Thorough data collection should drive any behavior plan whether it is a simple chart or a thorough Functional Behavior Assessment. Conversations surrounding a student’s behavior can be charged and subjective. (Raise your hand if you have been at an IEP meeting with loaded and abstract terms such as the child’s behavior is “unacceptable” or “inappropriate.”) On the other hand, when relying on concrete data, the conversation can be more productive around defining replacement behaviors, creating challenging yet achievable goals, discussing interventions, and determining if progress is being made.
1. Finding the function of the behavior
Picture a student’s brain as a slot machine. A student is constantly pulling the lever of the slot machine by trying different ways to fulfill unmet needs. Hitting the Jackpot (the need being met) or needing to pull the lever again and trying something else (the need NOT being met) is dictated by our responses to the behavior.
To illustrate how our actions reinforce behaviors, I will use an example that is salient to many parents: a child demanding a cell phone in an elevated tone while sobbing. The parent hands over the cell phone to the child to stop the problem behavior. This communicates to the child that screaming and crying is the equivalent to winning the Jackpot, since the need for the phone was fulfilled by these behaviors. Instead, to avoid reinforcing the maladaptive behaviors, the parent could have provided specific instructions for the child to earn the phone and provided access to the phone when these conditions were met.
Consistency is incredibly important to ensure behavior is not being intermittently reinforced. Back to the phone example: nine out of ten times, a parent only provides access to the cell phone when the student has finished chores and asks in a calm tone. On an extremely tiring day, the parent rewards the phone to the child while the child is screaming and crying. This communicates to the child when pulling the slot machine lever enough, the explosive behavior will result in hitting the Jackpot. This example also illustrates the need for all members of the team (family, all teachers, and service providers) to be on the same page, so that the student is only receiving positive reinforcements for the positive behaviors and having reinforcements withheld for negative behaviors.
|Understanding what the student is trying to achieve through his or her behavior ensures that teachers:
-Know the “triggers” or antecedents to behavior problems to be able to minimize or front-load expectations before these antecedents occur
-Explicitly teach alternatives for communicating a need
-Have specific strategies ready to ensure that you are not reinforcing positive behaviors and extinguishing negative behaviors
A way to track the operant function of behaviors is through a simple Antecedent/Behavior/Consequence chart.
Antecedent (The WHEN): Antecedents are “conditions, events, or stimuli that set the occasion for behavior to occur (Yell, 74).” For example, the antecedent for the dog barking was that a squirrel ran by.
Examples of possible behavioral antecedents in a school setting:
- Work demand placed on a student
- Losing a game during recess
- Not getting called on by the teacher
Behavior (The WHAT): Behavior manifests as “the observable action of the person (Yell, 2013, 74.)” The dog barking would be the behavior, since it is observable and occurred after the antecedent of seeing the squirrel. Note: explicit descriptions of the maladaptive behaviors help with gathering and tracking data — especially if multiple stakeholders are observing and taking notes on a student’s behavior. For example, “noncompliance” or “disruptive” do not describe the behavior in enough detail. The more details included about the behavior will also help the staff define the “topography” or the course of the behavior before, during and after an escalation.
Examples of possible behaviors in a school setting:
- Calling out answers during a mini-lesson
- Telling factually-inaccurate statements
- Arguing with the teacher in an elevated tone
- Physical aggression, which includes hitting or kicking students or staff
Consequence (The WHY): This term is different than consequence in the traditional sense of being purely punishment. A consequence happens after the behavior and influences “the probability of the behavior occurring in the future under similar antecedent conditions (Yell, 2013, 74).” Consequences can either increase or the behavior in the future (Yell, 2013, 74). Think of the slot machine example – is the student likely to pull this lever again based on the response of the parent? For example, when the dog tried to run after the squirrel, did the owner give a command to stay, or did the owner release the leash and allow the dog to run after the squirrel?
Students struggling with peer interactions should be observed in an unstructured setting. The natural “consequences” of peers are also important to note: did students continue playing with the student or run away after a maladaptive behavior?
Example of possible consequences in a school setting:
- Providing forced choices
- Asking the student to take a break
- Reminding student of contingency contract
- Writing an apology note
- Filling out a think sheet
- Cleaning up any mess created
Possible different functions of behavior include attention/connection seeking, access to a preferred activity/item, escape, and sensory simulation.
|General Education Environment/Spanish class
|Was not picked to be a leader in the class
|Threw a pencil at the teacher.
|Teacher re-set timer for student, which corresponds with student demonstrating 10 minutes of positive behaviors.
|Attention/connection/access to a preferred activity
|General Education Environment/Spanish class
|Teacher re-set timer for student to earn a reward
|Student eloped out of class
|Aide met student outside, gave forced choices to go sit in his chair in the classroom or go to Zen Den.
Parents, teachers, and other stakeholders can fill out a Functional Assessment Screening Tool. The more people that fill this out the better, since it illuminates how the function of the behavior can change based upon the environment. For example, a child may have more incidents of using behavior to seek “connection” at home but might be engaging in more “escape” behaviors at school, since there is a greater work demand.
The data from the FAST can be compiled into a spreadsheet like this example:
2. Tracking Environmental Data
Behavior does not occur in a vacuum. Therefore, an environmental checklist can help identify the context the child’s behavior is occurring. What are the external influences on the child’s behavior such as classroom culture, layout, or classroom management style?
There are also several other environmental checklists available online that help drive the discussion about the role of outside forces in maladaptive behaviors.
Examples of environmental factor considerations:
- Is there a Zen Den in the classroom for a student to take a break?
- Is the seat of a student who frequently elopes far away or close to the door?
- Are there flexible seating options available for students who have difficulty sitting still?
- Are behavior expectations clearly posted in the class?
3. Tracking Frequency/Duration/Re-Directions
Recording the frequency and duration of the behavior helps inform all parts of the behavior plan such as when reinforcements should be provided, the baseline in the present levels that inform IEP goals, and the level of services required. Since behavior change does not happen overnight, data helps identify if the student is making progress and what interventions are working.
Thorough behavior collection and collaboration also allow you to anticipate, prevent, and intervene when necessary with maladaptive behaviors. Previous behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. By knowing the full course of a student’s behavior, you will know what to anticipate and how to intervene when the next behavior or escalation cycle occurs.
Lastly, organizing on the frontend what the problem behaviors are will help ensure accuracy in your data collection. For example, “noncompliance” or “disruptive” do not describe the behavior in enough detail. Better behavioral descriptors would be “calling out three times during the mini lesson,” “throwing a book at another student,” or “kicking staff member in the shins three times.”
Here are some websites that have free templates to collect data or to model your data collection afterwards:
- Challenging Behavior Team
- Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports
- Special Education Services – South Bend
To reduce time entering data, you can also create a Google Forms system and share the form with all of the service providers.
Examples of Google Forms to track data:
If you link the Google Form with a spreadsheet, then the spreadsheet will automatically aggregate all of the responses, and you can easily graph your results.
This spreadsheet illustrates how you can use the data that goes directly in to Excel from Google Forms to see if a student is making progress:
4. Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems
I love to provide the ALSUP to as many stakeholders as possible, since it allows for multiple members of the IEP team to weigh in on the skills a student needs to learn such as “difficulty doing things in a logical sequence or prescribed order” or “difficulty managing emotional response to frustration as to think rationally.” Seeing similarities among team members answers can illuminate the highest priority concerns, which can be interpreted into IEP goals, areas of focus on a chart, or specific social lessons a teacher can provide.
The ALSUP also provides a more complex, nuanced views of why behaviors occur than simply looking at the function of the behavior, since it illustrates the skills that needs to be explicitly taught.
The ALSUP also allows for IEP team members to find an “unsolved problem,” which is a consistent predictor of problem behavior such as putting an unwanted demand on the student such as returning from recess and going back to class. Watch this video from Dr. Greene to hear him explain how finding a “Plan B” helps reduce problem behavior, teach skills, and model problem solving and collaboration. Here is also Dr. Greene’s cheat sheet to describe the process of collaborative, empathetic process of creating Plan B with a student.
All stakeholders should be interviewed including the teachers, parents, and student. Every stakeholder’s input — especially the student’s feedback — is valuable in brainstorming interventions and solutions.
Here are some sample questions for parents:
- What are your goals for your child in the next year?
- What do you see as your child’s strengths?
- What are your child’s greatest needs?
- How would you describe your child’s attitude towards school?
- How would you describe your child’s peer relationships?
- What are your hopes and goals for your child in the future?
- What behaviors are you most concerned with?
- What are you concerns in regards to his social emotional well-being?
FBA Student-Assisted Interview (RESULTS) :
(A = Always; S = Sometimes; N = Never)
Here are some sample questions for students:
- In general, is your work hard?
- In general, is your work easy?
- When you ask for help appropriately, do you get it?
- Do you think work periods for each assignment are too long?
- Do you think work periods for each assignment are too short?
- When you do seat work, do you do better when someone works with you?
- Do you think people notice when you do a good job?
- Do you think you get the rewards you deserve when you do well?
- Do you think you would do better in school if you received more rewards?
- Are there things in the classroom that distract you?
Where did I find this cool stuff?!
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.