The problem many of us over eager, venti-coffee amount of enthusiasm teachers have sometimes is we don’t know when to just shut the heck up and wait. We are bustling over with to-do lists and schedules and once you are in get-it-done mode there is just no stopping you. But today let’s talk about we sometimes it is critically important to take a breath and just wait. I know. Waiting sounds painful. It sounds wrong. But our over zealous work ethic can be our own worst enemy sometime and we get so caught up that we aren’t giving our kids enough time to process and respond. The wait time is so important. It gives our kids a chance to be independent and correctly respond. Removing that wait time can cause prompt dependence and really inhibit our students’ potential at being independent. So PSA for everyone: simmer down (I am also talking to myself…).

So this week we’ve been talking all about prompts and the overarching theme is how important it is to utilize prompts correctly and then fade them out. One effective way we can fade prompts is using a time delay. A time delay inserts a set amount of time between the natural or teaching cue and our prompt.

How you use a time delay:

When utilizing a time delay, start with a zero second (i.e. no) time delay – so it will basically be like errorless teaching. For the first few trials, give the prompt right away so the student knows how to respond. Then after several trials, increase the time delay. For example, you may start with 2 seconds. If the student does not respond within 2 seconds – provide the prompt. If the student responds before the 2 seconds, provide loads of reinforcement. Once the student is successful and responding under the 2 seconds for several trials, increase the time delay. Now wait until 4 seconds to provide the prompt. Continue on. If the student does not respond with the 4 second time delay, move back to the 2 second time delay. 

The key to time delay is planning and data. Set the criterion ahead of time. Plan how many sessions you will do at 0 seconds before moving to the first time delay. Determine what the mastery criteria is – how many times do you want the student to respond within the time delay before increasing the time delay length? Take data on this. It can easily and quickly get confusing if you don’t have a data sheet to track what you are doing. Write the plan in simple terms at the top of your data sheet. I like to track prompted correct (PC), prompted incorrect (PI), unprompted correct (UC), and unprompted incorrect (UI) using those abbreviations on my data sheet. If the student responds before the prompt it is counted as unprompted and if it’s after the prompt it is prompted!

There is no magic number of trials or days you should stay within the 0 second or 2 second time delay. It depends on the student’s level of functioning and the difficulty of the task. This is where data majorly comes in to play. If you’ve moved along too quickly, you will know and you can scale back. 

Time delay works really well with verbal prompts. Another key component to time delay working successfully is making sure the reinforcement you give for the unprompted responses is better than the reinforcement for prompted responses. So if Johnny responds before the time delay and says the color blue on his own – give him 3 m&ms and praise but if you are using a 2 second time delay and he doesn’t respond and you provide the verbal prompt “bl…” and then he says blue only provide praise. You want the independent responses to be getting more reinforcement so your student is motivated to engage in those responses more!