s intervention was access to his favorite comic books with new comic books available every 7-10 days. Barbara put a recurring reminder in her phone that was scheduled to appear every 7 days. Having the visual reminder helped Barbara and her husband stay on schedule with replacing the comic books in their son’s travel backpack, as well as stay on track with all the steps involved in the intervention.
  2. Check in on a scheduled basis. Barbara and I have set up monthly conference calls for the two of us and any other adults that supervise her son on the train. Each call lasts about 30 minutes and focuses specifically on maintaining the intervention, promoting independence, and systematically reducing the supports her son requires. Depending upon the behavior, you may need to check in more or less frequently.

Barbara’s son has now gone eight months without experiencing any increases in the inappropriate behaviors he once displayed. Because Barbara has instituted the two strategies above, we have also been able to systematically reduce the number of prompts and the frequency of reinforcement so that her son is coming closer and closer to independence.

**Name and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the identities of my clients.