Discrete trial teaching (DTT) involves breaking larger skills down into small, or ‘discrete,’ teachable components.
DTT makes learning a new skill easier for the child by simplifying the task and providing lots of opportunities for the child to practice while receiving reinforcement for correct responses!
Each discrete trial consists of an Antecedent (the instruction), a Behaviour (the correct response), and a Consequence (reinforcement delivery).
In DTT, we may start by teaching a single item by itself using prompting, prompt fading, and reinforcement for correct responses, until the child demonstrates his or her ability to perform the new skill independently. For example, we might teach colours to a child, beginning with red. We would ask the child to point to red, provide a prompt if needed, and then reinforce the behaviour (we call this Mass Trials). We would then move on to teaching yellow by itself, and reinforce that skill until it was occurring independently. Once both colours are mastered when presented alone, we then ask the child to point to either red or yellow when the trials are mixed (we call this Random Rotation). After the child learns to point to a variety colours when trials are mixed, we may teach the child to say each colour’s name.
During DTT, data are recorded on the child’s response after each discrete trial. The data allow us to determine how effectively the child is learning and when a new skill is mastered.
Sometimes, DTT is thought to be the only teaching procedure used within an ABA program. This is a misconception!
DTT is one of many different evidence-based teaching procedures used within an ABA program.
DTT is effective for teaching skills such as following instructions, matching, and identifying and naming objects and pictures (just to name a few).
DTT is not generally recommended for teaching communication skills, play, or social skills.
Contemporary ABA programs will combine DTT with other teaching strategies that are more readily implemented in the natural environment.
With any teaching procedure in an ABA program, it is important to minimise child errors during learning trials, proactively prompt and fade prompts, reinforce the child’s success, and promote generalisation across people, settings, materials, and instructions.