This was a very exciting conference for TeachTown, our booth was extremely well attended and we ran out of almost all of our handouts! Researchers, clinicians, and parents were all very eager to get a copy of TeachTown: Basics.
We had a 3-hour continuing education workshop with about 10 attendees - it was great - our attendees had some great suggestions for continuing to improve our products and several people approched me afterwards about doing research with TeachTown: Basics.
Our symposium with myself, Ilene Schwartz, and Beth Wyman was well attended and people were very interested in TeachTown and the research. For my talk, I educated people about TeachTown and gave a brief demonstration of TeachTown: Basics. Dr. Ilene Schwartz from University of Washington’s Experimental Education Unit, presented results from their study comparing TeachTown: Basics to Discrete Trial Training (DTT) for 3 children. Two of the children in their research did better with the teacher-taught DTT while 1 child responded well to TeachTown: Basics. Although the outcome of this research was not as good as we had hoped, we were able to identify a number of things in terms of next steps for improving the current TeachTown: Basics program. Basically, it seemed that the two children who did not do well with the program did not understand how to use the program. It is possible that it was because they were new learners in computer based instructional environments. We are now working on a “learning to learn” module which will help new users and children with little or no computer experience to prep for using TeachTown: Basics. Beth Wyman with ASTAR (Autism Spectrum Therapy and Research) presented data on one child who used TeachTown: Basics to supplement his existing home program. She used both the TeachTown data collection system and standardized measures such as the ABLLS to demonstrate treatment efficacy. Initially, there was some learning to learn on the computer instruction that was needed to foster later success. This child ended up doing very well with the TeachTown: Basics program and even showed some possible carry over effects into his 1:1 instructional environments. He is now showing longer attention spans in work sessions, more consistency in performance, and overal progress in programs. Beth is planning to supplement home programs with TeachTown: Basics with 1 or 2 more children in the near future. Dr. Schwartz gave a thoughtful and interesting discussion at the end of the symposium emphasizing the positive approach that TeachTown has for treatment. She emphasized the importance of applying best-practices in ABA research into the design of the TeachTown: Basics, contuing research on the efficacy and applicability of our products, and making the effort to make treatment more accessible to families, schools, and other institutional settings who need it. Although the research is still preliminary, attending researchers were impressed with the fact that our company focuses on researching the products and that we use this research to make TeachTown products better all the time. The symposium was very well attended and the buzz following it was exciting. I spent the rest of the conference being approached by people wanting to know more about TeachTown!
In addition to the exciting events for TeachTown, we were able to see some great talks. Dr. Ilene Schwartz was an invited speaker. The purpose of her presentation was to describe the role of behavior analysts in preparing and partnering with educators to work with children with and without disabilities. Although much of the work of applied behavior analysts deals with the school age population, as a field we are often absent from debates about school reform and teacher education. During the presentation, Dr. Schwartz made the case for why it is important to increase our presence in these forums and suggested strategies to talk about behavior principles in a manner that is acceptable to our colleagues in public schools and colleges of education.
Dr. Laura Schreibman from UC San Diego and 2 of her students from the UCSD Autism Lab presented very exciting and innovative research on the identification of child characteristics that might predict success in different treatment programs such as Pivotal Response Training (PRT). This research is very important to the field of autism in that it acknowledges that “one size does not fit all” for this population and that even for an individual child, their ideal treatment might change over time as their skills and developmental level change. Dr. Marjorie Charlop-Christy from Claremont McKenna College provided an insightful discussion about UCSD’s research - she complemented them on their vigorous scientific procedures (their data was excellent) and not only on identifying child characteristics but maybe even teaching non-responders to a specific kind of treatment (in this case, PRT) how to be responders. I am always very excited to see the research from UCSD as I am an alumni from that lab =).
I also attended a panel discussion from the folks at Eden II where they reviewed all of their procedures for quality assurance at their facilities. I was very impressed with the thorough commitment to providing high quality treatment to people with autism and the parents. Their company also focuses on ensuring that staff are high quality and that they are happy working there. I took a lot of notes at this one, I think they have some excellent strategies for making sure that quality treatment is provided.
Manya (TeachTown’s Program Director/Director of Education), attended an exciting all day workshop on teaching reading to students with disabilities. Reading has long been her area of interest and graduate work. The workshop was presented by the staff at Morningside Academy, a laboratory school with both elementary and middle school programs in Seattle that was founded by Dr. Kent Johnson, who is also co-founder for Headsprout.com. Morningside Academy utilizes the effective approches of direct instruction and fluency based instruction to teach children who aren’t quite making in in public school settings. This particular workshop focused on providing a thorough introduction to the area of reading. They looked at the most important components of effective reading instruction, including prerequisites to reading (language, phonemic awareness, phonological coding, and rapid automatic naming skills); phonics and decoding skills; vocabulary and background knowledge, comprehension skills and strategies, application of comprehension skills and strategies during reading; and learning skills such as rapid interaction with a teacher and peer, reasoning and problem solving repertoires, and participating in classroom discussions. The Morningside staff presented the basic principles for teaching each component, showed and modeled each component, and had the audience break out into small groups to practice teaching each component with immediate feedback and coaching from Morningside teachers. Manya said it was a great workshop and people who are interested in incorporating reading performance in their teaching and intervention planning should consider attending if the opportunity is there.
Overall, this was a very exciting conference, next year (May, 2007), you can attend ABA in San Diego - we will be there for sure and are really looking forward to it!