Preventing Over Prompting

Preventing Over Prompting

Special education classrooms are typically a revolving door. I once counted every time my door opened during just one school day. With three grade levels and eight students pushing in and out, plus related services, recess, lunch etc., we counted 126 times the door opened by 14 different adults. With this many professionals in one space, it’s hard to keep track of what skills student needs help with and what they can be independent with. Add in time constraints and we can easily find ourselves over prompting students to finish a task quickly. Here are ways I avoid over prompting in my classroom.

Get Comfortable With Waiting

Chances are you are a prolific communicator. You can hold conversations and communicate your needs quickly and efficiently. As adults, we are used to moving at a quick speed and sometimes need a reminder to slow down and wait with our students. We practice giving students extended wait times before prompting. Extended wait time should be enough time that you are almost uncomfortable with the silence! A good starting point is around 30 seconds of waiting before prompting. The first time you try waiting this long, it will feel like an eternity. Your instinct will be to jump in and give a prompt. Try setting a timer to help you wait. I use the timer on my watch because it’s always with me. If you don’t have a watch with a timer, you can find a timer at the Dollar Store or Dollar Tree. 

Get Comfortable With The Struggle

Growth comes when we are uncomfortable and struggle just the right amount. If we are overly frustrated, we shut down and can’t complete a task. When things are overly simple and always prompted, there is no room for growth. Finding the balance can be tricky. When our students struggle with a task, it’s best to break it down and scaffold the task. See where the student is struggling and work through that piece of the task. This allows for explicit instruction in the areas where the student struggles, but it also gives us valuable information about where to prompt and where to let students work through tricky parts of a task. This student had been working on sliding pieces of the puzzle into the correct spot for SO long. It wasn’t until we really waited it out that we saw he could be successful after a few tries! We really had to sit on our hands to reduce the physical and gestural prompts.

Get Comfortable With a Prompting Plan

Sometimes, we are so used to prompting that we prompt everyone in everything. Be mindful of where, when and how you prompt students. Start keep track of gestural, verbal and physical prompts you are giving. I’d bet you would be surprised at just how often you prompt students unintentionally! To avoid this, make a prompting plan to share with everyone who works in your classroom, including assistants and related service personnel.  In addition, have a plan to fade prompts with students before you start. Finally, use the least restrictive prompt possible. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out the prompting hierarchy found in The Autism Helper’s Paraprofessional Training Manual Part Two. Also, check out Heather’s blog on prompting to help you determine where to start! 

This is one way an ECH rockstar teacher in my district shared the prompting plan with her staff. She was working on independence when packing and unpacking upon arrival and dismissal. Not only does this provide consistency in staff’s prompting, it allows for growth right where the student is performing. Below is an example from an “I Can” board that I created for students. I share mastered goals and goals they are working towards. This helps give staff, related services and subs a quick reference to better understand how to help a student.


Plan a Sabotage

Not everything goes according to plan in life. In fact, often we have to think on our feet and know how to get help if we need it. Once a child has gained a skill, don’t be afraid to throw a little sabotage their way. For example, if your goal is for students to bring their supplies to small group, move the supplies! Or if a child is supposed to put a folder in a bin, move the bin! See how the child responds with a little adversity in a safe environment where you can carefully monitor the situation and help monitor staff prompts/reactions. This not only helps the child apply the newly acquired skill in a different way, it allows you to see if additional skills are needed for the child to problem solve. Independence is always the goal, so to get there, we need to practice what to do if something goes wrong.

The student below had been working hard on copying our buildings designs and we asked him to make a cube with magnet blocks. Our cube was made out of square blocks, and we gave him only triangle blocks. He tried to build the cube, but saw it wasn’t right. After trying to fit together triangles for several minutes he asked for help! This was a HUGE win! Without the sabotage of taking the square blocks away, we would have never seen him ask for help or problem solve.

Remember The Why

Our goal should always be to work ourselves out of a job. I want my students to grow far beyond my classroom and the skills I teach. To do that, they can’t rely on prompts. With a little bit of communication, some wait time, practice, and sabotage we can encourage our learners and fade our prompts, creating independence in and out of the classroom.

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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  1. Great job, Jen!

    • Thank you!

  2. One of the best things I have read on prompting! So practical. Thank you!

    • So happy to hear this was helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

    • Thank you, Kim!


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