Precision Teaching

Precision Teaching is an instructional approach for accelerating students' development in basic skills and knowledge areas, for improving instruction, and for monitoring the effectiveness of instruction that we use in our practices. It does not take the place of any curriculum; rather, it adds a “fluency” component.

National Institutes of Health research published in 2000 supported fluency—the capacity to recognize words easily—as an essential element in a combination of techniques for teaching children to read and for reading comprehension. This concept is now recognized in some mainstream teaching methods. Starting fluency training at the level of reading connected text, however, jeopardizes success when more basic, or “foundation”, skills are weak (proficiency in naming letters and producing the sounds which they make as well as instantly recognizing frequently occurring words). Moreover, the need for fluency extends well beyond reading connected text to what are typically classified as “speech and language” skills: articulation, vocabulary, basic language concepts, and word finding. In spelling, it is necessary that letters are formed quickly in addition to being formed accurately. In written composition, it is necessary not only to write quickly but also to access the spellings of words quickly. The importance of students' proficiency in basic skills--so that they can use those skills independently in more complex tasks--is well-documented by Precision Teaching research.

Precision Teaching’s evidence base dates to 1964. Ogden Lindsley developed a charting tool for the analysis of instructional effect which uses rate of a particular behavior per unit of time. The chart produced shows changes in rate of acquisition of particular skills being taught and practiced. It also allows teachers to quickly assess the acceleration of students’ performances over time.

Eric Haughton’s study of correlations between basic (component or tool) skills and skilled performance mastery (composite skills) led to his discovery and ability to demonstrate that rapid performance of component skills is necessary for growth of composite skills. He developed methods of determining:

  • What skilled behavior looks like when measured;
  • How specific performance behaviors can be classified according to the way a student takes in and produces information (termed learning channels);
  • What minimum levels of speed and accuracy are necessary in order to maintain steady performance;
  • What rate beyond accurate but hesitant performance is necessary so that increased error rates and negative feelings are precluded;
  • What growth in underlying rates leads to growth in related rates of higher-level skills?

Adding a fluency component means that we teach skills that students practice until the skills are not only accurate but performed at a rate which ensures that they are retained and maintained even without practice, that the skills are available even in taxing or distracting learning situations, and that the skills can be transferred to more complex skills or knowledge tasks. In other words, students learn to be proficient and to perform without hesitation in addition to being accurate. Moreover, when skills and knowledge are secure, students are confident rather than resigned to an inability to learn.

We chart students' progress according to correct responses during timed practice. We share students' progress with them. Both students and teachers can identify the difference between struggling performance and fluent performance, and teachers can make adjustments in teaching or target the skill components necessary for fluent performance.

More detailed information about Precision Teaching is available at the websites for the Haughton Learning Center, The Fluency Factory, and Morningside Academy.