ICEL: What is It?

When faced with a learner who just isnt learning a skill, is stuck on a target, or persisting with an inappropriate behavior, I often see parents or therapists handling these issues by:
-Stopping the program/intervention
-Going to an easier demand (the child has been stuck on "Say hi" for 3 months, so the therapist moves to just requiring the child to "wave hi").

I see this happen frequently in the home and school settings. The problem with minimizing or removing a demand due to lack of progress is this method assumes that something is wrong with the learner (the child).....The child isnt getting the task because they arent paying attention, they arent cognitively ready for the task, they arent motivated enough, etc. Blaming the child for learning difficulties is backwards, and counterproductive.
ICEL is based in learning theory, and is a tool that can be implemented in classrooms, workplaces/organizations, and especially ABA programs. I use it very often and remind my clients of it all the time.

ICEL stands for:

I- Instruction
C- Curriculum
E- Environment

If you have been working with a child for months on the same skill with little to no success, instead of blaming the child for the lack of progress you need to remember the ICEL technique.

  • Instruction-  Think of this as HOW you teach. Are you using the correct teaching procedure? Are you using proper and powerful reinforcers?  Are your materials of good quality, organized, and appropriate for the targets? Did you take the time to develop instructional control before beginning teaching? Are you properly paired up with the child?
  • Curriculum- Think of this as WHAT you teach. Are you teaching programs that are not too easy or too difficult for the child? Did you gather baseline data on the programs to make sure you are starting on the correct target? Are the programs developmentally appropriate for the child ? Are you teaching programs out of order--meaning that you have two programs that should be taught sequentially, not at the same time ? Before teaching a skill, did you make sure the child has the necessary prerequisites ?
  • Environment- Think of this as WHERE you teach. Look around your learning it too loud? Too quiet? Too busy? Too hot or too cold in temperature?  Messy, disorganized, or chaotic?
  • Learner- The last thing you should look at when you are having teaching difficulties is the learner, or the student. If I am working with a child and we "hit a wall" with a certain program or task, I am first going to make changes to things I am doing, where we work, when we work, etc. Only after I have made all of these changes will I look at my student as the cause of slow progress.

I speak with many therapists who will make comments like "That intervention you gave us last week isnt working, we need something else". My response is always to remember ICEL, and to look at the learner last not first. Otherwise what may happen is you are constantly changing programs, switching interventions, putting targets on hold, and seeing erratic progress. Often when ICEL is applied correctly it becomes clear that instructor error is the reason for slow progress.

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