What do you do when a learner you’re working with errors? In this blog, I’m going to talk about how to perform an error correction procedure. I got into this field because I loved working with kids and I wanted to teach them more skills. I loved seeing the progression, but when students errored, I would freeze up. When things were going properly, it was great. It was easy. But freezing up and erroring was a real thing. I would say touch red, and a student would touch blue so I would say “No, this one’s red. This one, this one right here. It’s red, it’s red, this one.” I seriously looked like a deer in headlights.
It wasn’t until about a month in that my supervisor watched this and said, “Shayna, like let me just walk you through this error correction procedure.” She wrote this simple thing down on paper and I had this “aha” moment. So now I want to show you what that error correction procedure looks like.
What is an Error?
First of all, we should talk about what a child or adult error looks like. An error is when a student makes a mistake or just does not respond at all. So if you give the instruction and you say, touch red, and you wait, and the student doesn’t respond, that’s an error. If they don’t respond within about two to three seconds, I would mark that as an incorrect response.
Another type of error is when they scroll. Scrolling happens when you ask a question and a student goes through all of the possible answers because they want to get the reinforcement. Going back to the color example, if I point to red and say “what color is it?” but the student says “yellow, blue, red,” that would be a scroll.
A student can also just make a mistake. So if I say touch red, and they touch blue, or what color is it, and they say yellow instead of red, that’s an error. So that’s really what an error looks like.
Errors come in various forms. If you’re doing any type of life skill tasks, like teaching the student to wash their hands, and the task is drying their hands with a towel. If they walk over to the toilet paper instead of the paper towels, that’s an error, right. But what you do when students error is a specific error correction procedure. This is a little bit different than a prompt. Usually with an error, it happens after the behavior. So the behavior occurs, then the student errors, and then you have to correct them. If you prompt ahead of time, that would be a prompt.
How to Perform an Error Correct Procedure
You’ll start with collecting data on your first trial. If you give the SD for touch red and the student touches blue, then you would mark that as incorrect. That would be an incorrect trial and you don’t give any reinforcement. Then you would do a transfer trial. I typically take all the cards off the table and then I put the cards back on the table. Then I would say, again, touch red. But right away, I’m going to predict that error. I’m going to prompt because I have a feeling the student might touch blue again. So if I say touch red, I’m right in there with my prompt. Prompts can look different for different things. But really, it’s about the least intrusive but most effective. You really don’t want to be doing a lot of physical prompting with the students you’re working with. It could be a simple gesture, modeling, matching, or something else that works.
After the student responds to my prompt, I’ll give some differential reinforcement. Differential reinforcement means a little tiny bit of something for an okay response or a huge party for an independent response. So if I say, touch red, and I know the student is going to touch blue, I’m going to be right on that red. As soon as they touch red, I’m gonna go “Wow, great job! That’s red.” That’s my critical reinforcement, my praise.
When to Use Error Correction ABA
I might do transfer trials up to three times. The second time around, I’m going to say touch red and I’ve got my finger ready. But I’ve got a faded prompt. I’m about ready to touch that red, I see that student go in and right away, I need to get in there quickly before the student can error. I will touch the red if the student is not going for the red. Then I would say that one’s the red one. Let’s try that one more time, touch red. Again, my fingers like shaking and getting ready for that red. If they touch red independently without my prompt, then that would be when I would give more reinforcement.
I typically do a transfer trial up to three times if the student is still erroring. Three strikes, you’re out. Making errors is frustrating – even for us. I don’t want to continue to make errors. If they get it correct without a prompt, on the second try, move on. If they need up to three tries, and they’re still getting it wrong, then move on.
During your transfer trials up to three times you’re not collecting data. It’s really just teaching. Then what you would do is squeeze in an expanded trial. Aan expanded trial is like a high probability response. Something that’s mastered, something the student’s going to get correct. After a frustrating task, here’s an easy one – like “do this” and you clap your hands.
Conclusion on Error Correction Procedures
Then you can go back to a new trial and collect the data again. Present your SD, touch red, and the student responds. If they respond correctly, that’s when that reinforcement happens. Or maybe you have to go back into that transfer trial sequence.
I use a really great visual that I still sometimes refer to that you can download below. As soon as I show this visual to a therapist I work with I see that aha moment with them and it’s really awesome. In summary, we talked today about what an error is and how to perform an error correction procedure. So download the transfer trial freebie and refer back to this video blog whenever you need that aha moment in your practice.