Years ago one of my responsibilities was to help train new paraprofessionals to work in special needs classrooms. One of the things I would stress was that the way we teach any skill is to instruct, model, practice, praise. It's so simple really. How does anyone learn anything? There is some kind of instruction - usually a person acting as a teacher explaining to the learner. Then the teacher shows the learner how to do the new things. Next the learner tries it themselves, practices, the new skill. Finally the teacher praises what worked in practice and begins again with instructing and modeling what didn't work.
Repeat as needed.
We've all learned this way. Think of learning to tie your shoes or ride a bike or do a task analysis or create an alternative assessment portfolio! Someone told you, "Pick up the laces and cross them..." or "Choose the standard you want to assess...." They showed you. Maybe you practiced with hand-over-hand support, maybe you saw samples of the process, maybe you tried it on your own. When you got it right there was acknowledgement and praise. (Though in the case of alt-assessment I wouldn't count on it.)
It is such a natural process we don't think about about it. I wonder, however, why when we are teaching learners with significant special needs we forget that this is how to teach a new skill? Especially when it comes to augmentative and alternative communication! We often don't instruct much at all and we rarely model. We skip straight to the practice and sometimes we even turn the practice into testing. Testing has no part in learning. Testing, if it happens at all, is for after we teach a new skill; after we have instructed, modeled, practiced and praised.
Yet we have all seen this and some of us have done it - the endless testing by drilling the student or asking them to do a task before we explained or showed them how to do it. I am not sure why we do this. Maybe it is the never ending drive to collect data at any cost? Maybe it is the crunch for time that happens with feeding and ADLs and everything else that needs to happen? Maybe we have simply lost touch with the way that teaching looks?
Worse yet some teachers blame the student for failing to learn when they never actually instructed or modeled. They say the student is "too low". They say the student "isn't ready". They say the student "hasn't met mastery". How can this be if the teacher hasn't taught?
What would it be like in our classrooms if we looked at each task our students are asked to learn and then used this natural way of teaching a skill? What if we tossed aside our "ask, ask, ask" mentality (which is really testing) and turned to teaching? What can you do to return to teaching by using the steps of instruct, model, practice and praise?