Study about Fluent Teaching

A summarization of the study from the Carbone Clinic:

The Effects of Varying Teacher Presentation Rates on Responding during Discrete Trial Training

(Carole A. Roxborough, BCABA, Vincent J. Carbone, BCBA, and Gina Zecchin, BCABA)


A significant amount of children diagnosed with autism engage in high rates of escape and avoidance behaviors (Koegel, Koegel, Frea and Smith, 1995) during instructional sessions. Additionally, self-stimulatory behavior (such as rocking and hand flapping) in children with autism often interferes with acquiring new skills and conducting simple discrimination tasks (Covert and Koegel, 1972). When self-stimulatory behavior is reduced learning occurs at a higher rate (Covert and Koegel, 1972).

Therefore, one of the fundamental aims for many children with autism may partially depend on teachers manipulating instructional variables in ways that lead to improved learner attention to teacher directed activities for reasonable periods of time each day. (Drash & Tudor, 1993).

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a method which is modelled after Skinner’s (1968) three term contingency arrangement, whereby a stimulus is presented by a teacher, a response is evoked, and a consequence follows the response in order to strengthen or weaken its likelihood of occurring again under similar conditions.

The implementation of DTT has yielded long term benefits for children with autism (Lovaas, 1987, Smith, 1999, McEachin, Smith & Lovaas, 1993). However, the high demand requirements of Discrete Trial Training may evoke problem behavior such as tantrumming, flopping, high rates of self stimulatory behaviors, aggression, and self injury. Smith (2001) explains "... children with autism may attempt to escape or avoid almost all teaching situations, as well as any requests that adults make of them" (p. 89).

As a result, a full conceptual understanding related to the modification of instructional variables that reduce escape, avoidance and self-stimulatory problem behavior during discrete trial training of children with autism appears essential.

Manipulation of instructional variables related to the consequence of behaviors such as reinforcement and extinction have been extensively studied in the behavior reduction literature. Recently, additional emphasis has been placed upon the manipulation of antecedent variables to reduce interfering behaviors when teaching persons with developmental disabilities and autism (Carbone, Morgenstern & Zecchin (2006).

Little research has focused on the effects of teacher rate of presentation of instructional demands as an antecedent variable. Only two studies that included autistic children have measured the effects of teacher rate of presentation of instructional demands. Both of these studies (Koegel, Dunlap, & Dyer, (1980) and Dunlap, Dyer & Koegel (1983)) manipulated the duration of inter trial intervals (ITI) resulting in either slow or fast pace presentation of instructional demands. ITI was defined as the duration of time between the delivery of the consequence for one behavior and the presentation of the next instructional stimulus or demand.

Koegel et al (1980) investigated the functional relationship between ITI duration and correct learner responding in children with autism. The researchers used both long durations which ranged from 4 seconds to 26 seconds and short durations which range from 1 to 4 seconds. Results demonstrated that shorter duration of ITIs produced a higher rate of correct responses and a decrease in self stimulatory behaviors.

Dunlap et al (1983) replicated Koegel et al’s (1980) study and then extended the findings by precisely measuring occurrences of self-stimulatory responses in their participants who were children with autism. Results from this study found that self-stimulatory responses decreased with shorter ITI and correct responding increased.

The effects of teacher presentation rates on other topographies and functions of problem behavior frequently emitted by children with autism during intensive teaching sessions has been investigated with various manipulations of ITI’s (download article for a full review).

The purpose of the research:

There were four aims of this study:
  • To replicate the findings of other researchers regarding the effects of altering the pace of instructional demands on the occurrences of problem behavior and correct responding during instructional settings with children with autism.

  • To examine the effects of teacher rate of presentation of instructional demands with children with autism who exhibited self-stimulatory behavior and responses that appeared to be maintained by a history of social reinforcement.

  • To measure opportunities to respond and magnitude of reinforcement as a function of faster vs. slower rates of teacher presentation of demands.

  • To measure three rates of presentation commonly recommended in instructional programs for children with autism.


Two children with a diagnosis of autism receiving a combination of school and home based intervention using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) with emphasis upon teaching communication skills using B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior were used in this study.

Both children’s program included one-on-one intensive teaching in the form of Discrete Trial Training interspersed with learning opportunities in the more naturalized environments in the home setting. A similar program was implemented for both children in the school setting for part of the instructional day.

Both participants exhibited high rates of disruptive behavior during instructional sessions and therefore were selected to participate in this study.

Setting: All of the experimental sessions were carried out in the home of each participant. The instructional setting for each child was in the family living room where a television was available to display videos as a form of reinforcement. Each child was seated at an instructional table. A video camera was also set up on a tripod next to the instructional table for purposes of recording each session.

Dependent variables, Response Definitions and Measurement Procedures:

The dependent variables which were measured were:
  • Frequency of problem behavior (self-stimulatory behavior; aggression / self injurious behavior, bolting from the instructional table) that interfered with instructional demands were exhibited

  • Frequency of teacher presented instructional demands

  • Magnitude or duration of reinforcement

  • Percentage of correct responses

Each of the dependent variables was measured following each experimental session by transcribing the responses from the video recording of the session. A data recording sheet developed specifically to measure frequency of problem behavior, frequency of instructional opportunities, frequency of responses per session, magnitude of video presentation as a form of reinforcement, and percentage of correct and incorrect responses was used.


Using an alternating treatment design teacher demands were presented at the rate of every second, every five seconds or every 10 seconds during experimental sessions. For example, a teacher might hold up a picture of an object and ask the learner "what is it?". Instructional demands which were presented 1 second after the participants responded were referred to as the fast teacher presentation condition. Instructional demands which were presented 5 seconds after the participants responded were referred to as the medium teacher presentation condition. Instructional demands which were presented 10 seconds after the participants responded were referred to as the slow teacher presentation condition. A non baseline alternating treatments design between 1, 5 and 10 second was implemented randomly.


Two sessions were conducted a day each lasting 10 minutes. Throughout each session the instructor presented instructional demands either every one, five or ten second interval. Instructional techniques including error correction, prompting procedures, types of skills presented, number of demands before a reinforcer (schedule of reinforcement), interspersal of mastered and target skills and mixing of skill domains were held constant for each participant across all three experimental conditions. All problem behavior during teaching trials was recorded as instances of problem behavior. The opportunity to view about a minute of a preferred video was used as reinforcement.


Results indicated that both learners engaged in higher rates of problem behavior during the slow teacher presentation. Both learners were presented with more instructional demands during the fast presentation. Both learners received more reinforcement during fast presentation than the medium and slow paced conditions. Results also indicated that both learners produced more responses during fast paced condition that the medium or slow paced conditions. Results also showed that there was no difference in percentage of correct responses for either learner during the three conditions.


Consistent with findings from previous studies, the results of this study illustrated that fast paced instruction produced positive outcomes on the frequency of problem behavior, magnitude of reinforcement, number of instructional demands and the number of responses for the participants in this study. However, the results of this study failed to illustrate that faster rates of instructional presentation increases correct responding. Despite this, the results promote the importance of fast paced instruction for children with autism.

A limitation of this study is that only a small number of participants were used; future research including a functional analysis of problem behavior prior to the implementation will add to an analysis of the differential effects of pace of instruction related to the functions of problem behavior.

This article is a summary of the original paper which can be downloaded here

Please note that every effort has been made to condense and provide a broad overview of this research, however in order not to lose the key information some of the information in this summary has been copied directly from the original article. All credits of the summary whether directly worded or re-worded are solely given to the researchers.

Please contact your ABA/VB consultant before implementing any of the procedures conducted in the paper on your child.

To download as PDF, click here

For the permission to post this study we thank: Dr. Vincent Carbone, Ed.D., BCBA

For the summary great thanks to: Miss Georgiana Elizabeth Barzey.


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