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Behaviorally-based instruction

We employ several behaviorally-based educational technologies as explained below.

  1. Programmed instruction presented by computer or other means.  This is a method for designing instructional materials. It involves carefully analyzing and sequencing materials to be taught so as to minimize errors and providing immediate feedback to the learner on each instructional step. This maximizes both learning and self-confidence. Instruction is individualized so that each student may learn at his or her own optimal rate. The instructional material is presented through software on a personal computer. The key features of this instruction are these:  

    1. Self-paced instruction. The student studies and learns at his/her own pace.

    2. Immediate feedback on each learning trial. The student learns immediately, as he/she enters each answer, if he/she is right or wrong and can study the correct answer immediately.

    3. Behaviorally designed sequencing of component skills. All competencies are analyzed and broken down into a carefully sequenced series of skills, each of which builds upon the skills learned up to that point.

    4. Prompting techniques are built into the majority of the software to help the student answer correctly and to  minimize errors.

    5. Student-competency is measured at the completion of each chapter.

    6. Chapter mastery is measured by rates correct/incorrect instead of percent correct.

    7. Automatic rewards may be arranged  for chapter mastery, sometimes with computer games.

    8. Built-in Review of previously mastered skills. New chapters both present new material and also review previously-taught skills.

    9. Graphical display of goals and achievement. Some software packages display the student’s rates correct and incorrect on a graph at the end of each pass through a chapter of material.

    10. Mastery of each skill required before advancement. The student is required to master each skill at a certain target level (at or above a pre-designated rate correct and at or below a pre-designated rate incorrect) before he or she is allowed to advance to the next skill in the series.

    11. Integration with behavioral treatment program. The overall behavior modification program, including the point reward/fine system, is employed to motivate the student to learn and make progress.

Much of the instructional program at JRC is carried out through self-instructional materials that employ these principles and that are presented by means of networked computers. The computers deposit student performance data in files that are accessible from the teachers’ and administrators’ computers. This enables a teacher or administrator to monitor progress on a daily basis.

  1. Precision Teaching.  Precision Teaching is technology for measuring and charting learning in terms of rates correct and incorrect. The essence of Precision Teaching is to measure the rates (i.e., the frequencies)  of correct and incorrect responses, for all academic and other skills being taught,  to plot these rates on charts so that the levels and trends can be seen immediately and to take appropriate corrective or other action  based on the charted data. Rates of correct and incorrect responses are a more sensitive measure of progress than the traditional measure of percent correct. Examples of the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly charts that we use may be found by clicking here.  These charts enable the teacher to monitor the student’s progress daily and enable the teacher’s supervisors to evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher’s work. They also enable the students to see and evaluate their own progress, day by day.

JRC networking software enables all teachers, case managers, program designers, administrators and clinicians to view these charts, which are the central means that we use to measure the students’ progress. The charts are updated daily. JRC’s Parent/Agency website also enables parents and agencies to view the charts of the student they have placed at JRC and to keep completely current on the student’s progress.

  1. Behavior modification. JRC has a sophisticated and individualized behavior modification system in which students earn points or tokens by improving their behaviors and in which they can spend points or tokens to purchase various rewards. This powerful point system is also used to motivate the student to do his/her academic and vocational studies.  The better the student performs the more points or tokens the student earns. The student’s treatment team, headed by a clinician, decides what percent of the points that the student can earn will be able to be earned by the student’s academic/vocational work and what percent can be earned by the student’s progress in diminishing the frequency of his problematic behaviors. This allocation, between academics and behaviors, is changed from time to time to reflect the needs and progress of the student. Typically, at first most of a student’s points or tokens may have to be earned only by improving his or her behaviors. Later the percentage of points earned through behaviors is diminished as the students’ behaviors improve, and the percentage of points that has to be earned through academics is correspondingly increased.

JRC serves both emotionally disturbed students who are cognitively intact as well as developmentally disabled students.  The classrooms for the two groups of students are on different sides of the main JRC school building. The above three technologies are employed with both our higher and developmentally disabled students. Specific differences in how they are applied to these two classifications of students are explained below.

Educational Program for Emotionally Disturbed Students

To the left is a picture of a classroom for some of our emotionally disturbed students. Each of our emotionally disturbed students is provided with his or her own personal computer. The student computers are networked and database software allows both the teachers and the educational administrators to keep track of each student’s progress on their own desktop computers.

A “token economy” point system is used to motivate the students to learn. A separate point sheet (right) is used to keep track of the points each student has earned during the day. Students must earn points or tokens in order to purchase various rewards that the school makes available.

Because commercially available educational material is generally not designed in accordance with principles of behavioral psychology, JRC has designed much of its own educational software. JRC has designed computer software programs in key areas such as phonics, reading, writing, spelling (left), vocabulary, science, and math facts and memorization. Commercially available software in areas such as learning to type is also employed.

Many of JRC’s students have failed in public school environments prior to coming to JRC. Some have even refused to attend school – in some cases because they have fallen hopelessly behind the other students. Using JRC’s behaviorally designed self-instruction software, however, all such students find that they can indeed learn, succeed, and even exceed, when they are given the opportunity to learn with behaviorally-designed educational materials. Many are able to recover from academic deficits that they previously suffered from, and re-enter an succeed in a public school environment.

An important byproduct of JRC’s strong use of computers and software is that all of our students become computer literate. Students use the computers to record their own self-management behavior data and to display it in graphical form. They also use computers to practice writing business letters and to send email messages. Each student is taught to type using typing software and most achieve a level of skill in typing that can be a valuable office skill to help secure a job.

The picture to the right illustrates another form in which some of JRC’s educational material is presented—flash cards. The math facts curriculum and the phonics curriculum are made available both through our custom-designed computer software as well on flash cards. Flash cards make it easy for the student to set aside the problems he/she has learned and concentrate on those that need further study. The student times himself with a timer, and when his rate correct and rate incorrect have reached the target levels, the student asks the teacher for a timing test. If the student passes the timing test, he or she is advanced to the next chapter or skill.

In addition to the self-paced learning using computers and flash cards, JRC also provides group instruction so that students will be able to handle more traditional means of instruction when they return to public school (left).

Another aspect of JRC’s educational program is teaching students the responsibility that is involved in having a child. This is called the “Baby Think it Over” program (right). Each of our emotionally disturbed students is required to spend a week taking care of a simulated, computerized “baby” that cries at unexpected times throughout the day and night, must be “fed” regularly (by inserting a key into slot), etc. Once a student spends a week or two taking care of the computerized baby, he or she is likely to think more responsibly about creating a baby and is less likely to think of it as a lark.

JRC prepares students for the high school competency examinations required by their home state such as Massachusetts’ MCAS exams and the New York State Regents Exams. Some students have earned their local high school diploma through their academic work at JRC. Other students may earn an IEP diploma, a Certificate of Completion, or a Certificate of Attendance from their home school district that is awarded at JRC Culmination/Graduation ceremonies (left). For more details about JRC’s educational program click here.

Educational Program for Developmentally Delayed Students

To the left is a picture of a classroom for our developmentally disabled students. Each of these classrooms has a reward area within the classroom, access to which must be earned by appropriate behaviors. In it the students may sit on a couch or armchair and watch TV, listen to music, play a game or just relax with peers. The picture below shows a closer view of a classroom reward store.

JRC’s developmentally delayed students also use computers and JRC-designed custom software for much of their instruction (below).  We have designed a number of self-instructional software courses for our developmentally delayed students. These include unique, award-winning Basic Skills software for our developmentally delayed students that teaches basic skills in reading, receptive language and the use of language, pictures and pointing to request things.

Responses are sometimes entered by means of a touchscreen. The software is primarily designed for self-instruction, but requires occasional participation by a teacher or aide to administer rewards. The software teaches students how to point, how to match shapes, letters and numerals, and how to point to the appropriate picture of an item when its name is given by the computer. Most important, the software teaches the student how to use his or her pointing skills to choose a reward and how to ask for something by saying the name of the item.

To the right is a screenshot from a program that teaches the student to touch a form wherever it appears on the screen. There is also a program that teaches matching forms. This leads to matching letters, matching numbers and then selecting a letter or number after hearing its name. Another program is designed to teach receptive vocabulary in which the student hears the name of an item and then must point to the correct item. Other programs teach the student how to use a computer mouse.

There are two types of reward systems used with this software. For some students we use an automatic reward dispenser (left) that dispenses a small food reward to the student automatically after he or she has completed a certain number of problems. For most students, when the student has completed a certain number of problems on the computer a special screen comes up on the student’s computer. This screen flashes once per second and also emits a periodic beeping noise. Its function is to signal the teacher to come over to the student and to reward him/her for having completed a certain number of problems. When the teacher comes over to the student, the teacher presses a certain key combination that brings up a pictorial reward screen on the student’s computer. The student now points to the picture of what he/she wants for a reward and vocalizes the name of the item. (The teacher provides a prompt for this vocalization if needed.) The computer screen then displays a larger picture of the reward that the student has chosen and the teacher now delivers the reward that the student has asked for (right).

JRC teaches certain students to use the Picture Exchange system to request things and to communicate as a step towards learning to vocalize their wishes. Computer software is employed to teach the students to discriminate among the pictures used in this system, and to present a pictorial reward menu which the students consult before choosing their reward and engaging in the picture exchange procedure with the teacher.

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