Intro Part 4: Precision Teaching—What is it?

One evidence-based educational method that has had almost six decades of success is Precision Teaching (PT). PT was founded and coached by Ogden Richardson Lindsley (Lindsley, 1995). Lindsley had been one of B. F. Skinner’s PhD students and many of the fundamental principles of PT stem from the free operant research originally carried out in Skinner’s laboratories (Lindsley, 2002). Free operant in this context refers to “students are free to respond at their own pace without having restraints placed on them by the limits of the materials or the instructional procedures of the teachers” (Lindsley, 1995, p. 10). Additionally PT uses frequency of response as its measure of effectiveness: Skinner reported that his greatest two contributions and legacy to science was his use of frequency (or rate) as a measure of performance and the cumulative response recorder (Evans, 1967; as cited in Lindsley, 2010, p. 23).

PT can be given an arbitrary starting date of 1964; this was when Lindsley published his seminal paper (Eshleman, 1990; Lindsley, 1964). PT has been effectively applied with many different skills and with many different populations; ranging from children with special needs (Gryiec, Grandy, & McLaughlin, 2004; McDowell & Keenan, 2001; Zambolin, Fabrizio, & Isley, 2004); children in mainstream schools to college students (Johnston & Pennypacker, 1971; Vieitez, 2003) and the elderly. Even though PT has been shown to be effective across different time periods, settings and curriculum, there is still resistance to adopting the approach (Kubina & Yurich, 2012).

PT is not, as its name might imply, a method of teaching; it can be effectively applied to any curriculum area and at any instructional level. PT is “basing educational decisions on changes in continuous self-monitored performance frequencies displayed on ‘standard celeration charts.’” (Lindsley, 1992, p. 51). It has been further described as “a system of tactics and strategies for the self monitoring of learning” (Lindsley, 1997, p. 537). PT is fundamentally a method of measuring learning that can help teachers make timely decisions about the effectiveness of teaching for each child, and help teachers ensure that every child in a class maintains successful learning.

PT can be best viewed as a system that provides an effective learning navigation tool that guides both the teacher and the learner along the most effective, direct path toward a skill frequency aim in the shortest possible time for each learner (Hughes, Beverley, & Whitehead, 2007). The value of precision teaching lies in identifying a subject area in which the child is failing to progress, followed by a daily session of teaching, fluency building, monitoring and evaluating progress in order to optimise learning (Lindsley, 1992).

It is argued that children start to experience problems in learning when they are moved onto skills that are more advanced without having acquired the prerequisite fluency performance on the basic skills. For example, a child who is not fluent at multiplication tables would likely have trouble when asked to complete a more advanced task (e.g., long division sums) that requires them to use multiplication skills. Similarly, if a child is not fluent at saying the sounds of alphabet letters, they will likely experience problems when they come to read words that contain those letters.

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Eshleman, J. W. (1990). The history and future of precision teaching. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 7(2), 18-27.

Gryiec, M., Grandy, S., & McLaughlin, T. F. (2004). The effects of the copy, cover, and compare procedure in spelling with an elementary student with fetal alcohol syndrome. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 20(1), 2-8.

Hughes, J. C., Beverley, M., & Whitehead, J. (2007). Using precision teaching to increase the fluency of word reading with problem readers. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 8(2), 221-238.

Johnston, J. M., & Pennypacker, H. S. (1971). A behavioral approach to college teaching. American Psychologist, 26, 219-244. doi: 10.1037/h0031241

Kubina, R. M., & Yurich, K. K. L. (2012). The Precision Teaching Book. Lemont, PA: Greatness Achieved.

Lindsley, O. R. (1964). Direct measurement and prosthesis of retarded behaviour. Journal of Education, 147, 62-81.

Lindsley, O. R. (1992). Precision teaching: Discoveries and effects. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(1), 51-57.

Lindsley, O. R. (1995). Precision teaching: By teachers for children. Journal of Precision Teaching, 12(2), 9-17.

Lindsley, O. R. (1997). Precise instructional design: Guidelines from Precision Teaching. In C. R. Dills & A. J. Romiszowski (Eds.), Instructional development paradigms (pp. 537-554). NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Lindsley, O. R. (2002). Our Harvard pigeon, rat, dog, and human lab. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 77(3), 385-387.

Lindsley, O. R. (2010). Skinner on measurement. Kansas City: KA: Behavior Research Company.

McDowell, C., & Keenan, M. (2001). Cumulative Dysfluency: Still evident in our classrooms, despite what we know. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 17(2), 1-6.

Vieitez, D. E. (2003, May). Precision teaching and SAFMEDS in a college course. Paper presented at the Association for Behavior Analysis 29th Annual Convention San Francisco.

Zambolin, K., Fabrizio, M., & Isley, S. (2004). Teaching a child with autism to answer informal questions using precision teaching. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 20(1), 22-25.


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