1. Defining the Target/Replacement Behavior
After analyzing the data, what would you like the student DO instead of the maladaptive behavior. This is referred to as the target or replacement behavior.
Target behaviors should be observable, measurable, and clear.
Here are some examples of target behaviors:
- Student will initiate work within two redirections
- Student will raise hand and wait until called on
- During an unstructured activity, the student will accept a loss as evidenced by saying by actions such as saying “good job nice try,” giving a high five with eye contact, using kind words, or following the rules.
Here are some examples of what a target behavior is NOT:
- Being compliant
A clear target behavior provides clear expectations for the student and the staff. If the replacement behavior is clear, observable, and measurable, the student is more likely to understand what is expected of him and her. A clear target behavior will also allow for more accuracy when collecting data, since all service providers will have a strong understanding of what the student is being asked to do. Are all staff members going to agree what “listening” looks like? Are the students feet on the floor? Where is is the student’s body facing?
2. Decreasing behavior through withholding reinforcement
After reviewing the ABC and FAST data and noticing patterns for the function of the behavior, you can determine what are the potential functions of the behavior. Below are some strategies to ensure you are extinguishing the problem behavior by withholding positive reinforcement when it occurs.
- Ignore the behavior
- Give specific, concrete feedback to student such as “I will return to your seat when I see you sitting in your seat with your feet on the ground and at a voice level 0.”
- Provide high-quality attention when student is engaging in positive behaviors
- Explicitly teach the difference between positive and negative attention, since the student may be processing positive and negative the same – as simply attention/connection
Access to a preferred activity or item:
- Provide a contingency or if/then chart. Student will earn preferred activity when he or she meets set expectations
- Model how to ask for an item appropriately. For example, “Can you try again asking for the item by having a calm body and a calm voice and by saying…..?”
- Frontload expectations and provide visual timer and visual schedule to help the student meet the goal
- Provide access to a break center for a student to de-escalate if frustrated when not receiving immediate access to an item
- Provide a “Zen Den” or break center in the classroom with posted expectations
- Provide “break passes” with clear rules
- Provide access to visual timer to set clear expectations of how long
- Frontload expectations for each activity and what the student will need to do in the classroom to receive specific reinforcements
- Provide access to sensory tools
- Reinforce when student uses sensory tools correctly
- Provide a student with choice about which sensory tools to use
Control (this is not on the FAST but can drive many maladaptive behaviors):
- Provide forced choices
- Praise positive behaviors
- Tie rewards to opportunities for following directions
- Provide leadership opportunities (I had one student dismiss the rest of the students at the end of class if he met specific expectations. He decided which students had the cleanest desks and were ready to be dismissed first. Needless to say, it was a very helpful tool, since he had to demonstrate positive behaviors throughout the class, and he would also receive positive attention from his peers afterwards!).
3. Selecting and Creating a Reinforcement Menu
1) Select highly, individualized reinforcers that are more likely to produce positive behaviors
2) Pair reinforcement with positive behaviors more frequently in early acquisition of replacement behaviorsYell, 2013, p. 79
Imagine that it is the middle of March — right before spring break. You are running on caffeine, fumes, and a shred of sanity. What motivates you to go to work? Is it the same every day or is it different? Does your source of motivation fluctuate between seeing your students, receiving your paycheck at the end of the week, spending time with your supportive co-workers, or not being able to find a sub? Research also dictates that access to different reinforcers support children’s motivation to change behaviors (Crosby, 1992, 65).
Creating a reinforcement menu allows for students to have access to different types of motivators throughout the day. This also ensures that one reinforcement does not lose its potency due to overuse. The basic reinforcers are positive reinforcers — something added such as a token economy — or negative reinforcers — something taken away such as homework.
Younger students or students with more specialized needs benefit from tangible reinforcements such as “jumps,” a specific toy, or a treasured book such as Brown Bear. To provide choice, a teacher can hold two objects in front of a student such as PlayDoh or bubbles, which can be selected after seeing what types of activities or items the student gravitate towards. Students may also benefit from a reinforcement choice board where they can point to or take a picture off the velcro to demonstrate their preferred reinforcement.
Older students may benefit from a reinforcement/forced-choice survey, which helps unpack what are the greatest motivators for a student. The survey has five categories: adult approval, competitive approval, peer approval, independent approval, and consumable rewards.
After evaluating the student’s answers for the forced choice survey, I would provide options for the student’s top 2-4 categories and ask the student for his or her feedback, since he or she is the expert of what are the strongest motivators.
Below are some suggestions for each category as a starting point:
- Time with an adult during lunch/snack
- Call home
- Presenting a student’s work
- Allowing the student to teach a lesson/be the teacher helper
- Sending work with note home to parent
- A preferred activity with a peer during unstructured time
- Eating lunch with the teacher and a friend
- Time to draw after work or participate in another relaxing activity after work is completed
- This is a tricky one. Preferably, this would be a healthy treat, and it is recommended to work with the parents on identifying food that fits the student’s diet and needs.
This wonderful presentation also has more information and ideas on how to keep reinforcers novel for students.
Schedule of reinforcement:
So you know what motivates the student – but how often should the student be receiving access to an extrinsic reinforcement? Evaluating the baseline data and collaborating with team members will help establish individual goals. For example, if a student can only sit in a chair for five minutes, the student could be expected to sit before 10 minutes before receiving access to a reinforcer. The goal should be challenging yet accessible. Also, the student’s behaviors could be different in different classes or environments, so the goals can be adjusted accordingly.
Continuous reinforcement ——————————–> Intermittent Reinforcement
In the early stages of adopting a replacement behavior, a child benefits from continuous reinforcement, which is when reinforcement is provided every time the replacement behavior occurs. Eventually, the reinforcers can be faded back, and the child can receive intermittent reinforcement, which is when the reinforcement is provided randomly when the replacement behavior occurs.
When deciding when to use continuous or intermittent reinforcement, you can think back to how behavior patterns are created in the brain for guidance. Continuous reinforcement is helpful when supporting the formation of a new behavioral response, which requires a new neural pathway and thus more energy to perform. According to research, “intermittent schedules are effective for maintaining behavior after it is acquired.” (Yell, 2013, p. 78). For behaviors to become automatic, repetition of behaviors usually occurs 10,000 times for the neurons to fire back and forth fast enough for the behavior to eventually become automatic (Hani, 2017, p. 1). Deciding when to scale back reinforcement should be a team decision contingent upon the data showing consistent progress.
The Power of Intentional Intermittent Reinforcement:
The slot machine example illustrated how intermittent reinforcement can teach the student that when tried enough, a maladaptive behavior will result in a desired reward. However, intermittent reinforcement can be a powerful tool when used intentionally and all team members follow through with the plan. For example, each member of the class receives a raffle ticket when the teacher sees a student is following classroom expectations. During the weekly raffle, the teacher will pick five raffle tickets. Therefore, a student may not receive a reinforcement during each weekly raffle; however, the student will be motivated to keep collecting raffle tickets to eventually win. There is a reason intermittent reinforcement is usually compared to gambling – the mentality of continuing to play despite the random nature of winning resembles gambling.
Choices for reinforcement schedules:
Reinforcement schedules are determined by two factors:
- They can be specific and set (fixed) or random (variable)
- They can be activity-based (ratio) or time-based (interval)
Here is a chart that explains the differences between the charts:
-Reinforcement is provided after specific time intervals
-Example – A patient receives medicine through an IV during specific time intervals such as 15 minutes.
-Reinforcement is provided after random time intervals
-Example – The principal will stop by a teacher’s classroom for an informal, unscheduled observation.
-Reinforcement is provided after a specific number of behaviors
-Example – A car salesman receives a commission after selling a car.
-Reinforcement is provided after a random number of specific behaviors
-Example – A gambler will keep playing the slots until hitting the Jackpot.
For more about each system, you can go to this website.
So you are probably thinking: what type of chart would best support my student? Below is a an anchor chart that discusses the pros and cons of either approach. Hint: think about the goals you are trying to measure and what your staff will implement with fidelity.
|Type of Chart||PROS||CONS|
|Interval||-Aligns with tracking time-related behavior goals such as “student will sit in chair for 5 minutes.”|
-Can be easier to manage in a general education classroom since a teacher can use a timer as a reminder to check in on the chart or the chart is filled out at the end of the period.
-There is more consistency in number of stamps awarded, since it is contingent upon a specific time frame (for example, at the end of the period, the student gets a stamp or not for being safe).
|-An argument or explosive episode can occur If student does not get a reinforcer after a specific period of time, since student knows when to anticipate reinforcer.|
|Ratio||-Aligns with tracking the frequency of behavior such as “student will raise hand and wait to be called on ⅘ occasions.” |
-May work better with a paraprofessional or in a small setting where someone can stamp the chart for every positive behavior.
|-There can be great variance among service providers in terms of the number of stamps awarded, which can result in the student being frustrated and having an explosive episode.|
When ready to start designing a chart, you can access:
I also have experienced great success with the Self & Match system, which has various templates to choose from but share the underlying similarity that the teacher rates the student and then the student rates his or her performance.
The BCBA at my former school recommended the strategy of adding color visuals when using Self & Match. When the teacher or student is marking that the student met expectations, he or she can color in the smiley face green. When the teacher or student is marking that the student did NOT meet expectations, he or she can color in the frowney faces red. This creates an accessible visual for the student to understand the success of his or her day.
4. Evaluating what and how skills will be taught
After reviewing the ALSUP, interviews, and IEP goals, you can decide what skills need to be explicitly taught to the student. Here are some options to ensure that learning opportunities for social regulation are embedded within the student’s day.
I love using the Think Social curriculum to teach students about expected vs. unexpected behaviors or how students can be social detectives. Zones of Regulation is of course a popular curriculum, since it promotes students being self aware of their own emotions and corresponding interventions. Depending on the student’s services, the student may be receiving these learning opportunities through Speech, Counseling, or OT. If so, collaborate with these professionals to generalize strategies such as providing choices and language such as “making the problem smaller,” “using expected behaviors,” or “stopping and thinking.”
Social stories are also powerful teaching opportunities. Students can also create their own social stories with apps such as Social Stories creator. The student’s social story can go the desk for a constant visual reminder, or if the student is repeating behaviors at a specific time in the day such as a before PE or recess, the student would benefit from reviewing the social story to avoid triggers and implement replacement behaviors.
Facilitating positive social interactions
To ensure students are applying these skills outside of a classroom setting, you can help facilitate positive social interactions during unstructured times. What does the student like to play? You can model for students how to invite friends, play respectfully, and handle disagreements. When modeling for the student and setting expectations, you should provide concrete examples. For example, playing respectfully is when you follow the rules and accept loss by saying “good job nice try” and high fiving students with eye contact. If there is a disagreement, you can play rock, paper, scissors, accept the decision, and keep playing. If possible and after the student understands what is expected, you can step back and monitor the student applying positive social skills and provide reinforcements during or after.
Consequences can be learning opportunities as well, so that students understand the weight of their actions on others as well as understanding what to do better next time. I usually create a Tower of Consequences and a choices flowchart, so that students understand the restorative consequences in advance for specific behaviors and also what the appropriate and positive decision would be.
Reflecting on your own reactions/modeling calmness during high stress
Every moment of the day you are teaching the student – even during the throes of an escalated incident. It is imperative to model calmness and control especially in these moments to illustrate that you are the adult in control, anger only makes the problem “bigger,” and that we can solve problems when we “think and use our words.”
I love this NPR article, which discusses how in Inuit culture, the parents never raise their voice since “it’s as if the adult is having a tantrum; it’s basically stooping to the level of the child.(Doucleff & Greenhalgh, 2019, p. 1).” Yelling or losing control could unravel all of your hard work in teaching the appropriate behavior. Instead of yelling, Inuits also tell stories to help students understand the impact of their actions. (Doucleff & Greenhalgh, 2019, p. 1). How cool is it that social stories are part of the Inuit culture?!
Evaluating if student directed strategies would be effective in creating more ownership and awareness
I have been guilty of automatically assuming that I should be the one setting the goals, monitoring the progress, and providing the reinforcements. Many of our students can monitor their own behavior and provide their own rewards if they meet specific criteria such as already having the skills in place and are largely able to control their behavior. If you believe one of your students would benefit from student directed strategies, you can access this module from Vanderbilt. This is an area I am learning more about, which I hope to eventually provide more resources.
Where did I find this cool stuff?!
Reinforcement schedules (n.d). Lumen. Retrieved October 2nd, 2019 from: Reinforcement Schedules
Crosby, J. (1992). Menu strategy for improving school behavior of severely emotionally disturbed students. (Doctoral Dissertation), Nova University, Fort Lauderdale.
Doucleff, M. & Greenhalgh, J. (2019, March 13). How Inuit parents teach kids to control their anger. NPR. Retrieved on October 28th, 2019 from: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/03/13/685533353/a-playful-way-to-teach-kids-to-control-their-anger
Hani, J. (2017, August 8). The neuroscience of behavior change. Health Transformer. Retrieved September 27th, 2019 from: https://healthtransformer.co/the-neuroscience-of-behavior-change-bcb567fa83c1
Turner, A. (2017, May 30). Selecting and defining the target behavior. Practical Training Solutions. Retrieved on October 2nd, 2019 from: https://practicaltrainingsolutions.net/2017/05/30/selecting-and-defining-the-target-behavior/
Yell, M., Meadows, N., Drawsgow, E., & Shriner, J. (2013). Evidence-Based Practices for Educating Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.