Evidence-Based Reading Instruction (with Michael Maloney, founder of Maloney Method)

Evidence-Based Reading Instruction (with Michael Maloney, founder of Maloney Method) Featured Image

Michael Maloney joins Erika Ng again to discuss the science of learning by combining evidence-based techniques called Precision Teaching, Behavior Analysis and Direct Instruction. Michael’s current teaching procedures use these three practices which are all based in behavioral science.

Interview Highlights:

  • In Michael’s first interview, he had a parent join him to discuss his work specifically in remedial literacy instruction and the power of the behavior science tools that he uses. These include Precision Teaching and Direct Instruction & Behavior Analysis. [0:41]
  • In his second interview, Michael talks about parent coaching and specifically the criticism trap. He also touches on rapport building between parent and child after that. [0:55]
  • Families come to Michael because they’re facing a problem. Sometimes the problem is defined as behavioral but most of the time he also finds a child who’s in trouble academically. His work is predominantly teaching children academic skills. [4:17]
  • Michael spent three years in the public school system, working with children who had behavior challenges. He often also found a child who is highly deficient in skills. Part of his secret is to make sure the child has skills because once they have those they drop a lot of the challenging behavior. [4:42]
  • Michael’s emphasis is academic, but he also has a background in working with children with challenging behavior. [5:40]
  • The pattern he sees in the school system is that when a child is lacking some skills they also won’t sit still in a classroom and do what the teacher wants. This tends to get them into trouble and then gets them a referral to Michael. [6:16]
  • When Michael was training teachers who have not been well-trained in classroom management skills, they would catch the kid getting it wrong. They’d catch the kid out of his seat or the child who’s turned around talking to another kid, or not on task. [10:02]

“If we want to track behavior, you have to count it.” — Michael Maloney

  • Whether it’s the number of times that the child complies or the number of times when the child resists, you need to count something. [23:23]
  • If we are going to teach a child to read, we’d teach them 1,000 of the most common words. That 1,000 most common words will allow the child to read 85% of texts. [24:44]
  • Michael was leading a workshop of 300 teachers. He asked how many of them were satisfied with the way in which they were trained to go into a classroom. 299 of them were not. [26:44]
  • The skill of decoding is required at fluent levels if one is going to learn how to comprehend. [27:22]
  • Use the rules of reading, use examples, use non-examples. Get them to a high fluency level. It’s not so much that it’s a comprehension problem. Michael says that 99% of the time it’s a lack of fluent decoding skills that prohibit the child from attacking comprehension. [28:12]

“If you teach a child good decoding skills, their comprehension goes up by about a year.” — Michael Maloney

  • Zig Engelmann wrote a book for parents called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It does require some skill on the part of the adult, but is highly effective if done well and is evidence-based. Michael’s digital reading program uses a similar approach by combining Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching and is designed for a caregiver to implement without learning new skills. [29:39]
  • Michael’s other recommended online resource is Anita L. Archer‘s work and Headsprout.These are based in behavioral science techniques. Headsprout is an online reading tool from the makers of Raz-Kids. [30:07]
  • For whole class instruction, Michael suggests splitting the class into three groups by similar skill set so struggling readers who are working on similar skills are together and more proficient readers are also grouped together working on similar skills. Lessons can be delivered efficiently by using Direct Instruction, targeting specific skills [30:36]
  • It can be helpful for a teacher to use a program when implementing Direct Instruction. These are listed here on the National Institute for Direct Instruction. Michael recommends Reading Mastery or Corrective Reading. The former for a general education classroom and the latter for a special education classroom. [32:32]

Guest Bio:

Michael Maloney with his colleague, Eric Haughton, amalgamated Behavior Analysis, Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching into a powerful learning system, now known as the Maloney Method. After being hindered from advocating for macro-level change in the public education system, Michael created the first private, for-profit behaviorally-based learning centre and school in North America for children at-risk of school failure in 1979.

Now he creates, publishes, and markets effective methods as a series of educational books, CDs, and software. His aim is to make empirically proven methods commonplace in education. He teaches a distance education course at University of West Florida’s ABA dept – A Model for Education, outlining the features of the behavioral components of the Maloney Method.

“We shouldn’t just be satisfied with reducing the inappropriate behaviors, we need to build better behaviors that are going to serve that child in a wider world.”

— Michael Maloney

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Read the Transcript:

Erika Ng

Welcome to Behavioral Health Collective podcast, a community of behavior analysts who are passionate about sharing our science by connecting families to information that promotes meaningful behavior change. We’re a community of practitioners who seek to empower parents by sharing effective behavioral strategies, and the evidence-based practices from the perspective of behavior science. 

Thank you so much for tuning in. I’m Erika Ng, the founder of the Behavioral Health Collective. If you haven’t yet heard the first Michael Maloney’s interview, two interviews of me. I’m gonna highlight a couple things just introduce him, but please do go back and listen to those episodes.

So, in the first interview he has a parent join him to discuss his work specifically in remedial literacy instruction and the power of behavior science tools that he uses including precision teaching and Direct Instruction along with behavior analysis. In the second interview, he talks about parent coaching and specifically the criticism trap. Also kind of touching on rapport building between parent and child after that.

Over the course of his 45 year career in behavior science, Michael Maloney has written 30 books and taught over a hundred thousand children to read.

He has another 30 books he says he’d liked to write still, and just came out with a reading instruction app that is quite effective in teaching kids to read through highly structured lessons to make it really easy for parents, caregivers, teachers is to use. My class helped thousands of adults as well, learn to be proficient readers and go on to be successful in college. And that vocation, after having had to change careers, due to workplace accidents.

Michael also provides consultation based in behavior science to families, also to behavioral health organizations and individual practitioners, both locally and via Telehealth all over the world. 

He’ll touch a little bit on measurement of behavior and reading instruction as not really as his niche area so let’s get to it.

Good morning, Michael. Thank you so much for being here. How are you today?

Michael Maloney

I’m well, Erika. It’s cold and snowy in Ontario. 

Erika Ng

Oh boy. We did have snow here as well, surprisingly in Vancouver but it’s now melting. I can hear the rain outside. Thank you so much for being here again.

So last time we spoke we, you shared some thoughts on the criticism trap and rapport building between parents and children. And today I think we have a couple of things on the docket. So you want to just speak a little bit more about what parents might experience when they’re first making some changes to how they address challenging behavior?

And then we’re going to touch a bit on the academics as well, to wrap that in there at the end. Does that sound okay? 

Michael Maloney

Sounds great. 

Erika Ng

Maybe to start, not everybody has listened to those two previous episodes that you have been on already. So, for those that have not heard that yet, could you just give a brief description of how you work with families and maybe some of the challenges that you see when you first start working with families?

Michael Maloney

Right. Okay. 

Well, typically families come to me because they’re facing a problem. Sometimes the problem is defined as behavioral, a child who’s not appropriately behaving. Most of the time when I find that I also find a child who’s in deep trouble academically. And my work is predominantly teaching children academic skills and not necessarily just dealing with behavioral problems.

So although I did spend three years in a school system, working with children who had behavior problems and every time I found one, I found a child who is also highly deficient in skills. So, the secret, part of the secret is to make sure the child has skills because once they have those they drop a lot of that, you know, insidious behavior.

So, parents wouldn’t usually show up at my door very desperate because they’ve tried everything. They’ve gone through the IEP process. They’ve gone through the testing, they’ve gone through everything and now they’re right at their wit’s end. So they come and I usually find the child is very depressed in that sense and that they’re not eager to do anything. 

They feel like failures, the kids are a mess, right. And that’s true for like a hundred thousand kids so far. So, my emphasis is academic.

Erika Ng

And you were saying in previous episodes to kind of the typical profile of client, could you kind of describe that? Because I think that’s helpful for parents to hear the majority of your kids are. 

Michael Maloney

Absolutely. 80% of our students over like 40 years were male between nine and 12 years of age, usually closer to nine, grade three, grade four.

A problem at school and can’t read. So, it all starts with the child who is deficient in skills, but who won’t sit still in a classroom and do what the teacher wants. And that gets them into trouble, which gets them to my door. And we wind up teaching them reading, and then if they want spelling and math and whatever else they need. 

Erika Ng

That’s amazing. So, really by empowering them academically, you get that that kind of secondary collateral of that her behavior in the classroom as well. 

Michael Maloney

They don’t need that garbage behavior because now they can do it just as well as any other kid. 

Erika Ng

So, skillable they need 

Michael Maloney

And nothing need to be success.

Erika Ng

That’s right. Yeah. That’s amazing. 

Could you touch a little bit on how you measure success when you’re doing reading instruction? 

Michael Maloney

How fast was your heart rate right now? 

Erika Ng

Oh, gosh, I don’t know.

Michael Maloney

You don’t know. The answers I don’t know. 

Erika Ng

No Idea. 

Michael Maloney

I asked you, are you breathing?

Erika Ng

Not sure, haven’t measured it.

Michael Maloney

I don’t know. How fast you talk? I don’t know. Okay. Those are things we do every day, each and every day we’ve been doing them since before we were born in some cases, and we don’t have a frequency count. We don’t count them, so if we want to track behavior, you have to count it. And so whether it’s number of times that the child, you know, complies or number of the times when the child resisted, you need to count them.

And again, that’s why the and you have to record it because you have to be able to see it over time. And what we have in academic circles is we have standards that say a child should read 150 words a minute. If they’re a fluent reader. You should be breathing at 25 to 30 respirations per minute. Your heart rate should be somewhere between 65 and 70 of it’s resting.

You walk at 120 steps a minute, you talk at two hundred words a minute. You know, we have very specific things that we can, and when those things don’t work, we have to go back and find out well, which component of this is not working? And we need to fix that in order to fix the entire string. 

Erika Ng

So you will measure the fluency or the rate of reading and then kind of dial back into very specific skills. Is that what you’re saying? 

Michael Maloney

In fact, I, you, if we were going to teach a child to read, we’d teach them the thousand most common words. That thousand most common words, excuse me. That thousand most common words will allow the child to read 85% of everything there is an English. 

Well, we can’t start with the words. We have to split them into two groups. Those that are phonetically regular, and those that are not. Then we teach the sounds for those phonetically regular words and teach them to blend them together to get the word. That’s really very simple. And then we teach the irregular words a different way. So now we can go down to the very smallest component, the sound and the symbol that makes that sound, and go from there to the complex things of reading novels by your Herman Melville.

Erika Ng

So you’re really building upon the smallest skill and then just growing from there, but not jumping ahead. That’s for sure. 

Michael Maloney

Yes. Isn’t that the whole work of behaviors? 

Erika Ng

Absolutely. Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

Yeah. 

Erika Ng

And I think 

Michael Maloney

It’s just behavior applied to reading. 

Erika Ng

Yeah, exactly. That’s a great way to put it behavior. Yeah. Is or sorry. Reading is a behavior. 

And I think sometimes we forget that maybe in the school systems, when we’re teaching skills, we jump ahead and we try to teach more complex skills without having those basic skills in place. 

Michael Maloney

Huh 

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

We don’t have a roadmap, that’s the problem. Our teachers don’t have scope and sequence charts. What’s the scope of this learning? What’s the sequence in which things are being done? We don’t give those to teachers. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

They’re out there doing the best they can with what they think is going to work and it’s I pity them. They are really in a hard situation. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. No, you’re absolutely right. Boy and I think teacher training would be a whole other conversation as you know, someone who has been through teacher’s college in Canada. And that’s a conversation for another time that 

Michael Maloney

It would be called effective. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

It’s I had a gathering of 300 teachers. I asked them how many of them are satisfied with the way in which they were trained to go into a classroom. 299 of them were not. One was. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. That’s not surprising to be honest, unfortunately. Well, one other thing I wanted to ask, maybe we’ll have another conversation about teacher training and other time, but how do you target comprehension? Because I know that’s a common question from families or for teachers and EA’s this kid can decode, but they can’t understand what they’re reading. So how do you tend to address that? 

Michael Maloney

Well, they got the court and the horse in front of the cart again. Now they’ve, the skill of decoding is required at fluent levels if you’re going to learn how to comprehend. If I am working so hard to get the information off the page that I don’t have any brain power left and figure out what is it telling me? My comprehension scores are going to be horrible. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

And you have to get them to a point where they’re ready to begin comprehension, then you need to lay that out in a scope and sequence chart as to exactly how they’re going to figure things out. Like higher order thinking skills like deductions and analogies. Zig Engelmann did a wonderful job of teaching us how to teach that.

Use the rules, use examples, use non-examples. Get them to a high level. So, it’s not so much that it’s a comprehension problem. 99% of the time it’s going to be the lack of a fluent decoding system that the child has in order to begin to attack comprehension. And one of the things we found in our learning center over the years was, if you taught a child good decoding skills, their comprehension went up by about a year.

Erika Ng

Wow. 

Michael Maloney

As a simpler, we weren’t even teaching comprehension yet. That’s just a side benefit of being a good fluent reader. 

Erika Ng

The fluency, so that’s key. So starting with small steps, getting them up to proficiency where they’re very fluent. And then you can build on that and there’s the collateral growth of comprehension when they’re fluent.

Michael Maloney

Yeah, but you gotta be very careful because there are very few programs out there that are actually going to teach you how to do that. Zig Engelmann wrote most of them, if you’re not using a Direct Instruction program of some sort, you’re probably not going to get those results. 

Erika Ng

Right. Actually, I did want to ask you about that. So you mentioned in the previous episode the National Institute for Direct Instruction and they list all of their programs there. You know, there’s a number of them for reading. Are there, is there one or two that you particularly use or the introduction?

Michael Maloney

Well, if you’re teaching the parent yourself I would go with the one, the only ones Zig ever wrote for parents it’s called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. But even that requires some skill. If you wanted to do that without any need to learn a whole bunch of new skills, you could simply use our digital reading program, which combines direct instruction and precision teaching. And it’s all buried inside the computer software. So you don’t have to do anything. 

Erika Ng

Right. And that’s your app, so I’ll link to that as well. Yeah, correct. 

Michael Maloney

Yeah. So, and then there’s, I mean, there, there are a number, Anita L. Archer’s work. Anybody who’s working with any of her work will be well-rewarded. There aren’t many, there aren’t many behavioral approaches to teaching reading. Headsprout is another one.

Erika Ng

Oh, yes, that’s correct. Yeah, I’m familiar with that. 

Michael Maloney

But that’s about it. It’s a very short list. 

Erika Ng

What about for a whole class instruction? Is there one in particular? 

Michael Maloney

Yeah. I love doing whole class instruction. Yeah. 

Erika Ng

Okay. 

Michael Maloney

Oh, you got it, again, you need the skills. What you want to do is split that class. Three groups. Let’s say I’ve got 25 kids in my classroom, okay? I’m going to split them, the front top 12 are going in the big group. The next eight are going in the middle group. The last four are going in the last group. And I’m going to teach those 12 very quickly, and the eight are going to get more time, but not much more. And four little guys they’re really going it.

And when I get them sitting down with me with my back to the wall and them facing me, and need a knee with my weakest child right in front of me. So when I look up, I’m looking right into his eyes, if he’s got it, they’ve all got it. And I can see the rest of the classroom, I can manage it from there. Hey, team one, you’re doing a wonderful job.

Sarah, take two points for team one. So I can use my behavior management skills, I can coach and teach and they, I can have the kids measuring one another, practicing with them. It’s just a system that worked like, you know, like wildfire. 

Erika Ng

That’s great. And is there one curriculum in particular from DI that you would recommend, like reading mastery or corrective reading or something like that to teachers?

Michael Maloney

It depends. If you’re in special Ed you’ll want the corrective reading series. If you’re in a regular classroom the mastery series would be great. And again, there’s there’s all of the other ones there’s our whole system of teaching, reading, the teacher-children read well and toolbox series. We have the advantage of incorporating direct or precision teaching in with our, so that’s something that Zig didn’t do.

Erika Ng

Yeah. Okay.

Michael Maloney

But that’s the benefit of having Ogden Lindsley is another of my mentor. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. That’s incredible. Wow. Yeah. All these great sciences put together into one package. 

Michael Maloney

Yeah. And you can see it in a classroom, when you’re sitting at your back to the wall and four kids in front of you and 16 out here working hard. All following the rules, the behavioral rules of the classroom, all getting praised and points for doing things right. Chance to re to help another child learn how to mentor, and it’s, it really is the best of three different technologies. 

Erika Ng

That’s incredible. That’s a great example, too, of what that can look like in the classroom. So thank you for sharing that too, cause helpful for teachers and EAs to hear that, so.

Michael Maloney

It’ll only work if you have a DI program. 

Erika Ng

Well, I’ll be sure to link those programs, not just the website, but specifically the reading mastery and the corrective reading as well. So thank you so much, Michael. It’s been great to have you on the show three times, and to hear your perspective on so many different topics, cause you have such a wide breadth of knowledge and experience. Thank you.

Michael Maloney

Well I’m yeah, I’ve been around a long time. So, you know, you collect experiences and I’m happy to share them. So, especially you’re a great interviewer. You asked the right questions at the right time, so thank you. 

Erika Ng

I appreciate that. It’s been such a treat, so thank you. Have a great day. Enjoy your family day.

Michael Maloney

You too. Take care. Bye-bye.

Erika Ng

Thank you so much again for listening. The comments and views expressed in this podcast do not constitute or replace contractual behavior, analytic consultation, or professional advice. Views expressed are solely the perspective of the speaker and do not represent the views or position of their colleagues, employer, or other associates.

Please seek out a behavior analyst through BACB website if you’d like to receive further behavior consultation. Until next time. Thank you so much for listening. Take care.

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