Last night I spent three hours arguing with a principal via email about a behavioral intervention plan. The principal had written the behavior intervention plan like this: Johnny will be good. If Johnny is not good, Johnny will get an in-school detention. If Johnny is not good again, Johnny will get an out of school detention. The principal had labeled this as a “negative reinforcement”. For “positive reinforcement” the principal had written, If Johnny is good, Johnny will choose from a list of prizes.
Well, I can’t begin to tell you how wrong this is on so many levels. Let’s start with the obvious. If telling a child to be good worked, then we wouldn’t need behavior specialists in schools and life would be “peachy” all across the world. If that worked, then I could look at my arm and tell it to be thin. I do so wish that worked…..but it doesn’t. It’s called a behavior intervention plan because you actually have to do some work- you have to plan how YOU are going to modify your behavior, so the student has no choice, but to have excellent behavior.
The main reason it is wrong is because it is basically putting all your eggs in one basket and according to the principal- the teacher has already had those eggs in that basket. We need a multi-modal plan. This means we will put proactive measures in place, replacement behaviors in place, and consequence modifications in place.
We start with the darkest box in the figure above. This is a modified version of O’Neill and Horner’s Competing Pathway. I just removed the behavioral jargon and put in the steps you need to “plan” for your student’s brilliant behavior. The middle box is the behavior you would like to target for change. Be sure to label it in measurable and observable terms. What does it look like, sound like and feel like when it occurs?
The next box we fill out is the box in the middle row to the left. When does this behavior show up? Think about settings, contexts, situations. Does it show up every Tuesday, every time you do Math, when someone is absent, when the child has a sinus infection, or at a specific time every day. This is your antecedent or trigger.
The next box we fill out is the box in the middle row to the right. What happens in the environment right after the behavior occurs? What is the child trying to get or get out of by having this behavior. Here are some common functions of behavior:
- attention from adults or peers
- access to preferred items or environment control
- access to sensory stimulation
- people (adults or peers)
- work or tasks
- sensory (too much coming in- sensory overload)
- pain (emotional or physical)
This lets you know what is feeding that behavior. This is the consequence that is reinforcing the behavior. Remember a consequence is not a punishment.
You now have the A-B-C of a behavior chain. The antecedent, behavior, and consequence. Once we know this, we can make a summary statement.
When this happens (antecedent) The child does this (behavior) to get or get out of (consequence).
We will use this summary statement to build our behavioral intervention plan.
The principal’s second misconception is that positive and negative reinforcement alone will change a child’s behavior.
Positive reinforcement is easy because it involves positively reinforcing a behavior.It is something that is pleasing to the person or child. For instance, I stay at Marriott because I am positively rewarded with points that give me free nights at Marriott. This positively reinforces me for staying at a certain brand every time. Positive and Negative Reinforcement are both reinforcement and therefore increase the likelihood of a behavior repeating. They both increase the future repetition of a behavior. Negative reinforcement happens when an aversive stimuli is removed contingent upon a specific behavior. Here is an example: ”Laura, if you speed or run a stop sign, you will get a speeding ticket.” If I drive the correct speed limit and stop at all the stop signs, you could say I was negatively reinforced to avoid the speeding ticket.
I said it wrong the other day because I was typing and talking at the same time and most of us will agree- if you are HUMAN- you make mistakes like that. In my head when I’m thinking about positive and negative reinforcement, I always think about Paul Alberto’s famous little Maynard character. Maynard is playing around and not getting his work done. The teacher says, “Maynard, if you don’t get your work finished, you will have to stay after school in a detention and finish your work.” Maynard buckles down and finishes his work and doesn’t have to stay after school for a detention because he was negatively reinforced by the thought of staying after school in the same way I am negatively reinforced by speeding tickets. Semantically, you would say Negative Reinforcement increases appropriate behavior because it is a reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement increases appropriate behavior because it is a reinforcement. One is chosen because it adds a positive stimuli to the equation and one is chosen because it removes an aversive stimuli from the equation. In either case…..what are we trying to do as TEACHERS? We are trying to decrease inappropriate behaviors and increase appropriate behaviors.
However, we all know people who don’t care about speeding tickets and kids who don’t care about after school detention. It doesn’t matter what teachers call it as long as they figure out that if they’ve tried it 60 times and the kid is still having the behavior- then it is not working….don’t put it in a behavior intervention plan and that – my friends- was my point. This principal had already tried everything he was putting in the behavior intervention plan. He already knew it wasn’t going to work.
There is an old proverb: ”If you’ve told a child a 1000 times to do something and the child still has not done it. The child is not the slow learner.”
So now, back to the chart. We go down to the first square in the lowest row. What environmental changes can we make so that the student can be successful? These are called antecedent modifications. We want to use what we know is causing the behavior and give that to the student on the front side, so they get attention from an adult, or the chance for escape, or the sensory input, etc. prior to the chance for them to take it. Let’s say you have a student who is burping the alphabet in class to get adult attention and this happens during transitions. You would give the child a job to do during transitions that involved the teacher giving the child attention on the front side of the transition. We had one child be “Vanna White” of the daily schedule. The teacher went over to the student and told her what was coming next and what page to have everyone turn to. This gave the student attention on the front side of the transition. The student got up and went to the visual schedule for the class, pointed to the next session and told the students to open their books to page 147. The teacher then gave the student a “thumbs up” (more attention). The student then wrote the assignment page on the board for the subject. The teacher gave the student another “thumbs up” (more attention). Now the student has received three positive attentions during a transition and the student goes back to her seat and opens her book to page 147 and is right on target with the class. EZ PZ Lemon Squeezee. This is an antecedent modification. This is behavioral intervention PLANNING…..NOT- the “child will be good”.
Our next box is a replacement behavior. If the child has learned that burping the alphabet gets immediate attention from the teacher, we need to teach the child how to get attention. Most kids get attention by raising their hands. This child was in the sixth grade. She had probably heard “Raise your hand” about 600 times. If she didn’t get it the first 600 times, she probably wasn’t going to get it the 601st time. We had to develop a replacement behavior that was going to work for her. We came up with a secret signal between her and the teacher. We showed her a video clip of Carol Burnett where she tugged on her ear at the end of the show. (This was done privately during a fun lunch and we showed the very funny clip where Carol makes a dress out of the drapes with the curtain rod still sticking out of the shoulders). We told her about the secret ear tug between Carol and her grandma and how that was always their secret for years until finally Carol Burnett told the audience what it meant. We then asked this young lady if she’d like to have a secret signal like that with the teacher. She thought that was a great idea. If she wanted the teacher’s attention she would tug on her ear. If the teacher wanted the young lady’s attention she would tug on her ear (the teacher would tug on her own ear- not the child’s ear- just to be clear here). Kids buy into this sort of thing because they like having secret codes. So now we have a replacement behavior.
The final box is a consequence modification. This is what we are going to do different. We are going to give tons of attention and behavior specific praise for appropriate behavior and ignore all burping until the gas dissipates into thin air. As soon as the child learns there is no pay-off for burping she will stop. As soon as she learns there is a ton of pay-off for wiggling her ear and following directions, she will do those behaviors. The teacher is giving tons of attention on the front side of transitions, so it should not take long for this behavior intervention plan to work.
By the way, this is a real case and it took less than 3 weeks for a behavior that had been in place all year.
The final phase of the Behavioral Intervention Plan are the top two boxes and that is the fading or shaping of the behavior into self-monitoring or self-checking. How will the student start to monitor themselves?
When we fill in all these boxes, we have built a multi-modal plan. We aren’t pinning our intervention on one thing and we definitely are not just telling a kid to be good or we will do x,y, and z to them.
If you’d like to download blank copies of the Competing Pathway Chart- http://behaviordoctor.org/files/tools/blankcompetingpathwaychart.doc