Behavioral Skills Teaching
Learn the basics of this user-friendly, effective, and research-tested teaching method.
The following six-part process will guide you through the steps of teaching a new skill using Behavioral Skills Teaching (BST).
Review each step completely before beginning the teaching process. Printable versions of this information are available for download below.
The goal of this process is to teach caregivers, staff, and others how to use Behavioral Skills Teaching (BST) to teach learners new skills.
- Teacher: the individual (caregiver, staff, loved one, friend) who is using BST to teach a learner a new
- Learner: the person who is being taught a new skill using BST
This should initially be taught in the environment in which the learner will be using the skill. For example, if the teacher is using BST to teach a learner the skill of putting on a mask, the skill should be practiced in all areas where they will need to put on a mask (home, school, car, grocery store, etc.) If this is not possible the skill can be taught in the home environment and this can be moved to the community for generalization and maintenance at a later time.
Task list (see Step #2) and any materials necessary for the skill completion (for example if you are teaching mask-wearing you will need 2 masks; one for the teacher and one for the learner. If you are teaching hand washing you will need access to a sink, soap, hand towel, etc.)
To complete a task analysis for any skill the teacher must consider all of the smaller steps that need to be completed to perform the skill. For example, if you are teaching a learner how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, there are several steps you can think about.
- Get the bread, jelly, and peanut butter out and ready.
- Get a butter knife.
- Get a plate.
- Get two pieces of bread.
- Put them on a plate, and so on, until the task is complete.
These steps may need to be broken down into smaller steps depending on the learners' skills/abilities. One way to complete a task analysis is to complete the skill yourself and write down the steps as you complete them. You can have another individual try to complete the steps based only on your instructions and find where there may need to be more details or additional steps based on your observations.
Another way is to have someone else complete the skill, and you write down the steps as they are completing them. This allows you to have an outside perspective of the steps and skill completion process. Task lists will be used throughout BST and should be developed by the teacher prior to working with the learner. (See handout of task analysis and example task analysis).
This is where the teacher provides the learner with a clear description of the skill or behavior they are learning. In this step, the teacher includes the rationale or the why the skill is important to or for the learner. The teacher should provide examples of when to use the skill and when not to use the skill.
This is where the teacher shows the learner how to perform the skill. The teacher will act out the skill in its entirety (using the previously developed task list) as the learner watches. The teacher should do all the steps on the task list, and have the learner follow along.
This modeling provides the learner with some tangible knowledge of how to perform the skill. Learners will be more likely to complete a skill successfully if they have watched it be done successfully by someone else. In modeling, it is helpful to have someone that the learner likes/respects modeling the skill. This creates buy-in on the part of the learner.
This is where the learners can practice the new skill. In rehearsal/role play the learners use the previously modeled task list to complete each step of the skill. Here teachers observe the learner and use a data sheet (or an additional copy of the previously completed task list) and mark down correct and incorrect step completion. If the learner completes a step correctly, the teacher will mark a positive, so that praise can be given during the next section. If a learner completes a step incorrectly, the teacher will mark a negative with the specific feedback they will give the learner during the next section.
During this step, the teacher gives feedback to the learner about what they did well, and what they can improve on. After each practice or rehearsal session, the teacher will tell the learner how they did - giving specific feedback. The teacher should use the data sheet (or an additional copy of the previously completed task list) that they completed in the Rehearsal/Role-Play section to give specific feedback. For best results, teachers should praise to correct at a 4:1 ratio (4 praise statements to 1 corrective statement) whenever possible.
Attending is the act of checking for learner attention. For example, checking if the learner is looking at the teacher or person modeling. Can the learner repeat back the step? Is the learner watching the teacher? Is the learner distracted by other items/toys etc in the room?
Behavioral Skills Teaching (BST)
BST is an evidence-based behavior analytic intervention that is used to teach learners new skills.
When the learner engages in the skill or activity as explained (correctly).
- Positive praise - This is the final step in BST, where the teacher provides the learner with positive praise and corrective feedback about their role-play or rehearsal of the skill, providing the learner with specific, positive statements about what they did correctly in completing the target behavior.
- Corrective Feedback - Corrective feedback provides the learner with specific, corrective statements about what they did incorrectly in completing the target behavior. Corrective to positive praise statements should be on a 1:4 ratio, with one corrective statement balanced with four positive praise statements).
Using hand signals and pointing techniques (without words) to prompt a learner to engage in a specific behavior.
When the learner does not engage in the skill or activity as explained or does other activities outside of the correct response during rehearsal and/or roleplay (incorrectly).
The teacher provides step–by–step instructions on how to perform the skill. Teachers should use the previously completed task list and instructions with the learner to teach them how to perform the skill. This can be done verbally, with pictures, with gestures, or in a way the learner learns best.
The learner is the individual who is being taught a new skill using BST.
The teacher completes each step of the task list in real-time, for the learner to observe. The teacher should be modeling correct step/skill completion and use the task list the learner will use.
Providing the learner with positive statements (for example, "great job!") or gestures (such as a high five or thumbs up) when they engage in the target behavior.
The teacher explains to the learner, in the way the learner learns best (words, pictures, or a combination) why the skill is important to them, how they will use the skill, and when not to use the skill (when appropriate).
The step in BST where the learner practices the skill for themselves, typically done after modeling from the teacher and following the task list created.
When the skill involves social interaction or interactions with others, rehearsal can also take the form of role-playing (where the learner and the teacher are practicing the skill together). This is done often in social skills teaching.
Shaping involves providing reinforcement or praise for approximations of a skill. For example, you may praise the learner for engaging in a portion of the skill, even if this skill is not done entirely. This encourages the learner to continue practicing, and you can shape the appropriate behavior.
A written/visual list of the steps needed to complete a given skill (often thought of like a checklist with all of the smaller steps required to complete a skill).
The individual who is helping the learner gain a new skill using BST.
A verbal prompt is when the teacher verbally encourages the learner to engage in a step of the skill or a portion of the skill.