First, let’s review what it means for behavior to be generalized. To say behavior or response is generalized, it means that an untrained response, such as labeling a ‘truck’ on the television, occurs without being directly taught, but, a related response such as labeling a picture of a ‘truck’ was previously taught. Generalized behavior can also be when untrained responses occur at other times or in other places without being taught at those times or in those places. Therefore, generalization can be across people, settings, items/pictures, and even, time. When generalization occurs across time, meaning the learner continues to perform the behavior after instruction has been removed, it is called maintenance. Generalization is not often freely acquired, so, we have to program for it.
One simple method to promote generalization during instruction is referred to as teaching loosely. Teaching loosely is a proactive strategy for generalization. It can reduce the likelihood that specific people, items, or times of the day gain control over a behavior or response. It also can make it less likely that a learner’s performance can be interrupted by the presence of an unfamiliar person or item in the teaching setting. To ‘teach loosely’ means to randomly vary noncritical aspects of the instructional setting. Such as:
- Different instructors- Get the whole family involved. Have different therapists, teachers, or aides work with the learner. It is very important that a learner performs well not solely with the person who taught them the skill.
- Different times of the day- Does your kiddo only shower before bed? Routines can be great, but what if your child finds the only mud puddle at the park during the day? We do not want learners to associate certain tasks only at specific times of the day.
- Different tools- use different pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paper, etc. Materials are a super simple way to vary the instructional setting.
- Different tables/desks- Can the learner work at different desks or tables? Or, only the table with pictures of their favorites characters on it?
So often our learners become rigid in the way that they learn. To set them up for future success, we need to prepare them for change. Generalization can be the difference-maker. Hang loose and teach loose, people!