Moving frequencies

*This article was originally published as a blog on The Precision Teaching Book website in June 2012.

Do you realize that every person you know, love, become angry with, or have ever met does things measured by frequency. In fact, every person that has ever lived and ever will walk the planet Earth will behave, act, and move measured by frequency. Frequency is a fundamental dimension of all behavior. And as universal measure of behavior, it is one of our most precious assets.

Frequency, as used in the natural sciences, means count over time or count/time.  Every behavior we value or despise has a frequency. Take playing the piano for example. A novice trying to improve piano playing has a moderate frequency of incorrect keys tapped and the low frequency of correct keys tapped. Improvement comes with practice. Practice means the frequencies move in desired directions: the frequency of incorrect keys tapped decelerates while the frequency of correct keys tapped accelerates.

What about social behaviors? When we have conversations occasionally another person will interrupt us. Conversation interruptions occur at a frequency. The frequency of 1 to 2 interruptions per five-minute conversation may be acceptable to most people actively involved in an discussion. However, 3 to 5 interruptions per five-minute conversation breaks the “acceptable threshold” and moves into mildly to moderately annoying territory. A person with a frequency of 6 to 10 interruptions per five-minute conversation is considered discourteous; we will avoid or limit our conversations with such a serial interrupter.

In the discipline of education and psychology, frequencies for different behaviors need established. Then when a teacher or psychologist wishes to grow or decay certain behaviors, different interventions are applied to move the behavioral frequencies in the desired directions. Everything we consider good-bad, normal-abnormal, correct-incorrect has a frequency. If we look at our laws and what we consider crime, almost any breach of the law, a frequency of 1 in a lifetime, can be considered bad. Once we have a frequency determined for particular behavior, the trick is to figure out how to move those frequencies upward ( i.e. acceleration), downward (i.e. deceleration), or in some cases, maintain the present level of frequencies.

Frequency offers the most versatile and sensitive of measures. When we place it on a ratio chart, like a Standard Celeration Chart, we have a visual record of a person’s behavior. As we apply different interventions, the subsequent frequencies will move upward, downward, or maintain (the direction is called celeration – steeper the slope the faster the rate of change) and vary between one another (the varying movement is called bounce – the higher bounce the more irregular and less control is exerted on the behavior).

Take a look at the following segment of frequencies taken from a student teacher working with kindergartener building frequency (practicing) with letter sounds. What do you notice about the direction (celeration) of corrects and incorrects? What other critical information is revealed by an intensive focus on frequency?

Corrects grow at a very slow rate, a x1.05. Anything x1.0 stays the same, so x1.05 is insignificant growth. For incorrects, the student continues to make 2 incorrects per minute on each of the four different assessments.Look at how far the student must move her frequencies to hit the aim for corrects. She has a lot of work ahead of her; we know this because the distance from her goal (100 correct per minute) and her present frequency of 6 immediately jump out at us visually. If we used percent correct, we would not have such an eye opening experience.

Frequencies, strung together, tell us that the student needs help with an intervention. Her corrects are not growing fast enough and her incorrects remain stable at 2 per minute. Each frequency give us information on the days performance. But when frequencies (or performances) are examined across time they tell us about learning – celeration is the Precision Teaching word that allows us to quantify learning, no one else has it!

Frequencies do not move on their own, that is why we have the institution of education. A teacher must implement some type of intervention so the performance frequencies will grown or decay depending on the goal of the program. With a science-based approach to education, we have a literature base that demonstrates what works and what type of learner would benefit from a particular invention. Solid instructional programs will work for the vast majority of learners, thus the emphasis on discovering interventions through a systematic, scientific approach. In the end, each learner is an individual. Discovering what interventions best allow each student to reach their potential are truly moving frequencies.


*To read the original blog post, click here.

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