Precision Teaching

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  • It is a teaching strategy for promoting high levels of accuracy and fluency when learning new skills
  • It provides regular practice on very specific teaching targets
  • It uses test sheets or ‘probes’ to practise and monitor progress towards the target
  • An adult works with an individual student for around 8 minutes every day

Precision teaching is

    • a way of PLANNING a teaching programme to suit the needs of an individual pupil,
    • a way of MONITORING the pupil’s progress,
    • a way of EVALUATING the effectiveness of the teaching methods and approaches used.


  • To accelerate the pupil’s learning by repetition until skills acquired accurately
  • PT can be used to teach students a range of skills including:
    • Sight vocabulary reading (common or subject specific words)
    • Phonics
    • Spelling
    • Handwriting
    • Mathematics (e.g. number bonds, times tables)
    • Vocabulary learning ( Key words for topics or Foreign Language)


  • Key studies by the Shaywitz lab at Yale (Shaywitz et al, 2003) looked at how specific phonologically based interventions alter the way the brain responds to print
  • Functional Magnetic Imaging (fMRI) carried out pre and post-intervention – showed changes in pattern of activation in ‘normalised’ direction over time
  • Reduced right-hemisphere activation and increased left-temporal activation was found as children improved their phonological/phonic processing

Overlap with The Rose Report

  • Phonetic – Teaching method can include a focus on phonics
  • Multisensory – Teaching method can be (e.g. say the letters, paint the letters, see shapes in words)
  • Cumulative – can add words from previous weeks
  • Sequential – can move gradually from easier (one syllable, phonically regular e.g. ‘cat’) to harder spellings (multisyllabic, irregular words e.g. ‘hierarchical’)
  • Progressive – can include words from previous weeks for maintenance and consolidation
  • Small steps – monitoring ensures rate of learning is appropriate for individual children
  • Logical – Should be if careful thought is given to the words selected for learning
  • Overlearning through repetition – allows for a high level of repetition
  • Building self-esteem – Anecdotal evidence that children are motivated in recording and trying to beat their previous scores (Positive remarks made on the Times Educational Supplement Primary Forum)

Underlying Theory

  • Precision Monitoring is based on principles drawn from psychological theory and research about effective teaching and learning, such as The Learning Hierarchy (Haring and Eaton, 1978)
  • Acquisition – Pupil performs skill with accuracy
  • Fluency – Pupil performs skill with accuracy and fluency
  • Maintenance–Proficiency level reached showing maintenance of above.
  • Generalisation - With support, pupil can apply skill in different contexts
  • Adaptation – Without specific instruction, pupil can apply skill in new and different contexts.

Spelling Difficulties

  • Spelling places additional demands on memory processes – spelling is recall, reading is recognition
  • English spelling is morpho-phonological
  • English is considered a deep or opaque orthography – there is poor consistency at the phoneme-grapheme level with many exception words
  • Contextual cues are more helpful for reading than spelling

Main Components of Precision Teaching

  • Have specifically targeted facts for the child to learn (e.g. to spell accurately 10 topic words) – SMART Targets
  • Provide a daily 5-10 minute teaching session. Deliver the teaching in a way that is meaningful for the child (e.g. look, cover, write, check). Consider strategies suggested earlier – e.g. break longer words into morphemic units
  • Assess learning using the PROBE (1 minute) and record the pupil’s performance on a daily basis to see what has been learned
  • Chart performance on a daily basis, enabling child to see their progress (RATIO CHART)
  • Analyse the data to determine:
    • Whether progress is satisfactory or not (according to the criteria adopted)
    • Whether changes are needed in the programme in order to accelerate progress
    • What teaching approaches/methods work best!
  • Double check for maintenance
  • Aim for programme to be delivered over a fixed period of time, e.g. 8 weeks and repeated/extended as necessary


Teach – 5-8 mins

  1. At least 5 minutes per day
  2. Using flashcards, teaching by analogy, visual strategies, ICT software, explicit teaching of spelling rules, finding words within words + other helpful strategies (including plenty of encouragement and praise for effort)
  3. Try to use the same teaching methods each day for the duration of the task (unless not working and need to review)

Probe - 1 min

  1. Tests pupil performance on a specific task or skill
  2. Short, carefully timed. No time to get bored!
  3. Possible to express performance as a rate.
  4. Easy to administer on a daily basis
  5. Use high frequency vocabulary, Topic/subject specific vocabulary, Word families (e.g. rough, tough, enough) and Phonic skills (e.g. vowel blends – ‘ow’ and ‘ou’)
  6. Try to carry out session as far as possible at the same time each day.
  7. Probes are timed for exactly 1 minute.
    1. If the child reaches the bottom of the probe before the minute is up, go back to the top and continue to the end of the minute.
    2. If the child hesitates allow 5 seconds exactly then move them on to the next word.
    3. Emphasise accuracy first, fluency second
  8. Link here

Chart - 1 min

  1. A grid containing the target words or skill repeated
  2. Items need to be placed in a randomised order
  3. Teacher reads words from the grid for the child to spell for 1 minute and the score is recorded


Prevision Teaching for Vocabulary

  1. Precision teaching and testing using a child's personal vocabulary. (keywords can also be used. so can subject specific words)
  2. Elicit from the child between 4 to 6 words which he / she would like to be able to read.
  3. Now find between 1 and 4 words which the child can read easily. It is easier if there are 10 words altogether. (If the child has real problems with retaining words, then 5 words altogether would be the best number.)
  4. Then write the complete list of words out in order across the top line of the boxes on the 'probe' sheet.
  5. Continue writing the words into the boxes, but in a random manner, so that the words occur the same number of times but not in a similar order. You will need a second copy of the probe sheet.
  6. Teach the unknown words in any appropriate manner.
  7. Set aside a time each day during the week when the child can read aloud as many words as possible in a minute. You will need a timer or a stop watch. Tick the words read correctly on the second copy.
  8. If after five sessions, the unknown words are consistently read correctly, it is time to change the words. Take out those words that were known originally and any of those unknown words that were read without errors and replace these by new words to be learnt. Make a new probe sheet and continue and repeat the process. Use a different colour for ticking each day.
  9. Words to be learnt can be written on flash cards to take home.
  10. This method can be very motivating because the child is able to see his / her progress. Most children read more words each day and can see the relevance of the exercise. However, if the words are too difficult for the child to master or if there are too many words to learn at once, he / she can become disillusioned at the lack of progress.
  11. This activity works well with learning the key words or core words from a reading scheme. The child should know that there are a particular number of words to be learnt so that the end of this process is understood. When the words have been learnt, there should be a rest from working on the probes and another method of learning words should be given.