As you may have noticed, I have been writing a regular column highlighting one of the 28 evidence-based practices (EBPs), otherwise known as ‘things are have a lot of proof behind them that they really work’ in helping people with autism (Steinbrenner, 2020). This is a recently updated list from Wong’s earlier work (2016) outlining 27 EBPs. As an educator involved in the field of inclusive education and as a parent working to support my own kiddo, I am all about finding what really works and excited when new developments like this occur. Each month, I plan to highlight one of these 28 EBPs for you.
This month, I plan to highlight the EBP of ‘modeling’. This has nothing to do with catwalks and designer clothes, of course, but more to do with intentionally showing a learner what we would like them to know or do. We will be highlighting the background, details, highlight some examples and hopefully show you how this EBP can be a tool you can utilize often. As usual, modeling can be used in conjunction with other EBPs that we have highlighted in the past, as one piece of a larger puzzle. In fact, research shows that modeling is most effective when used with prompting and re-enforcement (reference past articles for more specific information on either or both of these EBPs if you are interested). Note: Much of the information in this article is from the related AFIRM online module (link below).
Modeling is the demonstration of the target skill or behavior before the learner is expected to demonstrate it. It involves the learner actively observing someone correctly performing that target skill/behavior. Modeling is usually used to increase a target behavior. Simply put, it is clearly showing the learner exactly what is expected to achieve the goal (before it is about to be performed). Note: Try to model the skill/behavior as close to the learner trying or doing it. Have as little time as possible between modeling and the performance of the task to ensure it is fresh in their mind (especially if there are multiple steps). For those into technical jargon, we call that ‘priming’: getting the person all ready to perform successfully.
For example, if the learner was starting a new job and didn’t know how to clock in, instead of simply telling them, one could act it step by step while the learner was paying close attention. This is an active way to also ensure that success is more likely to occur the first time. If a learner was going to begin loading the dishwasher, watching someone model what is expected first and then having them do it themselves right afterwards is a great example of using this EBP. Modeling could also be used to increase social skills as an appropriate greeting or lunch time banter could be demonstrated right before the learner enters the social situation. This gives them more of an idea of what it ‘looks like’ and ‘sounds like’ than just having it to be an expected skill. Academic skills can also be targeted with modeling as we can show what is expected beforehand. For example, showing long division step by step (include a visual with the steps for future attempts if needed) while the learner simply observes is less stressful (for all involved) and therefore the information may ‘stick better’ too.
To make it even more powerful, model, prompt and/or use a re-enforcer for a higher chance of success. One neat point is to provide a re-enforcer to ensure that the learner is really paying attention to the person modeling the skill/behavior. They may not be that interested at first and may not find it very motivating to pay attention to the demonstration. Find positive ways to ensure they are watching and are invested in the process! Learning anything new can be daunting and challenging so this can just be a very helpful and simple support. Modeling may seem very obvious but there are many times I realized I have just assumed a skill was known or I rambled off too many verbal directions and the chance of success was slim to none. It may take a bit more time and effort but the small investment may pay off with huge dividends.
By always modeling before the skill or behavior is expected, it helps the learner avoid frustrating errors. This helps to build both confidence and skill at the same time: a total win/win! When acquiring a new skill, providing a chance to initially learn and practice in an ‘errorless environment’ is a very positive way to get momentum. (Providing an errorless environment is when you try to ensure that all of the things that could go wrong, do NOT go wrong and that success is almost a guarantee.) I know for myself, if someone has specifically shown me something I will try for the first time, step by step, I am much more likely to at least attempt it. Why do you think ‘how-to’ YouTube videos are so wildly popular? Because they work!
If you are interested in checking out the free online AFIRM modules, here is the link (will take you to the social narrative module in particular as I am highlighting this here).
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Carmen has been published in a variety of online and print articles. Writing is a passion and she strives to grow and share her message.