Hey! Apologies for the long silence. As many people reading this may know, September is a mad month! I should be back in the game now.
A large part of most programmes should consist of natural environment teaching (NET). This refers to teaching in typically occurring daily events; basically learning away from the table/clinical setting. For younger learners, this could be through play, for older learners, it could be out in the community.
It’s a good idea to choose (where possible) motivating topics to embed your teaching. This way learning is fun! Make a list of all of your current targets, next to a list of your learners’ favourite topics/games, and see how you can relevantly incorporate the different targets among them. For older learners, targets may lend themselves to a more functionally oriented programme (as opposed to a developmentally sequenced set of targets), so it’s a good idea to set your targets based on the common environments the learner accesses (e.g. setting goals across all of the verbal operants based on going to the shop, local swimming pool, train station etc). A good way to plan all of this is to create a NET lesson plan for yourself. Be sure to include easy tasks also, as we should always strive to follow the teaching procedures outlined in my previous blog.
Here’s an example NET lesson plan for a younger learner (sheet derived from Carbone Clinic)
The best thing about NET is that you can make it so fun that the learner doesn’t even see it as ‘learning’ (in the boring sense of the word). A big part of ABA is programming responses for generalisation, and NET is a great opportunity for this. Lesley Love, the teacher/BCaBA who hired me originally at Treetops, always said that every part of the day was a teachable moment, not just the time spent in the classroom, and challenged us to take advantage of every moment. This has always stayed with me. It’s also a good opportunity to model lots of appropriate skills, such as play skills/functional skills, and to constantly model appropriate vocal behaviour (you should always be talking, I never shut up!).
It’s been my experience so far that therapists (myself included when I first started!) find table work easier, because it’s structured. It can be more challenging to teach in the natural environment, but we must strive to, it’s really important. I found the best way to get better at NET was planning. The NET lesson plan is a gift, organisation and preparation is key. Saying this, the therapist also needs to be flexible enough to adapt to unplanned for teaching opportunities.
Another point to make is that the child’s VR (schedule of reinforcement (how many responses are required before something good for the learner happens)) can often get overlooked, and as a result more problem behaviour can occur during NET, so be mindful of this.
Plan well, have fun, and use every moment. Get yourself in the natural environment and have a right nice time.