The Pyramid Approach to Education is a way of organizing how to create effective educational environments whether it’s in school or at home or in the community. As the director of a statewide public school program; my principal job was to organize teachers, speech pathologist, psychologists, behavior analysts, paraprofessionals and parents to be able to work in a consistent manner with regard to the children. The children; when they work with somebody, they really don’t know what theory you have in your head or your own educational background, so we needed to make sure that everyone could act as a team. The pyramid approach tries to take a look at certain structural and instructional issues. We take a look at teaching critical skills, teaching functional skills and we try to make sure that we are using powerful reinforcers to teach those skills.
We take a look at how to teach communication and social interaction. Once we looked at those things then we’ll take a look at any behavior management issues that our still present. We don’t start off by trying to get rid of behavior problems; we start off by trying to teach functional skills.
The next part of the pyramid takes a look at how to teach. We take a look at issues like generalization; where’s the lesson going? What kind of a lesson is it? Is it discreet? Short and simple?
Does it have many steps, and thus is a sequential lesson? We’ll take a look at teaching strategies; should we use prompting? Should we use shaping? What’s the best strategy to teach a particular skill? We also have to anticipate that children will make errors. We would like to minimize those errors, but nonetheless children at some time will make a mistake or pause during a lesson; so how will the teacher respond?
Finally we want to take a look at data collection and analysis; that is, we can’t guarantee a lesson is going to work, so what kind of data will help us judge whether this is a good and effective lesson? The approach was designed to be able to work with people regardless of their theoretical perspective so that the lessons that were developed could be readily implemented by anyone on the team. What’s helped me with Andy’s development of the pyramid approach is, I have become a much more effective and efficient therapist when I’m working with kids. Bringing the organization of the pyramid into what I’m doing for communication training has had a really positive impact on what the kids are learning.
My background in behavior analysis obviously led me to incorporate all the research and strategies in behavior analysis to be able to help teachers become more effective as teachers, and speech pathologists to become more effective as speech pathologists. This has also been our strategy for working with parents; that is, we teach parents about the pyramid in the same sequence of application as we were professional staff. The pyramid approach to education is a comprehensive system; that is, it tries to take a look at teaching all skills including communication. Teaching functional communication is a part of the pyramid approach, and PECS is essentially a part of the communication area; that is, not all children would use PECS to communicate, but all children would benefit from having the pyramid approach used to teach all of the skills whether they are preschool children, teenagers or adults and really independent of the environment that they’re learning in. No matter what skill we’re teaching, the roadmap to creating a lesson comes from the pyramid.
When I’m teaching PECS, I use the pyramid approach to create my lessons. When I’m teaching an articulation lesson; if I’m working with a child who is just language delayed; if I’m helping a child learn to tie his shoes, all of those skills are informed by the pyramid approach. All of the lessons to teach those skills are better lessons because we apply the pyramid approach to creating the lessons. So essentially when people want to learn how to do PECS effectively, they must learn how to use the pyramid approach.