Prompting is a teaching strategy used to support a student in the acquisition of a new skill or behavior and falls along a continuum of least-to-most intrusive. When using prompting to support learning, a plan should be put in place to determine what type of prompt is going to be used and how to fade to the least intrusive prompt.
There are three main types of prompt strategies and when used correctly, the strategies have a built in prompt fading plan:
- Least-to-Most Prompting
- Graduated Guidance
- Simultaneous Prompting
Prompts are NOT a way to differentiate instruction nor are they a way to support a student's engagement in the activity (e.g., the student cannot perform the motor movements of a song, so an adult physically prompts the actions. Alternate strategies are available to support student engagement).
Least-to-Most Prompt Hierarchy
When determining which type of prompt to use, an educator should always use the least intrusive prompt that is needed for the student. When more intrusive prompts are used, the goal is always to fade back to the least intrusive prompt needed.
Additionally, ensure the type of prompt used is developmentally appropriate and will be understood by the student.
Description and Examples
- Naturally occurring event in the environment which occasions the behavior without any assistance.
- Examples: Bell rings to end class cueing student to pack up materials, teacher says "time for recess" and student puts on coat.
- Visual supports such as checklists, pictures, icons, text, etc.
- If using a visual support, ensure it is developmentally appropriate.
- Cue such as pointing, hand signals, shaking head, glancing towards, etc.
- Adults should be aware of what gestural prompts they may use without realizing, which may inadvertently prompt students.
- Verbal direction, statement, reminder.
- Verbal prompts can be direct/explicit (e.g., "Wash your hands") or indirect (e.g., "What's the first thing you do when you get your paper?" or "What time is it?")
- Adults should be aware of what verbal prompts they may use without realizing, which may inadvertently prompt students.
- Demonstrating the behavior for the student to observe and imitate.
- If using modeling, ensure student can imitate observed behavior.
- Minimal physical assistance to support demonstration of the behavior (e.g., touching elbow briefly to cue writing)
- Should be used sparingly.
- Full physical support to motor the student through the behavior (e.g., hand-over-hand support to wash hands)
- Should be used sparingly.
Educators must remember that prompts are a teaching strategy designed to support the acquisition of a skill or behavior during the learning process, with the goal of the student eventually performing the skill or behavior as independently as possible. If a student can only perform a skill with higher-level intrusive prompts (e.g., modeling or verbal prompts), it is not a very functional or usable skill, as it relies on an outside factor (e.g., a person, a verbal direction, etc.) to prompt the behavior.
As such, a plan of how to teach the skill or behavior using prompts and how to fade the prompt(s) to the least intrusive should be developed. This may mean breaking the skill down and reducing/eliminating the level of prompting in some areas but leaving a less intrusive prompt in place.
For example, a student may initially require full physical prompting to learn to manipulate the mouse to open a computer program and type on a keyboard to complete an assignment. Eventually, the student may be able to type independently, but requires a visual prompt of the steps of opening the program.
When used consistently for long periods, a student can become prompt dependent; that is, they will not perform the skill or behavior without a particular prompt (e.g., student will not begin writing without the verbal prompt "start your work now"). This is one reason that prompts should be used sparingly, for short periods, and always with a plan to fade.
Consideration of if the student can begin or start the behavior independently, or with minimal support, is important and necessary. If it is determined that the student is dependent on prompts, a plan should be put into place to fade the use of the prompts and transition to the least intrusive prompt possible (and to independence/natural cue when possible).
Physical Prompting Considerations
Sometimes, physical prompting may be determined to be the most appropriate teaching strategy for a student; this may be because they learn by doing and are not yet able to watch and imitate a behavior.
For example, a teacher may briefly use physical prompting to support a student learning a new skill (e.g., physically guide a student press "play" on a computer screen, to hold the students hand in position to grasp and turn the cap on a water bottle, etc.) When used, physical prompts should be kept brief, be used only for instructional purposes, and should be discontinued if the student shows resistance or becomes upset.
Educators must be conscientious that the use of physical prompting is not used for an extended period. This may result in the demonstration of challenging behavior by the student for a variety of reasons, with the most likely reason being that the target skill or behavior is above their developmental level and thus is not an appropriate instructional target.
In this case, the team should review the appropriateness of the target skill and determine if a different skill should be targeted, if the skill should be broken down in to steps that the student is able to perform with less intrusive prompts, or if there are additional pre-requisite skills that need to be taught first.