Using Video Modeling to Teach Skills

In the field of ABA we often talk about using “evidence-based practices” in teaching skill.  What does this mean?  It means that when we are choosing a teaching strategy, we refer to the literature in determining if it has been effective in controlled studies.  Video modeling is an example of an evidence-based practice that has been demonstrated in many studies to be an effective teaching tool.

What is Video Modeling?

Video modelling is a teaching strategy in which the learner watches a video of other people engaging in a desired behaviour and then copies this behaviour.  A child can watch a video of other children playing “Duck, duck, goose” and then be able to play the game.  Or an adult can watch a video of “How to cook spaghetti” and then follow the video to complete the task.

Why Use Video Modeling?

Some children are very good at imitating and learn better from seeing a skill in action than by explaining it.  For example, in teaching a student to play a board game, it might be more effective to show them how to play (in a video) than to explain it.  This is also true for a lot of social skills – the nuances are too many to explain and the visual says more than words could.

It also removes some more intrusive prompting.  Working in the community with some older students, it’s not helpful or appropriate to be telling them what to do all the time.  We often use video modeling to both teach them the skill beforehand and to be able to review the skill with some constructive criticism.

We love a program like “Model Me Kids” for video modeling – they have different videos for different ages and topics!

When to use video modeling:

To teach social and play behaviours: Using a video model has been proven effective in teaching play skills  and conversation skills We recently had a student who had a very difficult time playing with toys.  The open-endedness of “play” left her lost and unable to engage with her toys.  We felt that it was an important skill to teach because she was in a classroom that had a lot of free-play time where they were expected to navigate around the centres in the room.  What did we do? We recorded some video models of us playing with toys – including language. For example, we would rock a doll, say “shhh, baby” and then feed the doll.  We started by teaching two play sequences at a time with the video model and the student was able to copy the videos almost exactly.  What happened then was amazing: after about six different videos, she started generating some novel play AND novel language within play!  After watching and copying so many different video models, it became too hard for her to keep them separate and in her mixing up the different sequences and language, a more natural play evolved!  This newfound interest in play continued during her free time and we often found her imitating the different sequences with her dolls and toys independently!

To teach routines: Promoting independence in daily routines is another great way to use video modeling (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5118254/). In teaching independence, it’s important to stay away from verbal prompting and to be able to fade ourselves out of the scene as quickly as possible.  This can be difficult with many of the prompting strategies if we’re needed to be there to physically or verbally prompt.  However, if a child can learn through video modeling, it provides a nice solution. The student can watch the video and then copy the sequence – all the while keeping the therapist out of the picture.  For example, to teach a student how to unload the dishwasher, have him watch a video of another person doing it and then have him imitate.

How to use video modeling:
  1. Use a video of someone else

In this approach, the learner watches a video of other people engaging in the desired behaviour and then imitates.  For example, in teaching a skill like “greeting a friend”, the child would watch the video of other children demonstrating appropriate greetings.

a) Use children of similar age. Research has shown that the video models are more effective when the individuals in the video most closely resemble the learner.

b) Include role play. It’s not enough to have the student watch the video, answer questions about it and then assume that they have the skill.  We call this the “train and hope approach” – not effective.  Instead, incorporate some role play in the teaching.  We love to include role play of both the wrong way and the right way to use the skill and make fun!

  1. Create your own video

This is so easy to do with technology today.  It can serve two purposes:

a) Catch the learner engaging in the desired behaviour and videotape it to review with him as a teaching tool. If you want to teach your student how to wash his hands, get a video of him doing this appropriately and then have him watch it and imitate it.

b) Videotape the learner doing the skill, even if it’s not the right way, in order to provide praise and some constructive criticism. For example, we had taught a student how to answer the door appropriately.  In order to really hit the point home, we took a video of that student answering the door and showed it to him.  We reviewed it together with things like, “I love how you greeted the person at the door!  But you forgot to say ‘Come in!’  Let’s try it again.”

Then what?
  • Review the video and practice
  • If you know you will encounter that situation, show the child the video of appropriate behaviour right before
  • Make sure it’s working! There is no one-size-fits-all solution of when to use video modeling over another teaching strategy.  With any technique you implement, make sure to continue to take data and monitor of it’s being effective.  If it’s not – tweak as needed!
  • Once mastered in training session, it’s important to plan for generalization! Just because Sally can play a board game after watching a video model of it, doesn’t mean that she can demonstrate that same skill with peers!

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