Picking up any new skill is no easy task. Whether it is learning a new language, picking up a completely new trade skill or something simpler, it is hard to go from novice to expert overnight. And that’s where shaping can help make things a lot easier on you or anyone who you are training.
Understanding the application of Shaping in teaching
Shaping follows a phased approach to teaching a new skill. Instead of trying to assimilate the numerous things that go into performing something in a single shot, it is reinforced over time, stage by stage until the novice has mastered the basics of that new skill. That’s because what may be second nature to an experienced person or someone well versed with a certain skill, can be quite overwhelming to someone seeing or trying to do it for the first time.
With shaping, you start with the existing palette of skills and behaviors and pick out the one/s that will help build towards the final desired skill or behavior. By moving slowly in a phased manner, things suddenly become more achievable.
A quick guide to teaching new skills with Shaping
Before diving into shaping to teach a skill, be clear on what your ultimate goal really is. Define the scope and level of proficiency you would like the learner to achieve. If it is a certain behavior or expertise, lay down the outcome you are hoping to ultimately get to.
Know the current skill level and abilities of the student/child. You need to have clarity not just on where you are heading, but what you have to work with. Understand the skill and current behavior.
If there is existing behavior that will help build towards the final goal, it is what is called ‘starting point behavior’ by those who practice Shaping. And your first move must be to positively reinforce this starting point behavior. Once a child sees that as being desirable, they will strive to do it more, thereby honing a key skill or attribute needed to learn the new skill.
Gradually move to the next behavior or skill level and start to focus on reinforcing and praising that next step now instead of the starting point, to encourage movement to the next level.
Before you get started…
Most importantly, don’t try to rush things. You need to be very sure that a certain step or behavior has been mastered before moving on to the next stage.
Reinforcement may come in many forms. It could be a sticker, a high five, or a “good job”.
Once you have the techniques down pat, you can apply Shaping for a range of different learning situations. Whether it is teaching a new sport, helping a child learn good table manners or good behavior, shaping can make a world of difference to the results you see.