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Have you ever walked by a classroom and thought, “I wish my kid was in THAT classroom? Wow! Now there’s a teacher that has her kids under control!” You know the kind of classroom-the one where all the children seem to be seamlessly transitioning from one activity to the next without any sign of a behavior problem; where the teacher AND her students are happy and learning? What if I told you that could be YOUR classroom or YOUR KID in that classroom. It can be.

Teachers that have structured classrooms, with clearly delineated daily schedules and behavioral expectations, have some of the most dynamic and calm classrooms in the school. They use the daily structure and classroom behavioral expectations as the foundation of their teaching. Then they layer in Behavior Intervention Plans that use the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to trouble shoot student behavior(s) that interfere with learning in the classrooms.

They Use a Standard Procedure of:

1)      Identifying the Target Behavior

2)      Collecting Data on the Target Behavior

3)      Analyzing the Data Collected

4)      Identifying Replacement Behaviors and Procedures to Reduce the Inappropriate Behavior

5)      Collect Data to Monitor the Target Behavior

A Look at Joey
Joey is a student in Mrs. Smith’s Kindergarten classroom. For the past several days, Joey has been calling out/blurting out answers at circle time. Initially, when the behavior started, Mrs. Smith acknowledged Joey’s correct answers and reminded Joey to, “raise his hand” if he wanted to answer a question. During the next several days, Joey’s calling out behavior increased during circle time.  Mrs. Smith decided Joey needed an intervention to decrease his calling out behavior, but she wasn’t exactly sure what was reinforcing his calling out behavior. She enlisted the help of her campus Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) and together, they devised a plan to address the calling out behavior.

Step 1- Identify the Target Behavior
The first step in creating an effective Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is to carefully define the target behavior. In this case, “calling out/blurting out” is the target behavior that Mrs. Smith wants to decrease. Calling out can simply be defined as speaking or shouting out words and phrases without having been called on by the teacher.

Step 2- Collecting Data on the Target Behavior
The second step in creating an effective Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is to determine the function that is maintaining the maladaptive or target behavior. To do this, you need to collect data. You can determine the function of almost any behavior by looking systematically at the events that occur immediately prior to the behavior (antecedents) and the responses that occur immediately after the behavior (consequences) over a period of 3-5 days. After you have collected the data, look at the consequences that follow the behavior.  In this case, Mrs. Smith and the LSSP decided to collect data using an Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence Data Sheet (A-B-C Data Sheet).

Mrs. Smith recorded every time Joey called out for the next 3 days during class. In the antecedent box, Mrs. Smith recorded what activity Joey was participating in when the behavior occurred, noted the time of day, and who was present when the behavior occurred. In the consequence box, Mrs. Smith noted her response to Joey and also any responses made by his peers.

Step 3- Analyzing the Data Collected
Mrs. Smith and the LSSP sat down together after the 3 days of data collection to look at both the antecedent events and consequences that occurred each time Joey’s calling out behavior occurred.  They were looking to determine what was reinforcing Joey during his calling out. This is commonly referred to as determining the “function” of his behavior.

There are 4 functions that can maintain a behavior:

Attention – Verbal redirections, laughing from peers, verbal reprimands

Escape – Removal or delay of something non-preferred

Tangible – Access to a preferred item/toy

Automatic – internally reinforcing; occurs when student is alone with no demands

Mrs. Smith and the LSSP went through the ABC Data Sheet and tallied how many times the specific target behavior of calling out lead to each of the 4 functions listed above. Once they did, the function of the behavior became very clear to both of them.

They tallied up each occurrence of the calling out. They found that in 18 out of 20 calling out events, teacher attention and/or peer attention followed Joey’s calling out behavior. Attention from the teacher in the form of verbal redirections and peer attention/ laughing accounted for 90% of the occurrences of the target behavior.  Mrs. Smith looked at the LSSP and then asked, “Now what?”

Step 4- Identifying Replacement Behaviors and Procedures to Reduce the Inappropriate Behavior
Once you know what is maintaining the behavior, you need to identify a functionally equivalent replacement behavior that you want to shape to replace the current maladaptive behavior. The replacement behavior should be a socially acceptable way for the child to get his/her needs met without having to use the maladaptive behavior/interfering behavior. Functionally equivalent simply means that the new behavior needs to serve the same function as the behavior you want to decrease.

Mrs. Smith and the LSSP both knew that they wanted Joey to raise his hand during circle time to answer questions. The LSSP instructed Mrs. Smith to call on Joey very frequently when he had his hand raised to answer a question. This would positively reinforce Joey for raising his hand with teacher attention.  However, Mrs. Smith wasn’t sure what she should do when Joey was calling out. The LSSP and Mrs. Smith talked about several different ways they could handle Joey’s calling out behavior. There were several different interventions they could use to decrease Joey’s calling out from a simple extinction procedure to a time out procedure to reduce attention for engaging in the calling out behavior. The LSSP explained that the simplest intervention was to place the target behavior of calling out on “extinction”. This procedure only requires removing a reinforcer that is maintaining a behavior rather than using a punishment procedure, which uses the removal or addition of a stimulus to decrease the behavior. In this case, using time out would remove Joey from the circle time. In time out, Joey would not have the opportunity to practice the replacement skill of raising his hand, nor would be able to learn the lesson or hear the book that is being read.

The LSSP recommended that they start with the extinction procedure first to see if it had the desired effect of decreasing Joey’s calling out behavior. During an extinction procedure, Joey should not receive any teacher attention or peer attention for calling out during circle time. Mrs. Smith was instructed to not look at Joey or respond to Joey’s answer(s) when he was calling out. Mrs. Smith also enlisted her class by asking them not to respond to anyone that called out during circle time. Mrs. Smith was directed to call on another student that had his/her hand raised.  The extinction procedure would decrease the attention Joey received for engaging in the calling out behavior which is what was maintaining the behavior. Additionally, the LSSP instructed Mrs. Smith to differentially reinforce Joey, by calling on him, when he had his hand raised. The LSSP told Mrs. Smith that she would need to reinforce this new behavior often to establish it as the replacement behavior. Mrs. Smith agreed and they put the behavior plan in place.

Step 5- Collect data to monitor the target behavior
Mrs. Smith continued to record instances of Joey’s calling out behavior over the next two weeks. Initially, Mrs. Smith found that Joey called out even more frequently when she and his classmates ignored his calling out behavior. She was worried that the behavior plan was not working and went to see the LSSP to discuss the increase in calling out behavior. The LSSP reassured Mrs. Smith. She told her that an initial spike in the target behavior was a common phenomenon called an “extinction burst”. An extinction burst of the targeted behavior typically follows the removal of the reinforcer that has maintained it. She instructed Mrs. Smith to continue with the behavior plan and to continue to collect data. 5 days later, the LSSP went to observe Joey during circle time. During this circle time session, Joey engaged in the target behavior of calling out only one time. His behavior was ignored by both Mrs. Smith and his classmates and the teacher called on a peer that had his hand raised to answer the question. Several times after calling out, Joey raised his hand and Mrs. Smith called on him. Joey gave his answer and the teacher followed it up with positive verbal praise. His peers also socially acknowledged his correct answers too with smiles and attention.

Within 4 weeks of starting the BIP, Joey’s calling out behavior during circle time went from an average of 7 occurrences per day to 0 occurrences per day. Joey was now frequently raising his hand to answer questions and the teacher continued to reinforce Joey by calling on him frequently for answers.

Sometimes, the answer isn’t so clear and you may need additional assistance in determining the function of the behavior, identifying a functionally equivalent replacement behavior or identifying the procedure to reduce the maladaptive or interfering behavior. If you are having difficulties, consult with a behavior specialist.

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Andrea D. Cherry, M.Ed., has worked as a Special Education Teacher, Autism Consultant and Clinician with students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and related social nuance communication challenges for more than 20 years. She is currently the managing partner for Navigating Behavior Solutions, LLC, which offers Social Thinking Clubs, Girls Only/Boys Only Clubs, Cooperative Play Clubs, and Pre-Vocational & Employablity Skills to both children and young adults. Learn more information about Mrs. Cherry and the programs offered at Navigating Behavior Solutions.