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Text Transcript: Behavioural Skills Training for Staff

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to do something, and you had been told how to do it, but you found yourself thinking, “I really have no idea how to do this”?

Or maybe you’ve tried to explain to a colleague how to do something, but when you check back in, you discover that it’s either not being done the way that you had intended, or maybe it’s not being done at all?

Our natural tendency in these situations is to become frustrated – frustrated with ourselves when we can’t perform the skill we’ve been taught to do, or frustrated with the colleague who isn’t following our instructions.

However, that frustration may be misdirected.

The problem may lie with the training, rather than with the implementation.

The good news is that there is a way to fix these problems.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone just arrived on the job with all of the skills they needed to perform the required tasks proficiently?

Realistically, this is unlikely.

Think about your own experience.

If you work in a school, did you start your job on day 1 with all of the skills you needed to support every learner you work with?

If you work with or live with a learner with ASD or diverse needs, did you have all of the skills you needed to support that individual from the very beginning?

I’m willing to go out on a limb here and guess the answer is “no.” The reality is that many of us end up learning on-the-job, or in the situation, and we need someone to teach us the specific skills that are required.

It’s important that we acknowledge that there’s a difference between providing information, or building knowledge, and teaching skills.

In most cases, we’re pretty good at “giving” and “receiving” information.

We’re often not as good at teaching and learning how to “do” things as efficiently and effectively as possible.

So, how can we make the “learning to do” process more successful and acceptable for everyone involved?

There’s a method that has been proven to be effective for teaching others how to carry out an intervention or to learn a new skill.

If you’re an ASD consultant working with a school team, a teacher working with support staff, or an interventionist supporting a parent or caregiver, following a specific series of steps significantly increases the likelihood that the individual you’re teaching or supporting will learn how to do what you’re trying to teach.

The technical term for the process is called “Behavioural Skills Training” or BST.

It’s a straightforward 5-step process that can be used in almost any situation to teach a specific skill.

The key steps are: Providing instruction, which involves describing the skill you want the other person to perform.

It’s also a good idea to provide the staff member with a clear, concise written description of the skill.

Next is modeling or demonstrating the skill.

Then rehearsal, or having the other person practice the skill, which can be done in a role-play situation or in the natural environment, depending on a number of factors, which we will talk about in a few minutes Giving the staff member feedback.

This includes positive praise for the components the staff member does well, and corrective feedback for components that need more work.

The staff member should continue to practice the skill and you should continue giving feedback until the person can perform the skill exactly the way it should be done; and finally, observation in the natural environment.

If the rehearsal and practice of the skill happened in a role-play situation, it is essential that you also observe the staff member performing the skill in the natural environment with the learner.

Sounds easy, right?

But since I’ve already told you that there’s a really big difference between giving information and teaching skills, let’s break the BST process down and walk through the steps to teach you how to do it.

I’m going to use Behavioural Skills Training to teach a staff member to deliver immediate reinforcement when a learner makes a correct response.

The first step is to describe the skill you want the other person to perform.

It can also be helpful to provide a rationale, or to explain to the person why it’s important to learn this particular skill.

In the next video clip, I will describe for my colleague how to deliver immediate reinforcement, and explain why this is so important.

You’ll also notice that I also provide the staff member with clear, concise, written instructions.

It may seem unnecessary to give written instructions after you’ve explained the skill verbally, but there are a couple of important reasons why you don’t skip this step.

First, some people learn and retain information better when they read how to do something than when they hear it explained verbally.

By doing both, you’re covering all the bases.

The other reason is that written, step- by-step, instructions provide a permanent reminder of how to perform the skill in exactly the right way.

It’s a tool they can keep referring back to, to make sure they continue to carry out the procedure correctly.

TEACHER 1: We've noticed lately that Marcus' rate of responding has been less consistent.

I don't know if you have noticed that too?

TEACHER 2: Yeah, for sure TEACHER 1: He's making more errors, he's less consistent, and we want to get his fluency back up.

TEACHER 2: Okay.

TEACHER 2: And one activity we have noticed in particular, is with his sight words.

So to get his fluency back up we're going to increase reinforcement.

So, when you are reading with Marcus, every time he reads a word correctly and quickly, so within one to two seconds, I want you to give him lots of verbal attention, and let him know he has done a good job.

TEACHER 2: Okay.

TEACHER 1: He really likes that, as you know.

TEACHER 2: Yeah, he does.

And after every five to seven words, we are going to provide him with more, so a tangible reinforcement, also some of his favorite things.

TEACHER 2: Okay.


TEACHER 2: Sounds good.

TEACHER 1: So I'll just review that really quickly in writing here.

So you'll show him the word.

When he reads the word quickly and correctly you'll provide some social attention, some verbal praise.

TEACHER 2: Okay.

And after every five to seven words you'll provide some tangible reinforcement.

TEACHER 2: Okay.

TEACHER 1: Sound pretty straight forward?

TEACHER 2: Yeah sure, I think I got it.

Sounds good.

TEACHER 1: Okay Great, After you have provided verbal and written instructions, the next step is to demonstrate or model the skill for the staff member.

This can happen either in a role-play situation, or in the natural environment with the actual learner.

The decision as to which type of demonstration you will use depends on each unique situation.

In some cases, a role-play is preferable because it allows the opportunity to do several demonstrations of the skill, which may not work well for the learner or may not be in his best interest.

Sometimes the natural environment may not lend itself well to a demonstration, particularly if there’s lots going on that would make it hard for the staff member to maintain close attention to the trainer’s model in that setting.

Another consideration is the number of staff being trained on the skill.

If you’re training more than one person at a time, role-play is generally a more effective approach.

The main thing is to consider all of the factors carefully, and to make the decision that will be the best fit for each situation.

In the following video, I will be working with Marcus, modeling how to deliver immediate reinforcement, while my colleague observes.

TEACHER: So Marcus we are going to be practicing reading our sight words.

And what I want to see from you, is for you to read as quick as you can.

I want speedy responses.

These are all words you already know.

Got it?

Do you think you can do that?


And then maybe we can have a spin-off at the end, how about that?

Okay good.

So, ready?

MARCUS: Uh huh.


MARCUS: Scissors.


MARCUS: Thumb.

TEACHER: Just like that!

MARCUS: Garage.

TEACHER: Beautiful!

MARCUS: Alone.

TEACHER: Awesome!

MARCUS: Nurse TEACHER: Excellent!

MARCUS: Danger.

TEACHER: You did that like a champ!

You're so fast!



Who's gonna get it this time?

MARCUS: hm, it's close.

TEACHER: It's close.

I think mine is slowing down, ah you win!


It’s important to mention that it may be necessary for the trainer to demonstrate the skill more than once.

If the skill is a complex one, or if the staff member has questions, the trainer should model the skill as many times as necessary and make sure that the staff member feels ready to try out the skill.

Once you get to that point, the next step is for the staff member to go ahead and try the skill.

Just like the previous step, rehearsal and practice can happen either in a role-play situation with the trainer, or in the natural environment with the real learner.

Again, the decision about which approach to take depends on the best fit for the setting and for everyone involved.

In the next video clip, we’ll show you what it would look like if the staff member practiced the new skill in a role play situation with me playing the role of Marcus.

After my colleague practices the skill, I will give her some feedback on what she did well, and what she should correct the next time.

TEACHER 1: So before you go ahead and practice with Marcus in the classroom.

What I wanted to do, is to give you a little chance to work together with me, and we can do it and try it out.

TEACHER 2: Great, thats good.

TEACHER 1: And we can see if you have any questions.

So, go ahead and remember to provide some verbal feedback as quickly as you can after he gives a correct response.

And then after every five to seven answers you provide something a little more tangible.

TEACHER 2: Okay.

TEACHER 1: Alright, go ahead.

TEACHER 2: Sounds good.

Okay we're going to try some sight words and I want you to try to just read them As quickly as you can, okay?

TEACHER 1: Okay.

TEACHER 2: Great.

TEACHER 1: Towel.

TEACHER 2: Excellent!

TEACHER 1: Music.

TEACHER 2: Awesome, that was really good!

TEACHER 1: Mountain.

TEACHER 2: Ah super quick!

TEACHER 1: Bridge.

TEACHER 2: You're so good at this!

TEACHER 1: Juice.

TEACHER 2: Super!

Let's see, what do we have in here?

Oh, This is fun look!

Are you ready?

TEACHER 1: yeah!

Okay, So that was really great.

What I really liked about what you did is that you provided verbal feedback quickly and immediately after he gave a correct response.

The only thing I would work on, for your tangible, it wasn't quite as immediate.

So you spent a little time looking for it.

TEACHER 2: Oh, Okay Sure.

TEACHER 1: And what that can do is create a bit of a delay between the correct response and the reinforcement, and then you might not end up reinforcing what you want to reinforce.

TEACHER 2: Oh, Okay.

TEACHER 1: So just a little something to work on.

Do you want to try again?

TEACHER 2: Sure.

TEACHER 1: okay.

TEACHER 2: Would it help if I just keep This close beside me?

TEACHER 1: Yeah, good idea.

TEACHER 2: okay I'll give that a try.

Alright, so let's work on some sight words and I just want you to try to read them As quickly as you can, okay?

TEACHER 1: yeah TEACHER 2: Alright great.

TEACHER 1: Mountain.

TEACHER 2: Super!

TEACHER 1: Bridge.

TEACHER 2: Excellent Job!

TEACHER 1: Juice.

TEACHER 2: Oh fantastic!

TEACHER 1: Valley.

TEACHER 2: Wow you're so good at this!

TEACHER 1: Lettuce.

TEACHER 2: Great Job!

TEACHER 1: So that was perfect.

You kept your timing great on your verbal feedback.

And then when it was time for the Tangible reinforcement, you did that quickly as well.

TEACHER 2: Oh good.

TEACHER 1: So that exactly what you will need to do in the classroom.

TEACHER 2: Okay.

TEACHER 1: And we will see how that goes in terms of getting his fluency back up.

TEACHER 2: Alright sounds good.

TEACHER 1: Great.

TEACHER 2: Perfect.

You may have noticed that it took a couple of rehearsals before the staff member got the procedure just right.

This step is one that may require more time, repetition and feedback until the staff member performs the skill correctly.

Depending on the complexity of the skill and the training and experience of the staff member, it may take only one practice run to get it just right, or it could take several.

No matter what, it’s important to continue the cycle of practice and feedback until the staff member performs the new skill correctly.

There’s one more important thing to consider as part of the BST process.

If the rehearsal and feedback were done in a role-play situation, you will also want to be sure that you observe the staff member implementing the skill in the natural environment before you consider the training complete.

In our example, my colleague will need to go and try the skill out with Marcus in the setting where the procedure will typically be carried out.

Just because the skill is mastered in the role-play doesn’t mean that the staff member will immediately be able to perform the skill perfectly in the classroom setting.

The classroom environment is quite different from the role-play setting, so I will want to see her do the skill with Marcus in the setting where it will actually be needed.

This may require some additional practice opportunities and feedback, but in that case, my colleague and I will need to think about how to make the practice and feedback opportunities fit within Marcus’s educational program and his school day.

We may have to do one practice opportunity now, and another one a bit later.

It’s always important to think about what’s best for everyone involved.

As you can see, using a Behavioural Skills Training approach requires a commitment of time.

It is quicker to provide information verbally, and to describe what someone should do, without going through the process of rehearsal and feedback.

However, using rehearsal and feedback until the staff member can perform the skill correctly will increase the effectiveness of the intervention for the learner and will end up saving time for everyone in the long-run.

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