By Richard McManus
bSci21 Contributing Writer
We know when we get in a car and step on the accelerator that we are moving—we can see the instruments and feel the acceleration. But when we send our child to school we don’t have that same experience. We don’t always know what is happening, and there are no immediate updates. But there could be! What if there was a way to see whether a person was learning—learning to a high level—while the process was going on. What if this instrument for navigating education was simple, accessible and transparent? What if this instrument made it possible to gauge human performance at every possible level—from concert level pianist to beginning reader—and included the possibility of tracking problematic behavior as well as skill development.
This miraculous tool would make it possible to really study and understand various changes that are important to people. What is the best path to excellence in a performance based skill? This tool would make the continuum from beginner to expert clearer, and help to design and deliver more effective curricula. How can such a tool exist? Or better, when can it be created so that we can be certain that a child is learning to read, a middle school student is learning to master algebra, a high school student is mastering the components of the SAT?
If only such a tool could be discovered, it would change our lives.
But wait, this tool exists, and has existed for some time.
It was originally designed so that children in an educational research center could be more quickly understood, so that learning about learning could be rapidly shared. Most of our traditional educational data is displayed on percent correct graphs, with small changes in accuracy accorded a large impact on the graph. Moreover percent correct can only handle academic tasks that are right or wrong—it is an inexact and somewhat inflexible measurement approach. It cannot easily give feedback on performance mastery—so for example, two students might be able to obtain 100% on a test in Algebra. Student A completes the 25 question test in 10 minutes, Student B in 45 minutes. Their grades are alike, but while one of them demonstrates mastery of the test, the other struggled to complete it.
This remarkable tool can illuminate performance on any task or any kind of learning. It shows change in performance over time, and there are thousands of people, primarily behavioral educators, who use this chart as a navigational tool to understand what their students need and to help them improve their skills to the highest possible level.
Although the impact of the use of this chart is amazing, the truth is that it has been rarely used in general education schools. When it was used it was incredibly powerful. How about these for results? Over the course of four years, an entire school, the Sacajawea School, went from “average” performance within a group of other district schools to 90th percentile and above in each of the domains on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
The use of this simple chart allowed the students to build their skills, regardless of where they began, to elite levels. I believe the capability of this navigational chart to present and nurture early learning is the key to this success. Careful handling of early learning is critical. These incredible results are the product of the early reinforcement and confidence that the chart builds. Without the chart, early learning cannot be as clear to student or teacher, and consequently a student may be judged a failure at a very early point in life, and never fully attain his or her potential.
What is this powerful instrument? It stems back to 1967, when Ogden Lindsley and Eric Haughton sent a hard-drawn copy of “Daily Chart #1” to Helen Brennan’s print shop in Kansas City, KS. This chart had forty days and six cycles—the intent of the chart was to provide daily measurement—and to assure that if days were missed in the measurement it would be obvious because there would be empty lines. The span of the chart was the entire frequency of human performance, from one event in twenty four hours to one thousand events per minute—literally a million a day. So even covert but measurable behaviors such as brain waves could be depicted on the chart. Since that time the chart, first called the Daily Chart, later the “Standard Behavior Chart,” more recently called the Standard Celeration Chart.
Stay tuned for Part 2 for more on the chart and its effects on behavior!
Do you have experience with the chart? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
Richard McManus began his work as a behavior analyst at The Fernald State School, the oldest and among the worst of the residential programs for people with developmental disabilities. He trained a cadre of direct care staff to shape the behavior of blind and blind deaf men who had been extremely violent, teaching the clients exercise and vocational skills to replace their violent and self-injurious behavior. He later directed an early school for autistic individuals, programming for both the residential and educational units. His program was the first that incorporated precision teaching to create functional skills and positive performances, pioneering the use of Precision Teaching to develop Industrial Standard level vocational skills.
Throughout his career he has designed free operant educational and behavior change programs for clients at every level of performance and role. He has worked with Continuous Learning Group and provided consultation to National Public Radio and United Airlines, among other large corporations, and designed an executive and managerial training program on sexual harassment for Reebok. For the past thirteen years he has directed the Fluency Factory, a learning center for students from pre-school to pre-college, developing instructional processes for students with needs ranging from dyslexia to SAT testing skills. His major interest is creating solutions for reading issues at every level. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.