In our last behavior conversation we
laid out the A-B-C process for changing behaviors. It is a complicated
but straight-forward process. However, it is a process that doesn’t really lend itself to a school or home environment.
So instead of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole – like
trying to turn all of our teachers into functional analysts &
behavior specialists – let’s
tackle the processes that make sense in the classroom and talk about
what they mean, how you should be tracking and understanding them, and
ultimately what you should be doing about it.
Here’s the A-B-C chart again and the short video:
Today let’s talk about the Antecedent.
An antecedent is simply something that occurs that provokes or elicits a behavior.
Antecedents can be tricky because when you describe something as a
“provocative event” you tend to think of things such as calling someone
an ugly name or shoving someone or breaking things that belong to other
people. In actuality a provocative event can be something as benign as a
misunderstood look or a perceived sleight.
When you begin looking at the origination of a behavior, the antecedent is the spark event.
But antecedents are neither constant nor consistent. If you are walking
down the hall and someone bumps into you, you are going to have a
different behavioral response depending on who it was and the intent of
the bump. If it was a stranger and they quickly apologized then
hopefully you accept it and move on. If it was a friend and they were
playing with you then you might laugh it off. If it is someone you don’t
like then you might take the action as an affront and respond
accordingly. When you are looking at the start point, or antecedents, of
behaviors you have to really look at two important factors.
First – you need to know who is involved in the antecedent.
Let me give you an example. I have 3
wonderful kids. My oldest daughter is about to be 17 and she is a sweet,
smart, wonderful young lady. She comports herself with grace and is
genuinely loved by all. My 13 year old son is a ton of fun but no one
will ever say he comports himself with grace! He is the bull in the
China shop and he relishes that role. My youngest is the perfectionist.
She is 9 years old and strives to be the best student, basketball
player, soccer player, Bible Bowler, and anything else she does in life.
She wants to be the best. Period. If she finishes in second place I
have to work with her to not see it as a failure. She is a great kid but
she is beyond competitive.
In my house if I am sitting in my chair and something hits me on the back of my head there are 3 basic possibilities.
My oldest daughter was walking by and dropped something and it was an
accident. Or, my son threw it at me intentionally and he is now hiding
and waiting retribution. Or, my youngest is practicing her throwing
skills and she either hit the perfect mark or was off target and is now
aggravated with herself. My response to being hit on the head will
change dramatically depending on who is involved. If it is my oldest I
will know it was an accident. If it was my son I will know it was on
purpose. If it is my youngest then it could go either way and depending
on which way it goes one of us probably won’t be happy.
Who’s involved becomes even more
important when you go outside the family and widen your social circle.
Kids will do things with their friends that they will not take offense
to but if the same thing were done by a stranger or even a casual
acquaintance then it could lead to a fight.
It is important to know who is involved because that will help you
determine the latitude of response that is most likely to occur.
Where this becomes problematic…
…is when kids develop a sense of
comfort with those who are close to them and they carry those boundaries
of acceptability to the wider rings of their social circles. I hear
kids call each other names and I see them laughing and smiling but I
know if they called someone else that name there would be a problem. Kids
have to learn how to discern the levels of familiarity of the people
they are with and how that affects and impacts how they respond to other
people and how other people respond to them.
The second important factor for the antecedent is the context in which the provocative event occurred.
of it like this, if a student came to you and said that another student
was being mean and wasn’t sharing recess toys your immediate reaction
might be to tell everyone to be nice and share. But, if the real context
was that the kid who is tattling is the one who just finished his turn
and now the next person is swinging then it changes things.
The context of an antecedent can change the way you act towards the
provocative event, interact with that event, or react towards it.
The exact same thing under different circumstances can lead to very different results.
A kid might bump into another kid in the
hallway and a fight ensues because they are with their friends and
someone immediately begins mouthing off to the other. The same two kids
might bump into each other when they are by themselves and they laugh it
off and move on. The context of an event is just as important
as the event itself when you are trying to determine if it is a start
point for a problem behavior.
The bottom line on any antecedent is
that you need as much information as possible regarding who is involved
and the context it occurred in before you can place a high value on it
being a problem point. Why is this important? Because the first step to changing behaviors is knowing what leads to behaviors.
How do you understand what leads to behaviors? By knowing the trigger
events and more importantly the reasons those trigger events lead to
behaviors. But that is for next week’s discussion.
have spent a good deal of our Thursday conversations talking about
where behaviors come from, the purpose they serve, how our experiences
play a role in our choices, and last week we talked about the relevancy
of antecedent events. This week we need to spend a little bit of time talking about the difference between organic and acquired behavioral problems. Here’s where we are on our A-B-C chart:
I am guessing that there are some folks
who are scratching their head right now wondering what in the world an
organic behavior is and how and why it matters whether it is different
than an acquired behavior. The most straight-forward way of looking at
it is that:
A behavior that is caused or exacerbated by a medical, physical, or physiological condition is an organic behavior.
A behavior that is the result of circumstance and experiences is an acquired behavior.
It is important to understand the difference but it is just as important to know that behaviors still need to be addressed.
Let’s start with organic behaviors.
There are a lot of diagnosis that a lot
of folks are both familiar with and understand. ADHD is a common
diagnosis with a treatment that seems counter-intuitive. To medically
treat a hyperactive child with true ADHD you give the child a stimulant.
Doesn’t seem to make sense does it? But
this is why it is important to know and understand the difference
between a behavior that is either caused or made worse by physical
issues and those that are the result of experience alone.
If a child truly has ADHD then they have
pathways in their brains called dendrites that have signal transfer
points called synapses and some of these synapses are not mature. These
synapses do not send and receive signals as efficiently and effectively
as they should. The treatment is to give a stimulant so that the
synapses have a better capability of firing with greater strength and
rapidity. The end result is that the stimulant creates greater
connectivity in the brain which in turn makes thinking and rationalizing
and discerning easier which in turn slows down the hyper child.
If you gave a stimulant to a child that did not have ADHD it would have
the opposite effect and would cause greater hyperactivity because of
behaviors are those that do not have an underlying physical cause but
instead are acquired through experience and circumstance.
For example, a child’s hyperactivity can be caused by being
overstimulated with caffeine or because he is really excited about
something. You can also have kids whose parents simply don’t
tell them “no” and therefore acting hyper and goofy is just part of what
So the bottom line is…
are behavioral issues that have a physical underlying
cause/exacerbation point and there are other behaviors that are the
byproduct of life. Does this mean that the kids who
have a physical reason for behavioral issues should get a free pass or
that their behaviors shouldn’t be scrutinized as closely? Absolutely not.
It simply means we need to make sure we are getting kids the help and
the evaluation’s they need and once we know the platform we are working
from we need to start changing behaviors.
It is important to know and understand
everything we can know and understand but at the end of the day if a
student is disruptive or hyper or surly or non-communicative then you
have a problem. The real issue comes when a physical underlying cause is
either treated or ruled out and the behavior persists. This
means that the behavior is part of the kid’s knowledge base and that it
has to be replaced with a better, more appropriate behavior.
Kids who have a diagnosed condition should be treated and should be
given every opportunity to overcome their diagnosis but their diagnosis
cannot be an excuse for inappropriate or aberrant behavior.
So, now that we agree that diagnoses don’t equal a free pass…
let’s start talking about how to change behaviors.
the past several weeks we have been discussing what a behavior is and
where behaviors come from. We have even talked a little about the
difficulties of recording and measuring and reporting behavioral
incidents. Now let’s start talking about the elements that will help us change behaviors. To begin this discussion we have to start with the focal point of behavior change – the function the behavior serves.
Here’s our A-B-C chart:
Cause and function of behaviors are two different aspects of behavior.
They are not interchangeable. The cause
represents the issues we have been discussing previously – experiences,
medical conditions, familial background etc. The function is the purpose of the behavior. Is it attention seeking, is it anger coping, is it deflection etc. Cause is where the behavior comes from and function is the purpose the behavior serves.
The function a behavior serves is one of the absolute key elements in creating
A CHANGE OPPORTUNITY.
It is also the element that can be the
trickiest to understand, determine, measure, and maintain. Let’s think
about the function for a minute. It sounds simple enough. Why is this person acting the way they are acting, what is the benefit, and thereforewhat purpose is the behavior serving? It would seem straightforward enough. Then why do we get it wrong so often?
Think about this example:
Mrs. Wright teaches 5th grade.
She has a class of 23 boys & girls from all walks of life.
HER CLASSROOM LOOKS LIKE MOST OTHERS.
has wealthy kids and poor kids, smart kids and kids who are struggling.
She has kids who are quiet and attentive and she has kids who don’t
comprehend the meaning of “raise your hand” and “stop talking”. Mrs. Wright has been tasked with providing small groups for kids in her class who are giving her problems behaviorally.
She has decided that she is going to use an anger management curriculum
and have a small group for kids who have been fighting and not getting
along on the playground. Mrs. Wright knows just who she wants in her
group. She wants Roderick – he can’t seem to make it through the day without getting into a shouting or shoving match with someone. She wants Felipe
because he is constantly getting upset and offended by the other kids
in class and he has even gotten physical a couple of times. She wants Brooke
because she is always angry. She comes to class mad and just gets
angrier as the day goes on. She is a short fuse just waiting to blow.
Finally, she wants Paul.
Paul isn’t an aggressive kid but he has been put into detention or ISS
at least 4 times for fighting. These are the kids Mrs. Wright has chosen
for her anger management small group. They have all been in
fights, they have all had behavioral referrals for fighting or taking
ugly to each other, and they all have problems getting along with other
kids. It makes perfect sense that this is the anger management group, right?
Let’s look a little closer at Mrs. Wright’s decisions on the kids she has chosen.
Anger is a pretty easy emotion
to identify and define and the kids she has chosen have all been subject
to discipline because of anger related issues – fighting and talking
ugly and being mean etc. But there is a problem with this approach.
You see, when you use the end result, in this case anger and
aggression, as the target for the behavior change then you are treating
the symptom but you are not addressing the cause.
Let’s not take it for granted that the
kids we know possess common sense. Let’s not assume they have put two
and two together. Using the same logic, wouldn’t it make sense that if a
student gets detention for fighting then he wouldn’t fight again? But
they do. This is because we continue to treat the symptom, not the cause.
Let’s take a closer look at Mrs. Wright’s group:
Roderick is a bully.
He is constantly pushing other kids and calling them names and trying
to assert himself as the one in charge. He has been in trouble many
times. He definitely needs anger control training. However, Roderick is
also really hurting right now because his father left home a couple of
months ago. Roderick is angry at the world and he is lashing out at
everyone but it is because he is hurting and missing his father. Even
though he acts tough his self-esteem is shattered and he uses the tough
façade to hide the fact that he feels absolutely rejected. He is
trying his best to be cold and non-caring but when he gets home and
looks back on his day he feels even worse about himself.
Felipe is a first generation citizen.
Felipe’s parents immigrated here right before he was born and they
still struggle with language barriers. Felipe’s folks speak Spanish at
home and even though he has been in school since kindergarten, English
is not Felipe’s first language. He gets frustrated in class and even
more frustrated on the playground because he cannot communicate
effectively and he doesn’t always understand what other people are
saying to him. Some days he gets so frustrated that he can’t help himself and he ends up pushing someone.
Brooke is a spoiled brat.
She is never told no by her parents and she gets anything and
everything she wants. She has no comprehension that other people might
not want exactly what she wants because her parents foster a world that
focuses exclusively on her. She can’t get along with the other
kids and ends up fighting with them because if they don’t do exactly
what she wants then she is sure they are trying to be mean to her.
Paul has been in a lot of fights but he has never started any of them.
Roderick is the class bully but Paul is the class target. He is unsure
of himself and the only thing he is sure of is that no one likes him. He
doesn’t have nice clothes and sometimes he comes to school without
breakfast. Paul doesn’t want to fight. In fact, Paul wishes that he
could somehow be invisible and people wouldn’t even know he was there. He fights because it is hard to always feel bad about yourself.
Here are four kids that get into fights and therefore 4 kids who need an anger management small group. Yes, they will learn some good coping skills in a small group and it will help. But it won’t address the cause of the behaviors and therefore the functions the behaviors serve.
Roderick is angry because his father left and his self-esteem is shattered.Teaching him to calm down will help but it won’t help him adjust to his new life circumstances and it won’t teach him self-worth.
Felipe gets into scrapes with other kids out of frustration. Teaching him to control those frustrations will help but true behavior change will only come when he begins to understand how to better communicate with other people.
Brooke stays in trouble because she is self absorbed.Teaching her coping techniques for calming down will help but she isn’t going to change until she learns the reality of social structure.
Paul doesn’t get along because he doesn’t feel he belongs. Teaching him to recognize anger is great but it won’t change the function his fighting serves.
He fights out of frustration and out of lack of self concept. That
won’t change until Paul learns how to value himself and how to belong to
You see, it is easy to look at behaviors and think about treating the behavior…
But what is the cause of the behavior
and just as importantly, what function does that behavior serve?
Roderick, Felipe, Brooke, and Paul will all benefit from an anger
management small group but it isn’t going to change the reason they are
having anger problems. This is why
it is so critical to understand the functions of behaviors and the only
way to do that is to understand the personal, social, emotional, and
behavioral strengths and deficits for your students and the way those
deficits come together to create behaviors. How do you do that? We will get to that soon.
Just remember that applying the skin cream to a sunburn is important
but until you teach them to apply sunscreen the burns will continue.
Everybody likes something. Sounds kinda
simple, doesn’t it? But the fact that “everybody likes something” means
that there is something out there for everybody that they find
pleasurable and therefore reinforcing. Think about the things that make you happy.
I love a good steak. I also really enjoy spending time with my wife and
kids. These are the types of things that make me smile and make me want
to work toward being able pay for a good steak and to spend time with
my wife and kids. I have learned that these are things in my life that
require work on my part to sustain.
What is reinforcing in your life? Does a
pat on the back by your boss make you want to work harder? Does the
thought of a promotion or raise make you try harder? Is there a kid in your class that lights up when they learn something new and thatis what makes you smile? Everybody loves something. So let’s talk about reinforcements.
When trying to change behaviors, reinforcements are often misunderstood and even more often misused. The most common misuse of reinforcement is when it is used as a bribe.
For example, the teacher knows that her class loves to go outside and
play so she asks them to please be quiet for 15 minutes and then they
can go outside and play. This is a bribe because it is payoff for a
short term gain. It is tantamount to telling a child that they can have a
candy bar if they will just sit down and be quiet for a few minutes. It might work but it hasn’t changed anything.
The difference between a misused reinforcement and a well used reinforcement is the difference between a paycheck and a payoff. A paycheck is earned. A payoff is bartered.
If a teacher sets a goal that the class will have study time with no
interruptions for 20 minutes for 3 straight days and then starts the
clock over when the goals is not achieved but then rewards the class
when it is achieved, that is a solid reinforcement. If the teacher has a
headache and begs silences and needs a few minutes of silence and the
class bites their tongues long enough to get to go outside then that is a
bartered payoff. It isn’t reinforcing because it was not part of a
stated long-term goal. The problem with most reinforcements is that they are really short-term barters, not long-term change agents.
Let me say this before we go any further. Is there anything wrong with bartering with your students? In most circumstances the answer is no.
Anyone who has ever spent any time with a kid has bartered for silence
or compliance or something else at some time. That is fine. Just recognize it for what it is. It is a payoff for a quick fix or short term resolution.
When you are truly changing behaviors your reinforcements should be set up on a schedule.
Kids earn the right to receive extra play time or a trip to the “joy
jar” or an off campus lunch. These types of reinforcements are clearly
defined and the path to earning them is succinctly and clearly laid out.
And, this is important; these reinforcements are NEVER to be used when
you are bartering with your students! When
you use your set reinforcements as barter you redefine their purpose in
the minds of the kids, and they now think they can achieve these things
without actually fulfilling the requisites you laid out. In other words, you just cut off your nose to spite your face.
Anyone familiar with behavior change has heard the term “the stick and the carrot”?
This refers to the old axiom of a horse
rider dangling a carrot in front of the horse to make it walk and when
that doesn’t work the stick is used as the punishment prompt. That is not what a good reinforcement should be. It should not be the carrot dangled in front of the student.
A good reinforcement is something a student works towards and earns and
can be proud of. A good reinforcement is an accomplishment that should
be lauded and should be a big deal. A good reinforcement is a payday, not a payoff.
When you think about reinforcements you
have to truly understand your students and understand what motivates
them. Then you set up opportunities for them to succeed and earn smaller
reinforcements. These smaller reinforcements help them understand that
they can do better and that they are capable of earning greater
reinforcements. These reinforcements build their confidence and their self-esteem and make them want to do better.
Reinforcements are the part of behavior change that build confidence because it is about earning. Earning is worked for.
Earning is valued because it is deserved. Earning should never be devalued by being equated to a give-away. One of the greatest things that can be taught and learned is a work ethic. Working is all about doing a job well enough to receive an earned pay.
That is what a good behavioral reinforcement is as well. It is a
student working hard at a problem and with consistency and effort
earning a reinforcement that matters. Praise is reinforcement. Candy and
gadgets are reinforcing. Extra play-time is reinforcing. Getting to opt
out of a homework assignment is reinforcing. Any and all of these can
be reinforcing. Just make sure they are never bartered for as well.
Once a student figures out something is for sale, through bartering,
then it is not something that is uniquely worth working for.
A payday is a tremendous outcome for hard work and it is a value we need to embrace.
Next week we will continue our
discussion on the importance of correctly using reinforcements before we
begin talking about the other side of behavior change – consequences…
In our conversation last week we talked about how reinforcements are often misunderstood in behavior programming. For example, a teacher becoming weary of being interrupted offers her class an extra 10 minutes of recess if they are all quiet for the remainder of the lesson. This might be effective and it is a fine method to gain much needed silence but it is not a change agent. This is a short term delay of a behavior that is not targeted for change and will likely continue once the reinforcement has been gained. In other words, it is a short term bribe and the gain is solely in the short term. The kids will be talking and interrupting again right after recess.
Here’s the dilemma – in true behavior
programming you would do a reinforcement analysis to determine what the
recipient (student) finds truly reinforcing. You would then set up a
reinforcement plan that is in conjunction with your disciple plan (to be
discussed next week) and the student would constantly and consistently
work towards the goals and reinforcement of that plan. This type of
operant behavior change is effective but it is not efficient.
It is highly unlikely that a teacher has the time or the resources to
truly administer an effective reinforcement schedule that is
personalized to each individual student. So let’s talk
about ways that classroom teachers can set up reinforcements that will
matter and the true goals of these reinforcements.
Character education is a term that has
been bantered about over the last decade. Some schools put a lot of
emphasis on it and others hang posters with pithy inspirational quotes
and check the box of Character Ed. But did
you know that you can actually set up a strong character building
program that is centered on reinforcement activities that are designed
to effect the development of values and the growth of character traits that are necessary for good citizenship?
Since teachers truly do not have the
time or resources to manage individual reinforcement schedules for each
student, instead you can create reinforcing goals for your class and
center the goals on citizenship growth. For example, the class could
work towards earning a pizza party by conducting, participating in, and
leading a food drive for your local food bank. This activity would
provide work opportunities for the class, discussion points on the value
of sharing and caring, and it is something that each student can and
should be a part of and would likely be proud to achieve. This is a
great character building activity that reinforces good behaviors.
Another example would be your class adopting a playground or school
hallway and cleaning it once a week. Again,
this brings value to the school and creates a work opportunity that the
students can participate in while also working towards some positively
reinforcing goal. These are simple group examples.
You can even take the group reinforcing
activities and break them into small group reinforcements where each
small group is either assigned or volunteers for some act of good
citizenship and as the groups achieve their goals they are rewarded.
These are great examples of using positive reinforcements to effect
character growth and development. These activities provide the
opportunity to build work ethic, which is a hugely important character
trait, while giving goals that the individuals in the class can work
towards. This sort of character and citizenship development is a
righteous and necessary endeavor for all students. Just keep in mind that these activities, great as they may be, are not behavior change agents. Let me explain why.
Behavior change is a focused process.
When a behavior is identified it must be
changed through focused and targeted proactive discipline (not
punishment – again this is next week’s topic), an understanding of the
function that behavior serves (either psychosocially or functionally)
and a plan to replace that behavior with an appropriate behavior (our
topic for two weeks from now). The activities listed above do none of
these things. Now this doesn’t diminish their value; the proactive development of character is a worthy cause but it is not a behavior change process.
Why is this differentiation important? Because we need to call things for what they are – Character Ed is great but it is not your school’s behavior change plan.
Because if your class and your school have a terrific character
education program, or if you are going to implement one because you
rightfully see how the development of good citizenship and values is
important, then you need to understand the benefits and limitations. The
benefits are obvious and are listed above. The limitation is that you
are reinforcing citizenship behaviors and the growth of good character
traits, but it is highly unlikely that
these developing traits will counter the function that aberrant or
inappropriate behaviors serve and therefore won’t truly change bad
behaviors. Developing character will help your students better
understand their role in a socialized environment but it won’t change
angry or aggressive or disruptive behaviors. It will help your student
feel better about themselves but it won’t help them understand how to
identify and control their emotions and feelings. Character development
is critical for maturation but it is not a singularly effective medium
for change. In other words, building and introducing good behaviors is not the same as targeting and changing bad behaviors.
Change is targeted and individualized
and reinforced and disciplined accordingly. Please use character
building and pro-social reinforcements in your classroom, but do not mistake these terrific resources as your social, emotional, or behavior change solutions.
Over the next 4 weeks we are going to
talk about how you must have an effective discipline (again not
punishment) system that is applied in conjunction with the teaching of
replacement behaviors for those targeted inappropriate behaviors. The
great thing about this process is that it can be applied in a class and
small group setting. Behavior
change can be accomplished with the efficiency of class and small group
but it cannot be serendipitous, accidental, or incidental. Know
and understand that there is a difference between developing pro-social
and positive character traits and changing targeted and inappropriate
behaviors. Next week we will begin to talk about how to accomplish both.
grade class is a handful. He has his obviously bright students, his
struggling students, and most all of his kids are somewhere in between.
The struggles in reading and writing and math are ones he can handle. In
fact, these are the struggles he became a teacher to tackle. He knows
he is good at helping kids learn and understand why it is necessary to
learn. Where Mr. Jerrod struggles is trying to calm down the kids who
haven’t quite bought in to the whole school thing. They aren’t bad kids. They are just kids that won’t sit down and be quiet and pay attention.
Again, his class runs the gamut on this as well. He has his ace
students who are ready to learn as soon as the bell rings. In the
middle, most of his kids will settle down with an occasional reminder.
Then there is Raphael. Mr. Jerrod is pretty sure that Raphael thinks he
cannot survive for 5 minutes without talking to someone. Again, Raphael isn’t a bad kid. He just won’t sit down, be quiet, and pay attention.
We have spent the last several weeks
talking about the process of changing behaviors and how it is much more
complicated than the A-B-Cs we all learned in Psych 101. Remember, the
A-B-C chart? It says that there is antecedent event (a behavior
provocation). That Antecedent leads to a Behavior and depending on the Consequence the behavior will either increase or cease.
For those who are just now joining in the conversation, our past
discussions are easily accessible and I would highly recommend spending a
few minutes and catching up. This is important, because we are about to enter the part of the discussion that is the lightning rod of behavior change. We are about to talk about Consequences.
though the reinforcement we discussed the past couple of weeks is a
consequence, it is not the consequence that is most often misunderstood,
misapplied, and often counterproductive. The
one consequence that actually creates the biggest issue is the DRI –
the Differential Reinforcement of Inappropriate behaviors. The DRI is a fancy way of saying the response to an inappropriate behavior, typically a punishment.
The DRI is often misapplied in much the same way as the reinforcement.
It is too liberally given, often not tied to a plan for change, and –
most egregiously – is often a knee jerk reaction or, even more
problematically, is given out of frustration or even anger. When
a response/punishment is given and it is not planned for or
communicated well, then the chance of it positively affecting behavior
change is minimal. In fact, it can actually lead to even more problematic behaviors.
Let me say that again:
Your response to a problem behavior – typically a punishment of some kind –
if not applied correctly, can actually lead to WORSE behaviors.
Let’s begin by defining a DRI.
A DRI, or consequence, that works is one
that the student knows and understands, is tied to specific behaviors
or types of behaviors, is consistently enforced, and is explained when
it is given, and again after the fact, so that the student knows it
still applies. It is also an actual event, not simply withholding a reinforcement. In
other words, the student knows the rule, knows the consequence, if the
rule is broken the consequence is given each and every time, and then
the consequence is reinforced to the student so that they know it still
applies if they break the rule again. Finally, a good
DRI is more than withholding something that is reinforcing. A good DRI
is an event that the student can tie directly back to the targeted
behavior(s) that led to it. For example, let’s talk about Mr. Jerrod and
is constantly disrupting the students around him by talking during
class. This is a problem not only for Raphael but for the other kids.
When the students are quiet and attentive and do their work they earn a
check for the period. Mr. Jerrod is very conscientious about rewarding
the students when they do their work and pay attention. The system Mr.
Jerrod set up is that when the students have 5 checks in a row they get
to go to the “joy-jar” and choose a prize. But when they are talkative
or disruptive they lose the check and have to start over. Mr. Jerrod
loves to see the kids light up when they go to the joy-jar and pull out a
prize. He finds himself rooting for them to make it just so he can see
them accomplish this prize.
hasn’t earned many trips to the joy-jar. In fact, Mr. Jerrod sometimes
struggles to remember if Raphael has ever pulled a prize from the jar.
Raphael’s constant talking keeps him in trouble and is making it
difficult for his classmates to earn their checks as well. To make
matters worse, Raphael has pretty much given up on earning any checks
(Now, before parents and
secondary folks check out, please know that the trip to the joy-jar and
the checks could just as easily be doing chores and earning an allowance
or completing all assignments and earning the right for off-campus
In this scenario you can see that there
is a reinforcement, the check that leads to a trip to the “joy-jar”. At
this point, Raphael has given up on earning 5 checks in a row. Since
this reinforcement is not seen as attainable he doesn’t even try. This means that this reinforcement is not strong enough to alter his behaviors. Therefore, the withholding of the reinforcement is not going to produce any results.
After the 4th
time of telling Raphael to be quiet, the exasperated teacher told
Raphael to leave the classroom and sit in the hallway. At first, Raphael
was embarrassed but soon he was playing and twirling on the floor. And
there was no one telling him to be quiet!
we have a DRI that was applied out of frustration, isn’t part of any
change plan, and hasn’t been determined to be an effective deterrent.
In fact, Raphael is enjoying his time in the hallway more than the
classroom because he can play out there without the teacher constantly
harping on him. This was clearly a miss on the reinforcement and a miss
on the DRI. In fact, Mr. Jerrod has now reinforced bad behavior. Two strikes in behavior change often means you are out!
become increasingly obvious to the teacher that a class-based
reinforcement schedule is not enough for Raphael. Therefore he is
meeting with Raphael and his parents to talk about the new plan. Raphael
will still need to earn 5 checks but they won’t have to be sequential.
He will have to earn 2 in a row for them to count, but he won’t lose
them once he has earned two. This way Raphael can reach the
reinforcement of the joy-jar, and he still has to work for it, but it is
more attainable. However, if after a warning Raphael loses his check
for talking, then he will have an extra homework assignment to write a
paragraph on why he should not talk in class. If he loses two checks
that day, he will have to write the paragraph and will also have to
write a letter of apology to the teacher for disrupting the class. If he
loses 3 checks that day, Raphael will have the homework assignment,
will have to write a letter of apology to the teacher, and will also
have to write a letter of apology to the classmate(s) he is
In this scenario, the teacher realizes that one-size-fits-all reinforcing doesn’t work for everyone.
The teacher is also realizing that Raphael is going to talk and is
going to lose checks and is going to frustrate him. So instead of
reacting to Raphael’s talking, the teacher has a multi-level DRI which
still encourages Raphael to not be disruptive, gives him a chance to
comply, makes attaining the reinforcement manageable, and has known
consequences when he does not comply. The teacher does not have to come
up with on-the-spot discipline for a known inappropriate behavior. This
gives Raphael a much greater incentive to comply (an attainable
reinforcement) and known consequences of additional work when he does
not (a clearly laid out and effective DRI).
This sounds simple and in some ways it is. The hard part is applying it consistently.
There will be times when the teacher wants Raphael to achieve the check
so bad that he lets some talking slide. There will be other times when
Mr. Jerrod is so frustrated that he wants to send Raphael back to the
hallway just to get him out of his hair. Either of these deviations from the plan will weaken the plan’s effectiveness
because Raphael will not learn to control his talking by achieving 5
checks and a trip to the joy–jar, nor will he learn by writing letters
of apology to the entire class. Instead, he will learn to control his
talking when he begins to learn that there are consequences, both
reinforcing and punishment, every time he is compliant and every time he
is not compliant.
It is not the writing of the plan or the determination of the reinforcement and punishment that will change behaviors. It
is the consistency with which each is applied and the ability of the
teacher to weather Raphael’s testing of his patience, his willingness to
forego the joy-jar, and the teacher’s strong desire to give him extra
breaks so that he can achieve it.Inconsistency
in behavior change administration, especially the DRI, is tantamount to
saying that you “don’t really mean it” when you give the rules.
So that is how a DRI works. Next we are
going to talk a little about the difference between punishment and
discipline in deference to the DRI. Then we will get to the single most
important factor in the behavior change process, and it is not the
antecedent or the reinforcement or even the DRI. It is… coming soon.