Precision Teaching: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

How can schools embrace precision teaching to bring fluency to their classrooms?

What is Precision Teaching?

Precision Teaching is a method to plan a teaching programme that fulfils the needs of a young person or an individual child who is facing difficulty with maintaining or acquiring certain areas of the curriculum. It is one of the most useful teaching strategies for ensuring high levels of accuracy and fluency.

In Precision Teaching, students build skills by regularly practising short-duration tasks. It allows teachers to carefully monitor and track the progress the student makes and then make changes to ensure that the students are learning through practical applications of precision teaching as fast as they could. Precision Teaching is different from the regular way of ‘teaching.’ It is a method to support children and provide them with highly effective teaching in whatever difficulty they are facing or if the skill they want to learn needs fluency. Thoughtfully designed tasks enable pupils to practise major skills until they gain fluency. Precision Teaching also designs the mechanisms for analyzing and monitoring progress.

How is Precision Teaching used in learning?

Precision teaching is a systematic method that is mostly performed between a student and a teacher on a one-to-one basis. These interactive sessions are suggested at least 3 times a week for approximately 10 minutes.

Precision teaching is meant to help students to think fast until they can recall the spelling of a specific word nearly instinctively. For this reason, teachers with high potential for precision teaching use very much repetitive and fast-paced teaching procedures. According to the precision teaching principles, young learners must continue to practice spelling and read words until becoming confident and fluent. The students will only move on to learn a new set of words after mastering the vocabulary they are currently working on.

The precision teaching process
The precision teaching process

What are the steps of applying Precision Teaching in the classroom?

Even though a precision teaching program is very much spontaneous, it follows a step-by-step procedure that supports the teachers in performing the intervention in the most useful way possible. Following are the 8 steps - providing precision teaching overview - that can be used to make precision teaching as effective as possible.

  • Step 1: The child's baseline assessment is conducted as a precision teaching - welcome tool to check which words a child can easily spell and which words he finds difficult to spell or read. For this, teachers may use a structured teaching intervention to create year group word lists, phonics words or high-frequency words from each phase. According to the principles of precision teaching, these lists must contain words that the learner is presently working on.
  • Step 2: On basis of the findings of the initial assessment, the teacher would pick three words the students can spell/read and two words that the learner found to be difficult to read/ spell. These few words will be the first of those words that the student will work on in the intervention sessions.
  • Step 3: At this step, the teacher would act on basis of observations and student behavior analysis. They would only teach those five words that have been identified. According to the principles of precision teaching, these words must be taught in the most engaging and fun way possible to make sure that the student remains focused during the session. It is also suggested to discuss the meaning of the word and use each word in a sentence. Students may use a dictionary to use each word in their independent writing. For primary school students, teachers may compose a memorable silly rhyme to help students to learn the spelling of a word. Teachers may also use a multisensory precision teaching approach, especially for the learners who benefit the most from supplementary sensory input. For instance, practical applications of precision teaching tools - such as a recorded lesson - can be used as a precision teaching auditory tool; or magnetic letters, paints and whiteboards, could be used to help visual learners remember the words.
  • Step 4: This step normally lasts for just 1-minute step. This step is carried out to assess how much information is retained by the student. After step 3, the students are asked to read aloud and spell all the words they have learnt. It is recommended to count the total number of correct and incorrect answers given by the students.
  • Step 5: At this step, the student’s progress of correct and incorrect answers is measured on an editable fluency chart. As a measure of performance, the teacher may join up the results using a ruler to provide a visual representation of the student progress on analyses of behavior forms on weekly basis. Older students may take a more active role in their learning by performing this step by themselves.
  • Step 6: After the students have become comfortable with using the first five words, they can move on to a new group of words. To check precision teaching - sound progress - the teacher would assess whether a student has mastered the five words. The student needs to use the same words with a success rate of approximately 90% in four to five sessions in a single week.
  • Step 7: At this step a new precision teaching assessment probes sheet is created, involving 3 old words from the last test and two new words. Here starts the cycle of recording fluency every day and assessing the progress of precision teaching signals every week on the chart.
  • Step 8: No progress on the probe chart during the first 3 to 4 days, which could mean that the task or the words identified in general are too hard for the learners. In this case, it is crucial to adjust the words to be simpler - findings from experiments show that it is also helpful to include the words the student is already comfortable

If no positive impact on children is noticed, even after constantly using precision teaching for a week or more, it is suggested to check other factors that may be affecting the results. For example, the classroom surroundings are suitable or not (is the classroom too noisy?), how are the practical applications of precision teaching used to enhance newly-acquired behavior? Or, the online precision teaching intervention is working for improving the students performance in college setting or not.

precision teaching worksheet
precision teaching worksheet

What are the main benefits of Precision Teaching in the classroom?

The most effective applications of precision teaching are used to reinforce the acquisition of basic academic skills in students. According to several exploratory case studies, applications of precision teaching can stimulate students engagement and motivation in learning. A major advantage of using this method of training is that it’s a flexible teaching method, that enables teachers to easily modify their instructional strategies through availing additional training opportunities or attending the occasional follow-up training sessions to target particular areas that students need the maximum support with.

The main effectiveness of precision teaching lies in its flexibility, which helps teachers build the confidence of children very easily. Numerous studies proposed that the practical applications of precision teaching, such as using the vocabulary the children are already comfortable with may help improve students' observable behaviors and increase their interest in the process. According to the comprehensive training package of precision teaching, revisiting the commonly used words is a good way to keep students motivated to learn.