Category Archives: Intervention

Intro Part 3: Effective measurement of learning

Measurement of Performance in Education (Why it is Important)

Morningside Academy in Seattle, founded in 1980 by Dr Kent Johnson, is a school that incorporates the measurement of learning into their everyday practice. They guarantee a child’s academic performance to improve by a minimum of one year’s growth in their weakest academic skill, within six-months of tuition and fluency-building practise. As such it is an impressive example of the effectiveness that can be achieved to combat academic failure when performance is measured and the teaching adjusted accordingly to meet the requirements of individual learners (Johnson & Layng, 1994; Johnson & Street, 2004).  Morningside Academy incorporates performance measures to determine each learner’s academic improvement at different times throughout the academic year: daily (micro), weekly or monthly (meta), and once or twice yearly (macro). Data collected for each learner for every skill enable teachers to predict future growth and adjust instruction accordingly to ensure that they maintain the learner on the appropriate learning trajectory to meet targeted progress goals. If such interventions can remediate deficits then learners may be able to effectively move from their current position in this distribution of deficit and approach or even enter the normal distribution of their typically performing peers.

Most schools and educational systems already utilise Macro level systems of measurement (e.g., standardised yearly achievement tests), and these offer benefits of being able to locate children with respect to their peers on key areas of the curriculum. However, these types of measures have three important limitations: (1) they are expensive and time consuming to administer, (2) they cannot identify learning problems when they are first developing, and (3) they typically offer little guidance on how teachers can intervene with specific learning issues.

Continue reading Intro Part 3: Effective measurement of learning


Morningside Academy Summer School Institute (July 2010)

In 2010,  I applied for a place on the Summer School Institute (SSI) to study The Morningside Model of Generative Instruction and to gain practice in teaching using their methods. The Morningside Academy (Seattle, USA) is a world-renowned example of evidence-based teaching. I was lucky enough to be granted a place on the three-week course.


In the Summer School children, aged between 5 -14 years, enrol on the four week programme. Morningside Academy build on existing academic skills, and tailor individualized and small-group instruction to meet each student’s needs. This is achieved through the combination of various evidence-based approaches: two of the main ones of which are adhering to the principles of effective instructional design, and the use of Precision Teaching methodologies to measure learning for each individual child.

Precision Teaching is a system that builds fluency and helps teachers ensure that every child in a class maintains rapid and successful learning. This approach has had considerable success across a number of educational settings and subject areas. Combined with regular teaching it represents a powerful accelerated learning approach. Precision teaching is a general approach that can determining whether an instructional method is achieving its aims. It is not, as the name implies, a method of teaching. It would be more accurately described as Precision Measurement, or Precision Learning because it is primarily a sensitive measurement and navigation tool for learning. 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). Some key methodological characteristics of PT are: component/composite analysis, fluency training, time probes, tailoring practice materials to the progress of individual children based on learning pictures and the use of a standardised graphical display (referred to as the Standard Celeration Chart [SCC]).

Component-composite analysis. This refers to conducting an analysis of each composite (or complex) task in terms of what pre-skills or components are needed to complete that task. Precision teachers believe that children start to experience problems in learning when they are not fluent at some of the basic prerequisite skills that are required to effectively complete a task. For example, a child who is not fluent at simple multiplication or the times tables would likely experience difficulties when encountering maths problems that required them to use times tables in order to complete a more complex task (e.g., long division sums). Another example, if a child is confusing the numbers ‘6’ and ‘9’ because of the similarity in the two numbers, he or she will likely find solving maths problems that contain these numbers more difficult and if a child were confusing the letters ‘d’ and ‘b’, he or she would likely find reading more difficult as in the previous example. Similarly, if a child is not fluent at decoding some of the basic sounds of the alphabet, they will likely experience problems when they come to read words that contain those components. The issue of basic components skills sets extends across all curriculum activities.

Fluency training is a method used to develop speed and accuracy on component skills (Binder, 1991). It is also known as “automatic”, “effortless”, “smooth” and “second nature” (Kubina & Morrison, 2000). It is important because speed is a significant indicator of expertise (Binder, 2003; Chiesa & Robertson, 2000). For example, two children might score the same in a mathematics exercise, but one of the children might have taken five minutes to complete the task and the other thirty minutes. The child who completed the exercise in the shorter time can be viewed as more accomplished. Fluency training cannot only much improve the performance of composite skills, but can improve the learning of new skills (Binder, 1996). It is obvious why: if a child who performs at a slow rate on basic mathematical skills is taught a new and more advanced skill, the child’s learning will be hampered in comparison with a child whose component skills are more fluent. The objective of mastery learning at each stage in the curriculum sequence is “fluency”. Once a behaviour or skill reaches an established aim for fluency particular learning outcomes are expected.

Fluency is usually sufficient to ensure retention and application of skills and knowledge even in the absence of instruction (Binder, 1991). The PT approach concentrates on building fluency in basic skills by giving children plenty of opportunities to practice, until the skill becomes fluent (preformed with ease and without hesitation). This approach is common in other areas of learning: more notably learning to play a musical instrument, martial arts, and sports in general. Precisions teachers believe that this approach is also beneficial to other areas of learning, such as numeracy and literacy.

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More information about precision teaching can be found at, for example, and

Whilst in Seattle, I worked in the classroom with children as well as attending lectures and workshops to improve my skills in Precision Teaching. Whilst working with the children I had the opportunity to further develop the skills I have been acquiring during work on my PhD in Evidence Based Educational Methods at Bangor University. During the last week of the School we had guest lectures from Carl Binder (, Michael Fabrizio (, TV Joe Layng (, and Marilyn Gilbert; these lecturers are world-renowned within the  field.

This trip was invaluable for both my personal development within my PhD and for the development of the year three module that I teach at Bangor. I have now seen and experienced first-hand many of the techniques that I had only learned about from textbooks and journal articles. This trip  allowed me to deepen my understanding of a complex and fascinating subject area and as a result of this, in partnership with my mentor and PhD supervisor Dr. J Carl. Hughes, delivered a free teacher-training event on Thursday 2nd September, 2010 in North Wales. This training event’s focus was to  introduce these methods to teachers currently working in schools, so they were able to use them with their future teaching.


Binder, C. (1991). Marketing measurably effective instructional methods. Journal of Behavioral Education, 1(3), 317-328. Retrieved from

Binder, C. (2003). Doesn’t everybody need fluency? Performance Improvement Quarterly, 42(3), 14-20.

Chiesa, M., & Robertson, A. (2000). Precision teaching and fluency training: Making maths easier for pupils and teachers. Educational Psychology in Practice, 16(3), 297-310.

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

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

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