Here ye, Here ye! What’s this PT?


By Brohavior

bSci21 Contributing Group

Ogden Lindsley (used with permission from Carl Binder)

Ogden Lindsley (used with permission from Carl Binder)

Most behavior analysts have heard of Precision Teaching, but may have found it intimidating or a little different depending on their first interaction with it. Therefore, it is fair to say that currently Precision Teaching is only used by a fraction of behavior analysts.

Ogden Lindsley defined Precision Teaching as an educational process in which decisions concerning educational interventions are based “on changes [observed] in continuous self-monitored performance frequencies displayed on ‘standard celeration charts’” (Lindsley, 1992, p. 51).  Precision Teaching came  about when Ogden Lindsley, a student of B. F. Skinner, began applying free-operant technology in classrooms in 1965 (Lindsley, 1992). 

He began comparing the differences between  rate of response (count/unit of time) and percentage correct (correct response/total correct + total incorrect responses). He concluded that rate of response was anywhere from 2 to 50 times more sensitive of a response measure than percentage correct (Lindsley, 1992). (For more on percentages check out The Percentage Manifesto by Scott Miller)

‘Rate of response’ was substituted for ‘frequency’ amongst Precision Teachers later on as a term describing a number of responses divided by some standard unit of time (e.g., 5 responses per minute).  Frequencies are recorded in a variety of timing lengths (10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minute, 10 minute, 1 day, 1 year, etc.) and plotted on the Standard Celeration Chart (SCC). (For more information on the SCC see (Pennypacker, Lindsley and Gutierrez, 2003; Kubina & Yurich, 2012)

With Precision Teaching comes a heavy focus on behavioral fluency, which emphasizes both speed and accuracy (Binder, 1988; Binder 1993; Graf & Auman, 2005; Kubina and Yurich, 2012).  The exact speed and accuracy can vary depending on the behavior of interest (Graf & Auman, 2005). 

When all of the components of Precision Teaching are used correctly along with other empirical methods of teaching, such as Direct Instruction (see Watkins & Slocum, 2003 for more on the components of Direct Instruction), students have been shown to increase 2-3 grade levels per year. (Lindsley, 1992). 

Unfortunately the work of a precision teacher is not easy and their reliance upon frequency of response and data-based decisions are not widely accepted.  This is likely due to a misconception about the ease of learning to use the SCC and that the SCC makes one more accountable for their learner’s outcomes.  So although Precision Teaching is extremely effective when compared to methods that are currently utilized in educational settings, it remains a ghetto among the massive number of teaching approaches available today. 

However, a recent startup called Chartlytics is working to breakdown some of the technological barriers that have partially led to this ghetto– we’ll see what they pull off. Check them out and let us know what you think about Precision Teaching and the SCC in the comments below!


Binder, C. (1988). Precision Teaching: Measuring and attaining exemplary academic achievement. Youth Policy, 10(7), 12-15.

Binder, C. (1993). Behavioral fluency: Evolution of a new paradigm. The Behavior Analyst, 19(2), 163-197.

Graf, S. A., & Auman, J. (2005). SAFMEDS: A tool to build fluency.  Youngstown, OH: Graf Implements.

Kubina, R. M., & Yurich, K. K. (2012). Precision Teaching Book. Greatness Achieved Publishing Company.

Lindsley, O. R. (1992). Precision Teaching: Discoveries and effects. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 51-57.

Pennypacker, H. S, Lindsley, O. R., & gutierrez, L. A. (2003) Handbook of the Standard Celeration Chart, Deluxe Edition. Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies: Cambridge, MA.

Watkins C. L., Slocum, T. A. (2003). The components of direction instruction. Journal of Direct Instruction, 3(2), 75-110.

About the Author:

brohaviorFollowing graduation from Master’s programs many behavior analysts find themselves in a cold dark world where they are searching for the light of peers that share their approach to the subject matter of behavior. One online group called Brohavior (derived from “brotherhood”) has recently created a refuge for behavior analysts looking for the light in order to continue their own development. The group aims to create a collaborative environment where students of behavior analysis are exposed to and pursue behavior analytic literature, philosophy and research that is outside of the scope of the BACB-approved course sequence.

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7 Comments on "Here ye, Here ye! What’s this PT?"

  1. Kerri Milyko | July 2, 2015 at 5:06 pm | Reply

    While PT is mainly used for educational purposes, it is not inherently for education. The measurement, methods, etc. are applicable to sports, medicine, counseling, etc. Further, the Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration published articles that fall within those previously mentioned domains. So, while it is a common misconception that PT is all about the education – and possibly 99.9% of practitioners and researchers would fall into that category – the proponents and ‘originals’ of PT would like to support the expansion of PT to other disciplines.

  2. I am a new to Precision Teaching and have already fallen ‘head-over-heels.’ There is no going back to ‘percent correct’ or other, common and inferior data or ‘mastery’ criterion. Fluency! Fluency! Fluency! 🙂 I am currently using SCC to chart some of my own, personal goals, just for fun. Thank You, Ogden Lindsley. I can’t believe it took me this long to hop on board. Thank you Brohavior for spreading the word about PT. I am grateful for the high-quality supervisory experience I finally found at the very end of my pre-certification status! I likely would have never encountered PT or someone who knew enough to teach and inspire me to use it, effectively. An ABA practice “game-changer” for me.

  3. Jasmina Naleid | August 29, 2015 at 2:11 am | Reply

    In support to Kerri’s comment above that there is more to PT then it ‘s application in education, here is a paper written on PT and ballet dancing! Lokke, G. E., Lokke, J. A., & Arntzen, E. (2008). Precision Teaching, Frequency-Building, and Ballet Dancing. Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration, 24, 21-27.

  4. John W. Eshleman | August 29, 2015 at 10:48 am | Reply

    Nice article! A few more points to add:

    (1) PT grew out of Lindsley’s work in the 1950s with his mentor B.F. Skinner. Lindsley was one of only a very, very few number of individuals who had more than one co-authorship publication with Skinner. Most all of this science took place at Metropolitan State Hospital, where persons diagnosed with schizophrenia by and large served as research participants. Rate of response was the primary measure, and reams upon reams of cumulative record data were collected.

    (2) This whole science was inductive in nature, just as Skinner’s other work overall had been inductive. No one was trying to prove a theory of learning or anything else. Just arrange environments, record data, change environments, notice changes to behavior, change things again, notice changes again, etc., and then repeat and vary and gather up tons of data. From there, notice patterns, relationships, trends, anomalies, etc., in the data. From there, generalize, or rather induce generalizations.

    (3) About 15 years ago Dr. Abigail Calkin conducted a survey in PT of how many SCCs had been generated since 1965 (to about the year 2001), and estimated that during that span that over 1.2 million charts of data had been generated. That’s reflective of induction, but unfortunately if you wanted to gain access to more than a relatively small number of these charts, it’d prove difficult if not impossible. But that overall number of charts has only grown since Calkin did that survey. My guess is that over 2 million SCC’s of data have been generated. Yes, they’re not likely to all be equal in their information content, and there’s still an accessibility issue. A salient question is whether enough public data exist from which to make inductions regarding human behavior and learning. Even if 1% of about 2 million or more charts are available, that’d mean about 20,000 charts (about half of what ended up in the old Behavior Bank itself), which’d still be tons of data.

    (4) Lindsley mentioned some salient inductions that, while additional verification would always be desired, are “counter-intuitive.” Lindsley suggested the acronym MUSIC to capture these: Behavior frequencies Multiply, not add. Look for Unique effects, not common effects. Behavior is very specific to environments, not general (or don’t expect generality, or if you want it, plan for it; fluency-building may help achieve that). Fair pair behaviors are Independent (rates of corrects and incorrects celerate independently, for example). And it’s all based on Consequences, not antecedents. To me, the big one now is the issue of Unique versus Common. Everyone seems to expect common effects from a procedure.

    There’s more, but that’s all I want to point out and add at this point. Great article! Keep up the good work!

    — JE

  5. I just read this one and would love to see more articles on Precision Teaching in the future!

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