Principle 6: Discrete Trial Instruction is a Useful Tool for Teaching Transcript
Discrete trial instruction (DTI) is often a useful tool for teaching; however, it only becomes meaningful when there is a plan for generalization of the skills previously learned in the one-on-one setting.
Traditionally DTI is defined as a structured teaching setting in which the child receives direct attention, instruction, prompting, and reinforcement from an adult. Data are collected through each step of the DTI process to determine whether or not the child has learned the skill. This traditional form of instruction takes place at a table and the child receives massed trials of the same skill. For instance, you can work on expressive or receptive identification of multiple types of fruit. You would first get the child's attention, then state in a clear command "what is this?" then allow 5 seconds for the child to respond. If the child responds correctly, then he would be reinforced immediately. If the child responds incorrectly, you would then prompt the child with the correct response — "banana". If the child responds with "banana," immediately reinforce them. If the child does not respond, you begin a new trial.
Currently, DTI takes place in many classrooms and homes but not typically in the same traditional fashion. Today there is heavy emphasis on functionality of the skills being taught. There is also a heavy emphasis on generalization of the skills. Instead of the traditional, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day that was recommended, we are seeing benefit in short sessions of 15-20 minutes, 2-3 times a day, 5 days a week. These sessions are taking place in the school environment in one-on-one sessions that are free from distraction. The same principles of direct attention, instruction, prompting and reinforcement, as well as data collection, are used; however, the child is then placed back into the natural learning environment where he can practice the skill. Mastery of a skill can be considered only when the child or adolescent exhibits it in a functional or natural setting.
Many home programs often use DTI as a foundation when they are first starting out. Let's take a look at a home program that first started with the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), transitioned to a traditional one-on-one DTI model, and then moved DTI into the community.
Remember, DTI can be a powerful tool when supports are in place to generalize the skill to another environment.