Challenges Incorporating Applied Behavior Analysis Into Your Curriculum?

Over the past three decades, federal policy and legislation have resulted in significant educational advances for students with moderate and severe disabilities. Federal legislation mandates that all students have access to the general curriculum and specially designed instruction that meets the unique needs of each student (IDEA, 1997).

Simply providing access to the general curriculum is not enough. In 2001, schools became accountable to provide all students with grade-aligned academic instruction across language arts, mathematics, and science while requiring schools to report adequate yearly progress (AYP). This progress is expected on state and district-wide assessments for all students (NCLB, 2001).

With increased accountability on providing access to grade-aligned content and AYP for all students, it is critical for schools and districts to look to evidence-based instructional practices that are proven effective for this complex and diverse student population. The most effective systems of instructional practices often include an applied behavior analysis curriculum.

The Evidence Base

Combined with advocacy and legislation, the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) has greatly enhanced learning opportunities and the quality of life for individuals with severe disabilities in recent decades (Spooner & Browder, 2015). Dating back to the 1940’s, the first study to support the use of operant procedures with a human participant was conducted. A young adult with a severe cognitive disability was taught to raise his arm using a sugar-milk solution as a reinforcer (Fuller, 1949).

As time went on, additional studies were published, providing additional evidence. They showed that individuals with limited skill repertoires and complex challenges could learn skills using shaping procedures and reinforcement strategies. For example, early work in the field of behavior analysis provided evidence that individuals with moderate and severe disabilities could learn skills such as toileting (Azrin & Foxx, 1971), dressing (Azrin, Schaeffer, & Wesolowski, 1976), and tooth brushing (Horner & Keilitz, 1975). ABA solidified its use and proven efficacy in addressing these adaptive skills for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

So, that raises the question, “If the evidence-based practices of ABA have been proven to drive adaptive skill acquisition, why are we not fully using these approaches in the acquisition of academic and functional skills?”

The Effects of Applied Behavior Analysis

Eventually, prominent researchers would argue that students with severe disabilities needed the opportunity to learn functional and age appropriate skills (Spooner & Browder, 2015). This argument pushed researchers to investigate the effects of applied behavior analysis on functional and academic skill acquisition for students with severe disabilities and provided a vast array of evidence supporting the acquisition of important and socially significant behaviors for this population. With federal policy and legislation raising the bar for academic instruction and inclusion of students with severe disabilities, it became important to investigate how the strategies of ABA have influenced the development of evidence-based practices (EBP) which are utilized in the acquisition, fluency, maintenance, and generalization of academic skills. 

A review of the literature quickly indicates that instructional strategies based on the principles of behavior analysis are effective in teaching chained and discrete academic skills for students with severe disabilities. More specifically, researchers found that time delay and task analytic instruction met the rigorous criteria established as having sufficient evidence to be considered EBP’s for teaching academics to this population. Further, a number of studies reviewed taught chained and discrete responses using systematic prompting and feedback (i.e., time delay, system of least prompts, stimulus prompting/fading), error correction procedures and praise, massed, embedded, and distributed trials, and naturalistic teaching. It is also important to note that researchers combined prompting procedures with methods of reinforcement.

In fact, the studies reviewed taught chained and discrete responses using systematic prompting and feedback (i.e., time delay, system of least prompts, stimulus prompting/fading), error correction procedures and praise, massed, embedded, and distributed trials, and naturalistic teaching. It is also important to note that researchers combined prompting procedures with methods of reinforcement.

Current Landscape

While the field has grown to better understand how to meet the needs of students with diverse and complex learning challenges, providing evidence-based instruction and inclusion for students with moderate and severe disabilities pose a challenging and unique task for educators.

Current commercial offerings often:

  • lack the basis of behavior analysis and evidence-based practices
  • are often difficult to navigate
  • lack instructional rigor or alignment to state standards
  • are not appropriate for diverse and complex student populations
  • require too much of teachers and paraeducators who are often not trained or fully prepared to deliver ABA-based instruction.

When faced with such challenges, teachers are often asked to create student-specific resources, modify materials that are not appropriate, or design instructional programs from scratch, adding additional demands to an already challenging workload. The challenge to find a comprehensive, commercially available solution to providing general curriculum access to students with severe disabilities while providing teachers and districts with an easy-to-use platform that provides consistency has left teachers and districts with the task of piecing together solutions that are difficult for teachers to implement.

An All-New Adapted Core Curriculum

enCORE is a comprehensive core solution based on the research of general curriculum access and behavior analysis specifically designed to meet the needs of students with diverse and complex learning challenges. With embedded strategies like time delay, task analytic instruction, reinforcement and error correction, instructional staff are provided with scripted lesson plans with embedded professional development on how to effectively implement EBPs in their classrooms. Even more, each lesson is differentiated across three levels of access, providing teachers with an easy-to-use tool that is appropriate for use with a diverse student population. enCORE is a multi-sensory program delivered seamlessly via multiple teaching avenues:

  • teacher-delivered explicit instruction incorporating hands-on manipulatives that help connect concrete to abstract concepts
  • interactive teacher-delivered technology lessons in flexible instructional settings including
    • one-on-one
    • small group,
    • whole class using tablets or interactive whiteboards
  • adaptive software that students use independently and that is integrated with all teacher-led lessons
  • genuine high-quality children’s literature in the hands of students with moderate to severe disabilities.

This program design provides a flexible and powerful instructional platform for teachers to best meet the needs of their students. For more information, and to get a sample of what enCORE offers, click here.

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