Doing new things is hard. We work with learners all day teaching them new skills, so when we attempt to learn new things we can appreciate the amount of effort our learners put in. No matter how much experience we may have, or how many skill areas we are familiar with, we should always be a student and shape our behaviours to be the best we can be. We know how to teach new skills to learners. Does teaching new skills to other professionals and caregivers differ?
What is Behavioral Skills Training?
Behavioral Skills Training (BST) is a method used to instruct staff, parents/caregivers, and anyone who works with learners. BST is a combination of both performance and competency with a particular skill, or set of skills.
We know that sitting in a lecture and reading presentation slides is one common way trainings are done. But how effective or engaging is it? Once the presentation is over, how do we know if the audience has become proficient in this new skill?
The Four Parts of Behavioral Skills Training
BST consists of four parts: instruction, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback. For additional information, read about BST with ABA therapists.
Provide clear and concise instructions to the professionals and/or caregivers. This means that instructions are easy to remember and highlight the main teaching points. Provide these instructions in a visual cue as well (remember, text cues are great visual reminders!).
When people know why they are doing something, it helps to keep their focus on the skills that will bridge the gap in learning.
If we are working on a ‘waiting’ program for a learner, it may look like arbitrarily having learners sit, stand, or engage in a different activity for some unknown reason. When professionals and caregivers understand why we are teaching a skill like waiting, appropriate contexts and scenarios can be taught that will be relevant to the learner.
When parents are doing laundry, cooking dinner, on the phone, or bathing a sibling, it is important for the learner to be able to wait until the parent can safely provide the requested attention. Waiting does not need to be standing still, waiting can be finding another safe activity until the caregiver is available.
As our instructors have this goal in mind, they can simulate scenarios in the teaching environment to build a learners’ waiting repertoire.
Being as clear and concise as possible and providing textual cues is only the first part of the BST process. This is usually where lecture-style trainings may stop. Although I think I am being as clear as possible, misunderstanding is bound to happen.
Misunderstandings are more common than we think. As Robert McCloskey is quoted as saying, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”.
One way to clear up any misunderstandings is to show it to them. Provide an actual model of what is to be done: what it looks like and sounds like. We know that there are different types of learners, so teaching with as many different modalities as possible will strengthen the teaching that we do with professionals and caregivers.
Video modeling is a great tool for our learners, but it is useful for teaching professionals and caregivers too. Whenever possible, in-vivo (in-person) modeling is highly recommended.
When teaching professionals or caregivers how to run a ‘waiting’ program, be the instructor and model how the teaching steps and instructions look and sound. You can use another individual to act as the student, or if possible, use the actual student who will be taught the waiting program.
More and more trainings are including the modeling step in their teaching programs! If you have been to trainings, workshops, or conferences, you may have seen a recording of the program being run with the learner.
To take it one step further, once the professional and/or caregiver has reviewed the instructions, and observed the model, in BST they then rehearse the new skill. Depending on the type of training, professionals and/or caregivers can role play with each other, or if possible, practice implementing the program with the learner in-vivo.
When we work with our learners, we shape behaviour to closer approximations to the terminal goal. This same teaching method is appropriate for professionals and caregivers who are taught using the BST model.
If you are in a supervisory role, we know imposter syndrome can hit hard and giving feedback can be a difficult skill to acquire (no need to worry, you can use BST to work on giving feedback to others!). Remember to provide constructive and positive feedback on their performance, and not focus solely on the areas for improvement.
The BST model of training does not stop once all four steps have been completed. Professionals and caregivers who are participating in a BST training should meet pre-set mastery criteria. If the performance and competency of the professional/caregiver does not meet the mastery criteria, revisit some of the steps and continue to practice.
When providing feedback, start with 1 or 2 improvements at a time. Make sure there is lots of rehearsal to strengthen the skill in their repertoire before adding the next set of feedback.