Hierarchy of Prompting from NoodleNook- Great conversation to have with paras!

Prompting Hierarchy- How I Got Duped!

I was duped. And I know you will understand that it wasn’t the student duping me- I duped myself!

hierarcy-of-prompting-via-noodlenookDuped on the Hierarchy of Support

I will never forget the day I took a group of students to Taco Bell for a Community Based Instruction Trip. There was a student in a wheelchair who required a high level of support on campus. We cut her food, opened all her packaging, even put food on the fork at times to make sure she has access. With the limited use of one side of her body and processing delays she just needed it.


On the trip my two paras and I were juggling a lot of balls. We helped this student order, pay for, and get her food to the table, but then wanted to help a few others before we sat down with her to help open, cut, and feed her.


After all the students were through the line, I went to her while my paras helped other students. When I got to her table, she was already eating her taco. I asked the table who had helped her. The other students shrugged. I asked my paras who had helped her and they both shrugged. I looked at her and asked her who had helped her. She said “No one- I was hungry”.



From Hand-Over-Hand to Independent

Well, my mouth fell open. She had opened the taco, taken a few bites… she had even opened and put hot sauce on the darn thing.


And all this time we were doing it all, everything for her.


She had learned if she did nothing, we would do everything. Duped.



That day changed things forever, but I asked myself how I could have missed it. I talked to my paras about what had happened and we were all flummoxed. But we all came back to the same thing: It’s what we had always done for her.


That was when we had to sit down and have a serious conversation with our team about what prompting looks like. We walked through this printable about the hierarchy of prompting and discussed what that looked like at each stage.



Big Take-Aways from the Hierarchy of Prompting

For us, it was a great reminder about how we needed to re-frame what we do. Our goal is to get to independence. We need to be thinking about a student doing it themselves all the time, everyday. I know our students need support in so many things, but then the next question should be what can I put in place so move away from my hand-over-hand assistance to get to the next level? Is it a visual? Is it a cuing system? Is it a repeated sequence? Or is it as simple as making a student try some tasks independently just to see what happens and reassess our support? Either way, we had to stop being so helpful so we could be more helpful!


Don’t Forget Wait Time!

Our team also needed to have a conversation about wait time. And this happens to all of us. We condition our students to simply learn to out-wait us.


We have a million things to do. When we tell a student to open their taco, they are just working on that one task while we are multi-tasking like crazy! What we often get into is not waiting for them to at least try.


So maybe I give a directive and I move on to something else. The student will either learn we can’t be out-waited, or learn self-advocacy by asking for assistance. Either way that’s a win in my book!


What we cannot do is pacify our students by teaching them through our behavior that we will do it for them if they just wait long enough. We have to wait for them to try and let that be our base expectation.

Read More About Wait Time HERE!

Remember All the Steps In Between!

Our other big takeaway was reviewing all the steps in between full hand-over-hand support and independence. You don’t give a directive, wait a couple seconds, and then just do it for them… you move through the prompting hierarchy (so you may want to print a few of these and have them around your classroom). Think of what that really looks like with students. Practice what that will look like with students. And be sure you, as the teacher, model what you preach and more though all the levels as you work with students.


the-hierarchy-of-prompting-from-noodlenookNever Duped by a Taco Again!

Turns out my Taco Student had an entire set of skills she had kept hidden. It was her second year with us and, taking the notes from her previous school to heart as to the level of support she needed, we jumped into action with loads of help. But what others do is not the gold standard of what is done. With every new student, be sure to form your own opinion as to what they really need to be successful, continually challenge students to attempt new things, and always, always, always be thinking of ways to fade the support you give. The goal is independence. Independence.

Get A Handy Guide and Comment Below!

Are you dying for more information? There is an in depth printable from the geniuses at UNC that walks you through all the levels of prompting with examples, a sample data sheet, and more lingo for you academics available here. It includes different kinds of signals for students when you are cueing, types of positive reinforcement and how to use it, and ideas discussed like natural consequences. Worth a quick read. Need few pages and more visuals? Try this quickie over at UNR here.


Finally, what experiences do you have with students and the hierarchy of prompting? Do you have your own TACO story? Please share (I will feel better knowing I am not the only one out there that was duped). Have a success story moving a student through the hierarchy? Share that too. It helps us all to hear successes. And keep up the great work!

You Might Also Like

  1. Isaiah

    Great resource! We will be linking to this excellent post on our site. Keep up the great writing.

  2. Bryan Chen

    i brought this to my teaching partner and we talked about it wilh our para team. i can already see the difference in how they deal with our students. great share

  3. Corburt Erilio

    I have been loking for something like this and i am glad i found this. I plan on printing this for my classroom and talking about it with my team. It is vey helpful to think about this when we work with the kids.

  4. LOVE this! I will be sharing with all the teachers I coach! Do you have the chart you made available for download?

  5. Lindsay Cuddy

    Where would you put a “visual prompt” on this hierarchy and is there a way you can add it or send me the file to edit?

    • The Noodler

      Is the visual prompt to tell them what to do (like a direct verbal) or to tell them that something what must be done (like an indirect verbal)?
      You would align them with those two levels…

      Good Luck!

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

clear formSubmit


You Might Also Like