Before we can get into any heavy duty academics, we need to ensure that our students can follow some basic instructions. Some students struggle with receptive language processing meaning they have a hard time understanding our verbal cues and prompts. Think about how many times in one day we tell our student or child to do something. “Put this in the garbage.” “Sit down.” “Come over here.” We need to not expect our kids to always understand and comprehend these directives in-situ. There is a lot going on when we give this quick commands. Our students need to comprehend this statement over the commotion of a busy classroom maybe when they were previously involved in another task. So it’s essential to work on one step commands in isolation in direct instruction.So it’s important to start to slowly build concrete basic receptive language skills by working on following one step instructions. Following directions is a critical functional and academic skill.
How to Teach One Step Commands:
- Choose Commands. Pick 3-4 different commands to work on. If you focus on 1 or 2 – the student will have a good chance of just guessing the correct response.
- Errorless Learning. Start by physical prompting the student. This is called errorless learning. Say, “Do this” and show your student the motion. Then immediately physically prompt them to do the same movement. Provide praise and reinforcement.
- Fade Prompts. Start to fade your physical prompting. See if the student can either initiate or finish the movement on his own. Provide extra reinforcement for any response that is partially independent.
- Use High Powered Reinforcers. Use the good stuff – cheetohs, goldfish crackers, or iPad. Limit access to these special treats except during these instructional time periods.
- Provide Error Correction. Once you have faded prompts and are working on mastering each comment – make sure to handle errors correctly. When a student responds incorrectly, say a simple no and represent the movement. Do not provide reinforcement for errors. You don’t want your student to just try loads of different movements and then get the reinforcer.
- Repetition is key. Keep at it. This takes time! It won’t come overnight. Keep taking data and working on it consistently.
Once one step directions are masted, it’s important to also work on two step (or multi-step) directions in the same way as well. We are constantly giving multi-step directions so this will help increase the functionality of this skill!
Tips for Teaching Multi-Step Commands:
- Make sure one step commands are mastered. Does your student have a wide range of simple one step commands that are mastered? Can those skills generalize into the natural environment? If you ask your student out of context to stand up – do they do it? You don’t want to build your receptive language castle on a faulty foundation. Ensure that these are mastered first before moving on to more complex skills.
- Combine mastered one step commands to begin teaching two step commands. Work on this in isolation during direct instruction time. Provide high powered reinforcers for correct responses. Provide error correction for incorrect responding.
- Prompt appropriately. Don’t over prompt and get students reliant on your prompting. Errorless learning is a great approach to take here. Model and physically prompt for the student the correct response and slowly fade off so they are responding independently.
- Use visuals. Visuals are a great way to show what to do without over prompting.
- Take consistent data. Data is key here! You need to see how your student is progressing on this skill. Data sheets and program guides for one-step and two-step commands are included in our Discrete Trial Data Set 2.