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Errorless Teaching
Errorless teaching is an instructional strategy that ensures children always respond
correctly. As each skill is taught, children are provided with a prompt or cue immediately
following an instruction. The immediate prompt prevents any chance for incorrect
responses. Unlike other teaching procedures where opportunities for initial mistakes are
allowed and then corrected through prompting, errorless learning’s immediate prompting
ensures that a child may only respond correctly. Prompts are systematically removed until
children are able to respond correctly on their own. The theory behind errorless teaching
is that children with autism do not learn as successfully from their mistakes as typical
children may, but instead continue to repeat them. esearch suggests that frustration
following incorrect responses associated with trial and error learning can actually
provoke problem behavior such as tantrums, aggression, and self!in"ury. Using an initial
prompt, before the child has an opportunity to respond incorrectly, avoids any chance of
teaching a chain of errors and bypasses the discouragement that may come from incorrect
The Role of Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is rovi!ing something after a "ehavior that increases the
li#elihoo! of the "ehavior occ$rring again in the f$t$re%
Errorless teaching uses positive reinforcement combined with prompting strategies to
teach new skills. #nstructions are immediately followed by a prompted correct response,
which is then followed positive reinforcement.
• Teacher gives instruction, $clap hands.%
• Teacher immediately prompts child by manipulating the child’s hands to
• make a clapping motion.
• Teacher praises the child, $nice job clapping your hands&% and gives the child a
To promote independence the immediate prompts, or amount of help provided, are
systematically decreased, or faded, to allow children the opportunity to provide correct
responses on their own. Errorless teaching strategies used to decrease prompting and
encourage independence may include time delay prompting and most!to!least prompting.
Time (ela) Promting
Time delay is a prompt fading strategy that systematically increases the amount of time
between the instruction and the prompt. This delaying of prompts gives children a brief
window of opportunity to give a correct response on their own. As the child begins to
respond independently before a prompt is given, the delay is continuously increased until
it is faded out
completely. esponses provided independently, before any assistance is given, are
immediately followed by positive reinforcement.
• '( second delay)
o Teacher gives instruction, $clap hands.%
o Teacher waits ( seconds and then manipulates the child’s hands to make a
clapping motion.
o Teacher praises the child, $nice "ob clapping your hands&% and gives a
• '* second delay)
o Teacher gives instruction, $clap hands.%
o Teacher waits * seconds for the child to respond independently.
o #f the child does not respond independently, the teacher manipulates the
child’s hands to make a clapping motion.
o Teacher praises the child, $nice "ob clapping your hands&% and gives a
*ost+to+Least Promting
#n most to least prompting, prompts are systematically faded by decreasing the
intrusiveness of assistance provided to promote independence in responding.
• 'light physical prompt)
o Teacher gives instruction, $clap hands%
o Teacher immediately prompts child by providing a light physical prompt
at the child’s elbows to make a clapping motion.
o Teacher praises the child, $nice "ob clapping your hands&% and gives a
• '+esture)
o Teacher gives instruction, $clap hands%
o Teacher immediately prompts child by raising hands slightly to gesture
clapping without touching the child.
o ,hild begins clapping hands.
o Teacher praises the child, $nice "ob clapping your hands&% and gives a
Promoting In!een!ence
#t is important to collect data on how often children re-uire prompts as well as
how often they give independent responses. This information is used to determine when
to decrease prompt levels. An e.ample of decreasing prompt levels using time delay may
be delaying prompts ( seconds, then * seconds, and then / seconds.
An e.ample of decreasing prompts in most-to-least prompting may be lessening
the intrusiveness from hand over hand, to a light physical touch, to shadowing the
response without any physical contact. 0or more information on prompting see the
Prompting 0act 1heet.
Even with errorless teaching, errors may still occur. #f a child makes an error, the
teacher may withhold reinforcement and present a new instruction or withhold
reinforcement and present the same instruction again providing an immediate full prompt
of the correct answer. Errors should never be followed by negative comments,
reinforcement, or presentation of a reward.
Adapted from the ,enter for Autism and elated 2isabilities ',A2) at 0lorida Atlantic
Errorless Learning – Ens$ring S$ccess Each Ste of the ,a)
Errorless learning is really a fancy name for something we do -uite naturally with our
little ones as they learn and grow from babyhood to child hood, and it is something we
can continue to do with our children on into their formal education. 1o "ust what is
errorless learning3 #t is guaranteeing that my child does not fail at a given task by helping
him along until my help is no longer necessary. #t is making sure that he gets the answer
right every time. #t is giving him the answer whenever he hesitates. And it is a very
legitimate teaching techni-ue&
,h) Errorless Learning-
0or many children with learning challenges it is so important that they are not given the
opportunity to make mistakes when learning a new skill. 4aking mistakes often leads to
discouragement, which results in a lack of motivation to even try the skill again. 5ften
once a mistake is made, it becomes very difficult to unlearn it. Errorless learning is an
e.cellent way to avoid discouragement, and to build success and self!confidence in a new
skill. Another huge deterrent to learning is frustration, whether it’s me getting frustrated
with my child $not getting it%, or whether it’s my child becoming frustrated because it
"ust doesn’t make sense. Errorless learning eliminates both.
Intro!$cing a s#ill
6hen teaching my child a new skill using errorless learning, # must first make sure that
he knows what # e.pect of him. This can take a long time and a lot of patience on my part
as we go over and over and over a new skill together. There are a number of ways # can
introduce a new skill. # can prompt my child by talking through each step of a new skill. #
can provide hand over hand support. # can do the skill with my child over and over again.
# can provide him with cues he can $peek% at to guarantee his success. # can do the skill
for him when he hesitates, modeling my e.pectations. 6hatever approach # take, # need
to provide my child with all the help he needs to accomplish the learning task given.
7ere’s how 8ila has been applying errorless learning with her daughter Anna9
$6e are trying to get Anna:s auditory se-uencing up, and one of the computer programs
we have has animal sounds and instrument sounds which they play in different orders and
re-uire her to play them back in the same se-uence. Until she understands e.actly what is
re-uired of her, # actually do it for her. Today # did the e.ercise many times myself,
walking through it with her, until she seemed to grasp what they were re-uiring. #t may
have been a simple task for another child that doesn:t have learning challenges, but for
Anna it involved several things that she had to think through. 6hen # could hear that she
was actually saying them back in the right order, then # would use the mouse myself to
start her with the one she had said first. 5therwise she had a tendency to say them right,
but when # asked her to move the mouse to the first one, she would always go to the one
she heard last. 7er problem was that she had to keep the order in her mind, and remember
to get the mouse working, and recall the right order, while they may have interrupted her
concentration with asking her to find the right order or repeating the sounds. 7ad she got
it wrong repeatedly she would have become very disappointed and probably would have
"ust shut down for the day or a few days. As soon as # got her going on the first sound,
she could recall the others and would say, ;Anna do it.; 6e did this over and over as long
as her interest was there, and we ended on a positive note.%
Re!$cing )o$r hel
As my child shows that he is beginning to understand what is e.pected of him, # need to
slowly reduce the help #’ve been giving, but # also need to be prepared to give him help
whenever he hesitates. The key, again, is keeping his learning error free. 7ere’s what
Amy does with her daughter eagan9
$6hen eagan knows something, she is very -uick to respond. #f # show eagan a sight
reading flashcard and she hesitates more that (!* seconds # give her the correct word so
that she doesn:t "ust guess and ;cement; the wrong word vs. what is represented on the
.rea#ing it !o/n
#f my child "ust doesn’t seem to be catching on, it may be necessary to break the skill
down into small steps that need to be learnt first. 6hen Andrew was learning to count, #
reali<ed that though he had learnt to count up to =>, he did not understand the concept of
-uantity ? that * meant three things. Using errorless learning # made up some games to
help Andrew learn about numbers. 7ere’s what # did9
N$m"er Games
# made a ;game board; out of a piece of construction paper with * recipe card si<e
s-uares glued onto it. 5n the s-uares, # wrote the numbers = to @ as well as the
corresponding number of dots, using a different color for each number.
# also made a set of number cards, with numbers on one side and corresponding dot
patterns on the other. # color!coded the dot patterns to match with the colors on the game
board, but made the numbers on the cards black. The games for this board are simple
matching ones ! match the numbers, match the dot patterns, name the numbers as you
match them, call the number that you want your child to match, place the number cards in
order. The purpose is to help your child to become familiar with numbers, to recogni<e
number names, to be able to count in order.
# then made a second ;game board; similar to the first, but with "ust the dot patterns on it
! still color!coded to match the game cards '# made it on the back of the first board). The
game for this board is to match the number cards to the dot patterns. Peeking at the
colored dot pattern on the back of the card is allowed and encouraged until it is no longer
necessary. Another use for the game board is to place counters 'buttons, coins, raisins,
Aego, whatever might be fun and interesting for your child) on the dots, counting them as
you do. 0rom here you could match counters to the number cards without the dot patterns
to guide, though allowing peeking on the back as necessary. The purpose of these games
is to help your child recogni<e that numbers represent specific amounts.
.eing consistent
Using the same language with each lesson, following the same steps, in the same order,
using the same words, can become a prompt for my child to help him know the response
#’m looking for. As Amy has been teaching eagan to answer $who, what, where, when
and why% -uestions, she uses visual cues and has also developed a script to use when
delivering lessons.
$eagan is not always appropriate in her responses to ;wh; -uestions. #n trying to resolve
the situation, # decided that maybe she didn:t know the definition of the ;wh; involved
and that maybe if # asked the -uestion and gave the appropriate response it would help
her to define the -uestion. 1lowly, she is making progress& # talk a A5T to myself these
days. The lesson begins with a picture book. 2uring the story # will ask the ;wh; -uestion
while holding up a cue card with the ;wh; -uestion we are working on. # will ask *!B or
more ;wh; -uestions per story. #f # do not get an immediate response, # give the answer.
As long as we are having fun and she maintains an interest in the ;wh; -uestion C
answer ;game; 'aka errorless learning) # will continue. # then use the same techni-ue in
our everyday conversation and focus on the same ;wh; -uestion to generali<e the
*atching0 Selecting0 Naming
5ne errorless learning techni-ue that can be used in teaching many concepts is 4atching,
1electing, 8aming ? a method developed by Patricia 5elwein for teaching children with
2own syndrome how to read sight words. The key to this techni-ue is using a double set
of flashcards of whatever the concept you want to teach. As an e.ample, let’s look at
teaching shapes. 4atching9 0irst show your child a card with a triangle on it. Tell your
child, $This is a triangle%. Place the card in front of your child, along with * other cards
with shapes on them. +ive your child another card with an identical triangle on it. Ask
your child, $0ind the triangle% and have her match the card in her hand with the correct
card on the table. 1electing9 Ask your child to give you the card with the triangle on it. #f
she’s unsure, find it for her and go back to matching triangle cards with her. 8aming9
5nce she’s able to pick the triangle out of a group of shapes, ask her to name the card you
show her. #f necessary, prompt her, then go back to matching or selecting until she’s
familiar enough with the shape to name it for you.
esources for 6orking with Aearning 2ifferences.
Errorless Learning
,hildren with autism share common characteristics in learning. 0or e.ample, they adhere
rigidly to routines and tend to over!select and over!generali<e responses to failure or
novel tasks. Therefore, errorless learning, which limits an incorrect response in a learning
situation, is ideal for this group of students.
Errorless learning, a procedure introduced by Terrace '=@E*), is a type of discrimination
learning that decreases or eliminates the opportunity for incorrect choice selection,
therefore ma.imi<ing the possibility of a correct response. 1imply put, errorless learning
allows learning to occur with few or no negative stimuli. The theory behind errorless
learning is that error responses have negative effects, especially for children with
AUT#14, given their rigid adherence to rules '+reen, =@@EF 1mith, (>>=F 1mith, #wata,
+oh, C 1hore, =@@/).
Errorless learning offers the following benefits9
• 4inimi<es the number of errors
• #ncreases overall time available for instruction
• educes the likelihood that errors will be repeated in future trials
• educes frustration and the occurrence of inappropriate emotional behaviors
by increasing opportunities for reinforcement !
#n errorless learning, children only learn the correct skill. That is, the teacher teaches in
such a manner that students do not make any mistakes. As a result, they do not learn an
incorrect skill that will have to be corrected or re!taught
+uidelines for using errorless learning are as follows9
=. #dentify and teach the child the desired behavior.
(. #dentify prompts that will ensure success.
*. 7ave the child begin to perform the response.
B. Provide prompts to make sure the child performs the desired behavior correctly.
/. #f behaviorDresponse is incorrect, increase prompts to make the child successful.
E. epeat the trial several times until the child appears to be able to demonstrate the
desired behavior correctly and independently.
G. 0ollowing a specified number of non!prompted behavior, conduct a trial to assess the
child’s correct or incorrect learned behavior.
H. 0inish the lesson on a successful trial with appropriate reinforcement.
@. 0ade or decrease prompting as soon as indicated by data collection.
4s. ,ooper utili<ed errorless learning techni-ues in teaching Iohn, a *!year!old boy with
autism, to recogni<e his body parts. 1he asked Iohn to touch the body part that she
named. At first, 4s. ,ooper provided a full prompt by taking Iohn’s hand and touching
the correct body part. 1he gave Iohn a goldfish cracker as a reinforcer whenever he
finished the task.
After several trials, 4s. ,ooper faded the prompt by merely lifting Iohn’s hand toward
the correct body part. 6hen Iohn successfully performed the task, he received a cracker.
6hen Iohn failed to perform the task, 4s. ,ooper prompted him through the task and
provided a verbal reinforcer. +radually, 4s. ,ooper faded prompts. After several trials,
Iohn could successfully perform the task with no prompts.
Errorless learning is a set of teaching techni-ues designed to reduce incorrect responses
as the child gains mastery of a novel task. #t has been contrasted with trial and error
learning in which the child attempts a task and then benefits from feedback. This strategy
is an effective way in which to teach a variety of skills to individuals with autism.
Adapted from http9DDwww.t.autism.netDdocsD+uideD#nterventionsDErrorlessAearning.pdf