How do I know whether my child is truly learning?
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Parents spend a lot of time, effort and money on interventions hoping their child
would make progress in areas of deficit, be it language, play, executive function or
social development. Because of the amount of precious resources expanded, many
parents would like to know, is my child truly progressing? What does true learning look
First, it is important to know that interventions should be data-driven. This means that the therapists take data on the skills they teach the child and routinely analyze and evaluate the data to check for progress in the specific skill taught. For example, the therapist may teach a simple skill like following the one-step direction "Come to the table". Initially, a child who cannot identify the instruction will not follow it. The therapist will have to guide the child to the table, then praise him for following the instruction. Over time, and through repeatedly presenting the instruction, the child should progress to exhibiting the behavior of approaching the therapist when he gives the instruction to "come". Data should show an increase in the child's ability to approach the therapist. This would tell us that the child understands what is expected of him and responds to the therapist, which in turn shows that the teaching has been effective. This phase is the first step an early learner may take in his progress toward acquiring new skills.
However, teaching does not stop here. True learning is when there is generality of behavior change. According to Baer, Wolf and Risley (1968) "A behavior change may be said to have generality if it proves durable over time, if it appears in a wide variety of possible environments, or if it spreads to a wide variety of related behaviors." The child has not truly mastered the skill if he can only perform the skill in front of one specific person and/or within a certain situation or setting. To know whether the child has truly learnt something, we would expect him to be able to respond to the instruction "come" when any stakeholder gives the instruction. This may include the child's parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, tutor, neighbor or friend. Additionally, the child would be expected to respond to "come" at a store, in someone's house, at the playground or in the MRT station. Thus, programming for a variety of settings and persons is essential to generalizing skills.
So, did your child really learn and master the skill of concern? Next time, observe your child's response with a variety of persons and in various environments, you may be surprised at what you find.
Cooper. J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2017). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.