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The Child Knows Best

Page history last edited by Regina Claypool-Frey 14 years, 10 months ago




Description by Binder & Watkins (1990)

The rule is that the learner knows best. If the student is progressing under the instructional plan as demonstrated by the charted data, then the program is appropriate for the student, but, conversely, if the targeted movement cycle for the student shows little celeration of corrects, frequency of "learning opportunities" (errors) are not decreasing, or other lack of progress is demonstrated, then the program must be changed. Precision teaching holds the choice of instructional strategy as responsible for student progress or lack therein; the student is always "right". 


"...At the beginning of the paper that represents his initial contribution to the educational literature, Lindsley (1964a) wrote: “Children are not retarded. Only their behavior in average environments is sometimes retarded. In fact, it is modern science’s ability to design suitable environments for these children that is retarded” (p. 62).


A key element of Precision Teaching is the dictum that “the child knows best” (Lindsley, 1972). Based on Skinner’s famous statement that “the organism is always right,” Lindsley taught Precision Teachers to assume that learners respond in lawful ways to environmental variables and that if learners behave in an undesirable way it is the responsibility of teachers to alter those variables until they produce the desired result. This assumption, perhaps obvious to most current-day performance technologists flies in the face of traditional psycho-educational practice which tends to label and to blame students for failure, not instructional methods..."(p. 76)


Binder, C. & Watkins, C. L. (1990). Precision Teaching and Direct Instruction: Measurably superior instructional technology in schools. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 3(4), 74-96.,



Lindsley, O. R. (1964). Direct measurement and prosthesis of retarded behavior. Journal of Education, 147, 62-81.

Lindsley, O. R. (1972). From Skinner to precision teaching: The child knows best. In J. B. Jordan & L. S. Robbins (Eds.), Let's try doing something else kind of thing (pp. 1-11). Arlington, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.



O.R. Lindsley Audio, from 1969 Short Course


Audio of Dr. Lindsley (1969) discussing "The Child Knows Best" (Reel #3)

Tape digitized by Scott Born.

"Two Five-minute sections. Ogden discusses the principles of his Precise Behavioral Management system including his catch phrase "The child knows best," derived from a paraphrase of Skinner."

Annotated transcript of Reel #3.

Transcript by Regina Claypool-Frey



Description by Lindsley (1990)


This dictum arose from an early experience of Lindsley's while a graduate student,


Excerpt: "The Child Knows Best


"When I was a graduate student, I trained a rat whose behavior did not extinguish exactly as the charts in [B.F.] Skinner's (1938) book had shown. My rat had at first responded much more rapidly when his responding was no longer reinforced. This rapid responding went on for about 30 minutes, at which time the rat stopped abruptly. I took the cumulative record of the rat's unusual extinction to Dr. Skinner and asked him how this happened. How could the rat do this when the book showed a very different gradual extinction curve? Skinner answered, "In this case, the book is wrong! The rat knows best! That's why we still have him in the experiment!"


Skinner's easy acceptance of possible error in his book's generalizations impressed me. Here was an empiricist at work! His charming way of admitting that the scientist did not know everything yet, that the rat knew rat behavior best, was the clearest way I had yet found to describe the inductive approach to behavioral research. For this reason I made "the child knows best" a policy and slogan for precision teachers to use in their discoveries (Lindsley, 1971b). Often in workshops a teacher will ask, "Dr. Lindsley, what is the best way to help a child improve his oral reading to a frequency above 40 words per minute?" I always reply, "What is the child's name?" If the teacher replies, "Brent," I answer, "What did Brent suggest?" The teacher usually replies, "I didn't ask him!" And I answer, "Then please go back and ask him, because, after all, the child knows best...".


Lindsley, O. R. (1990). Precision teaching: By teachers for children. Teaching Exceptional Children, 22(3), 10-15.


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