Generalization is the ability to perform a skill learned under one set of conditions under a different set of conditions. It means the child demonstrates the skill with a different adult, in a different setting, or with other different components. When a child receives ABA services in a home, clinic or community setting, you must plan for generalization in school.
Generalization in school requires getting the teacher on board unless the child spontaneously demonstrates the skill in the untrained setting. Teachers may resist an outsider offering advice or intruding on the classroom. This makes it difficult to ensure that skills generalize from settings outside of school to the classroom. Here we offer 5 ways to make this process easier:
- Understand the teacher’s perspective
- Ask open-ended questions
- Be a support, not a judge
- Teach basic ABA strategies
- Prioritize skills
1. Understand the Teacher’s Perspective
It can be tempting when planning for generalization in school to go into the situation as the expert. After all, you taught the child the skill you want to generalize. To encounter success, you must change this mindset.
Consider why the teacher may not want to invite you into her classroom or listen to your advice about her student. When you walk into the classroom or sit at the conference table, you tread on the teacher’s home turf. In the school, the teacher is the expert, you are a visitor.
The teacher you want to get on board has her own set of skills and experiences. She runs her classroom based on her past experiences and reinforcement history. Her teaching methodologies have been reinforced in the past. They work for her. When you come into the school and ask her to change her practices, she’s naturally going to assume you don’t approve of her teaching.
Find a balance between insisting she help in your quest for generalization and allowing the child to continue with “business as usual” once he steps through the door of the school. Take a step back and see how your request might be perceived by the teacher and use this to frame your request to appeal more to the teacher’s needs.
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions
There’s no doubt one thing you and the teacher have in common is a shortage of time. Entering a meeting each of you considers the mountain of other tasks looming. Regardless, make building a rapport with the teacher one of your top priorities.
As you would when first beginning work with a child, you must take the time to establish that you care about the teacher, her needs, and her as a person. Find some commonality you share. Ask questions to draw her into conversation. Ask:
- About her favorite thing about being a teacher
- What her biggest struggle is
- How long she has been teaching
- What age group she enjoys teaching most
These questions may be related to the current situation, but doesn’t need to be. It’s more important to focus on the relationship than the information exchanged. Asking questions shows that you’re interested in what she has to say. It makes her a valuable asset to the exchange rather than just the receiver of your wisdom.
3. Be a Support, Not a Judge
When walking into the classroom or a meeting with the intent of discussing changes to a child’s programming, the teacher naturally feels on the defensive. Who are you to judge her teaching methods?
If the goal of the meeting is to discuss generalization in school, the teacher’s instincts are on alert. Essentially, she expects you to tell her that her teaching methods are wrong and she is waiting for you to tell her to change them.
Surprise her by assuring her you are there as a support, not a judge. Avoid false praise, but everyone has strengths. Point out things she does well that helps the child. Point out any ABA techniques the teacher already implements in the classroom. In her article ABA in Schools -Essential or Optional?, Linbald (2006) discusses how teachers naturally incorporate some elements of ABA in their everyday teaching. Find where this teacher uses ABA and compliment those strategies.
Everyone needs help at some point, but not everyone is comfortable asking for it. The teacher may see asking for help or advice as a sign of weakness or incompetence. Point out some of the ways that you’re flawed or some things you have found difficult. Tell stories about some of your less successful moments and how those moments led you to learn a new skill. When others see that you accept your own flaws or weaknesses then they may become more open to accepting your ideas. It may seem counterintuitive, but often people prefer to take advice from people who make mistakes than people who appear perfect.
4. Teach Basic ABA Strategies
Providing the teacher with some basic ABA strategies she can use to help all of the students in her class may allow her to understand the basis of your recommendations. Understanding why you recommend a specific strategy or ask her to include a specific skill builds her recognition of the bigger picture.
Once you have the opportunity to take the floor and share your knowledge, it can be tempting to provide an info dump. You may feel drawn to impart all the reasons why ABA is superior to other types of interventions. Stick to just the basics. Start out with these foundational skills:
- ABCs and behavioral context
Avoid forcing this information upon her. Presenting too much information all at once or before she’s ready may backfire and make her more resistant.
Refrain from appearing to have all the answers to any challenge she presents. Many times teachers present excuses or reasons why your ideas won’t work in their situation. Acknowledge the teacher’s feelings about this and don’t tell her she’s wrong. Offer a choice between strategies that are likely to achieve similar results. This will likely receive a better response than insisting she must implement the strategy you present.
5. Prioritize Skills
When generalization is your main objective, you likely go into the school with your own agenda and list of skills you want to target. To get the most buy-in from the teacher, find out what skills would make the biggest change in her day and make those the priority. For example, if the child struggles with independently putting his things away and this is a skill the child has in his repertoire, prioritize this over other skills regardless of what skills you deem to be a higher priority.
Beginning with skills that are most likely to positively impact the teacher’s day. As her everyday teaching experience improves, so will her openness to your ideas. By making those skills most likely to improve her day, you tell the teacher that she matters. You enforce the idea that you’re a support for her. She will then welcome your feedback and ideas.
Spread Generalization in School By Building Collaborative Relationships!
Go give this a try! Taking the time to build this relationship with the classroom teacher results in big generalization gains.
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