Forward and Backward Chaining can be implemented to teach new skills.
It is especially useful for tasks that involve a series of steps to be performed in a certain order or sequence. Chaining can help break down a more complex task into a sequence of simpler interconnected steps which are learned one step at a time. Task analysis is used to break down and define the series of steps needed to achieve the final outcome. The triggers utilized for the chain of events could be a stimulus, whether a spoken word or an action.
Forward Chaining – With forward chaining, the teacher or parent begins with the first activity in the task analysis by prompting the child to initiate the task themselves. The parent then helps them through the following steps until the final step is completed. Once the child begins to perform the first step in the sequence with some proficiency, the parent will then leave steps one and two for the child to perform on their own and will help only with the remaining steps. This is what you might see with a parent teaching a child how to bake a cookie. First the child is only involved in measuring on their own. The rest of the steps are undertaken with the parent guiding and helping the child through the process like: mixing the batter, adding the ingredients, pouring it into the baking tray, popping it into the oven, turning on a timer, and finally removing it and cooling the baked goods. Once the child learns how to accurately measure, the parent then begins to leave the batter mixing for the child to do as well. This progresses until the baked cookies are fully completed by the child.
Backward Chaining – With backward chaining, the trainer/teacher guides the child through all the steps in the sequence barring the last one which is left to the child to do on his/her own. Once the task is done, the teacher/parent will need to provide reinforcement after competing the last step in the chain. At first, the child may not perform the task independently and might need prompting. With time and repeated practice, they will eventually be able to do that final step without being prompted. At this point, the teacher then guides them through all the steps but stops at the second to last step this time, leaving that step along with the final step both to be done by the child independently. For example, if you are trying to teach a child to get dressed for school, you might begin by teaching them to tie their laces, then work backward to wearing their shoes, pulling on their socks, wearing their clothes, and then eventually having them bath themselves.
When To Use Forward Chaining and When To Use Backward Chaining? – An advantage with backward chaining is that it allows the learner to experience the results up front. The final step is usually the one that gives the most gratification, so having mastered it will give the child confidence and satisfaction. Imagine being able to savor that cookie you just helped pull out of the oven versus measuring ingredients and knowing that you have a long way to go before you can bake the cookie yourself and taste it. This is what makes the backward chaining approach an attractive option to teaching a new skill.
On the other hand, forward chaining has its own advantages as well. With small tasks such as learning how to brush your teeth, forward chaining can work very well to have the child progress in sequence from step one to finish on their own.
Deciding on when and for whom to use Forward or Backward chaining will rely heavily on the discretion of the teacher or parent and assessing which approach will work best for the child.