Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Yes/No Series - Part Six

 "Best Yes" and Rewarding Successive Approximation

Shaping, simply put, is rewarding the small steps that lead to a large success.  Also known as "rewarding successive approximations" I call it, "Close enough is good enough, for now."  By which I mean that if we reward a first time step towards meeting a goal and then each tiny step closer we will eventually get there.  Shaping is baby steps.  In the case of yes/no this starts with something known as "best yes".

A "best yes" is any response our student with complex communication needs gives us that indicates affirmation.  A slight head movement, a smile, clapping hands, stopping a rocking motion or a change in affect any of these is a best yes - and it is ok, at first, to accept any one of these from the same child.

With careful observation (including video, if needed) and data collection we can determine which "best yes" we can shape into a consistent "yes" response.  We want our vision of the consistent "yes" to be something noticeable and clearly understandable by all who interact with the individual regularly.  

For some children we may need to accept that the "best yes" and "close enough is good enough" is how things will be for a while and reaching a consistent yes might take years and years.  We may wonder or have to respond to others wondering if the "best yes" we are accepting is "intentional" on the part of the child.  The thing about a "best yes" is that intention is irrelevant.  We teach intentionality by assuming intentionality.  Repeat it with me, "We teach intentionality by assuming intentionality."  We are not delusional or Pollyannas when we act like that slight and inconsistent response is a "yes" - we are teaching!  Make a banner and hang it across your classroom if you must, "We teach intentionality by assuming intentionality!" When we reward that "best yes" we teach the child that repeating that "best yes" will lead to a reward.  We teach intentionality by assuming intentionality.

Watch this clip from the 1970 French film, An Infinite Tenderness, look for all the "best yes" responses and how the same child uses different "best yes" answers.  (The story is a puppy love story between these two children, the boy on the left and the girl on the right, it is told completely without words.  You can watch it on Netflix.  It is amazing.)

By combining our observed "best yes" and our vision for a consistent "yes" we can create a plan in which we reward the "best yes" we want to shape until it is consistent.  This means offering highly motivating rewards and waiting for the "best yes" before giving the reward.  

Once the "best yes" is consistent we up the ante.  We model the next successive approximation, offer a highly motivating reward and give the reward when the child gives us the new and improved, consistent  "yes".  This might mean we initially give the reward for a slight drop of the chin (working towards a nod) and once that is consistent we give the reward for a deeper drop of the chin.  Then we repeat with the next approximation until we have achieved our vision of a consistent, noticeable and understandable "yes".  (Which might mean the next approximation is a deeper chin drop and then a slight lift of the head and then a deep chin drop and a full lift of the head.)  We may have to have different expectations at different times - a slight smile is ok after a severe seizure or surgery but on a good day we expect a smile and a nod.

Shaping must be used with all of the other teaching tools in our tool boxes.  With students who have severe, complex or multiple needs one method is usually not enough for success!  

{As an aside it is obviously best for the end result to be universally understood like a spoken response (yes/no yup/nah, ok/nope), a head gesture (nod/shake) or hand motion (thumbs up/thumbs down). If this is not possible something slightly less universal but common with individuals with disabilities is a good choice such as signing yes/no, looking up for yes/down for no or blink once for yes/twice for no.  However a creative yes/no is better than a lifetime of trying to force someone to speak or nod/shake when it is too difficult.}

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