Intro Part 5: The Four Guiding Principles of PT

Precision Teaching has four guiding principles: (1) Focus on Directly Observable Behaviour, (2) Frequency as a Measure of Performance, (3) The Standard Celeration Chart, and (4) The Learner Knows Best (White, 2000).

Focus on directly observable behaviour. PT focuses on directly observable behaviour that can be accurately counted and recorded (Neal, 1981). To define and operationalise what constitutes observable behaviour Lindsley (1991, 1997) devised the dead person’s test. If a dead person can exhibit the same behaviour then it is not a valid behaviour to count. Additionally, behaviour is not considered and counted in isolation but takes in the dimension of time spent behaving by counting specific movement cycles. Precision teachers must ensure that when defining behaviour that the behaviour is (1) observable and therefore countable, (2) you are  counting movement itself, and not the absence of movement (e.g., sitting still or not swearing), and (3) ensuring that it is a movement that you are counting rather than a label (Alper & White, 1971; White, 1986, 2000).

Frequency as a measure of performance. Lindsley discovered through his research that frequency was between 10 to 100 times more sensitive to detect changes in patterns of behaviour than percent correct (Lindsley, 1995). Traditional measures of academic performance are usually taken using percent correct as the measure, but this measure does not inform sufficiently about performance change, because it leaves out the most important information—that of time taken to complete the activity (Eshleman, 1992; Lindsley, 1995). Additionally it ignores the fact that corrects and errors can differ in frequency independently from each other, and as such are not mutually exclusive (Binder, 1996, 2001). Within a PT framework frequency of correct and incorrect scores in academic tasks can provide additional information that affords insight into each pupil’s proficiency at a particular subject and goes beyond what can be discerned from percentage correct data (Kubina & Morrison, 2000).

Standard Celeration Chart. PT involves the use of SCC (see Figure below) to display performance data obtained from timed probes and are used to obtain a ‘snap-shot’ of the child’s performance on that skill. These charts possess a calendar scale along the x-axis to accommodate 140 successive days and a multiply-divide scale on the y-axis; according to precision teachers changes in behavioural frequencies are best represented both graphically and mathematically in multiply and divide proportional changes. As a learning chart the SCC has several advantages over standard display methods typically used: it offers the potential to record the full range of frequencies of human behaviour from 1 per day to 1,000 per minute—which in turn allows the discovery of functional relationships between two or more behaviours; it allows performance data to be monitored over an entire semester on one single visual display; the log scale allows the measurement of celeration (rate of learning over time); it can be used as an effective ‘diagnostic tool’ to accurately predict future performance, guide instructions, and measure the effects of interventions introduced to attempt to increase the rate of learning (Lindsley, 1995; Neal, 1981; White & Neeley, 2003). The SCC has been described in detail in a number of previous publications (Calkin, 2003, 2005; Graf & Lindsley, 2002; Pennypacker, Gutierrez Jr., & Lindsley, 2003; White & Neeley, 2003),


Figure showing a likeness of the daily Standard Celeration Chart.

Learner knows best.  This is one of the most important of the guiding principles, as it emphasises that the learner is at the centre of the learning process. And that the learner’s data when viewed on the SCC will guide the teacher in making effective decisions for that individual in a timely manner (Lindsley, 1972, 1995).

As White (1986) succinctly points out:

“Essentially, in order to be responsive to the pupil’s needs the teacher must be a student of the pupil’s behavior, carefully analyzing how that behavior changes from day to day and adjusting the instructional plan as necessary to facilitate continued learning. Precision Teaching offers a set of procedures designed to assist in that process” (p. 1).

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The Four Guiding Principles of PT by Dr Mike Beverley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Alper, T., & White, O. R. (1971). Precision teaching: A tool for the school psychologist and teacher. Journal of School Psychology, 9(4), 445-454.

Binder, C. (1996). Behavioral fluency: Evolution of a new paradigm. The Behavior Analyst, 19(2), 163-197.

Binder, C. (2001). Measurement: A few important ideas [Electronic version]. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 40(3), 20-28. Retrieved from

Calkin, A. B. (2003). Some comments on precision teaching. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 4(1 & 2), 1-4.

Calkin, A. B. (2005). Precision teaching: The standard celeration chart. The Behavior Analyst Today, 6(4), 207-213.

Eshleman, J. W. (1992). A behavioral measurement parable. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 9(1), 6-19.

Graf, S., & Lindsley, O. R. (2002). Standard Celeration Charting. Poland, Ohio: Graf Implements.

Kubina, R. M., & Morrison, R. S. (2000). Fluency in education. Behavior and Social Issues, 10, 83-99.

Lindsley, O. R. (1972). From Skinner to precision teaching: The child knows best. In J. B. Jordan & L. S. Robbins (Eds.), Let’s try doing something else kind of thing (pp. 1-11). Arlington, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.

Lindsley, O. R. (1991). From technical jargon to plain English for application. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 449-458.

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

Lindsley, O. R. (1997). Performance is easy to monitor and hard to measure. In R. Kaufman, S. Thiagarajan & P. MacGillis (Eds.), The guidebook for performance improvement: Working with individuals and organizations (pp. 519-559). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Neal, D. (1981). The data‐based instructional procedures of Precision Teaching. Education Psychology, 1(4), 289-304. doi: 10.1080/0144341810010402

Pennypacker, H. S., Gutierrez Jr., A., & Lindsley, O. R. (2003). Handbook of the Standard Celeration Chart: Deluxe edition. Concord, MA: Cambridge Center for the Behavioral Sciences.

White, O. R. (1986). Precision teaching-precision learning. Exceptional Children, Special Issue, 52(6), 522-534. Retrieved from

White, O. R. (2000). Lindsley and Precision Teaching  Retrieved 9 January, 2006, from Athabascau University Psychology server)

White, O. R., & Neeley, M. (2003). An overview of Standard Celeration Chart conventions and practices [Electronic version]  Retrieved August 22, 2007, from


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