Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Using Functional Behavioral Assessment Data to Infer Learning Histories and Guide Interventions: A Consultation Case Study

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Using Functional Behavioral Assessment Data to Infer Learning Histories and Guide Interventions: A Consultation Case Study

Article excerpt

Even experienced teachers often have difficulty managing inappropriate behaviors (Fudge, Reece, Skinner, & Cowden, 2007; Kauffman, Wong, Lloyd, Hung, & Pullen, 1991). Bergan (1977) developed a four stage behavioral consultation model suited for addressing these behavior problems. Since Bergan first developed this model, researchers have advanced our understanding of functional behavioral assessment (FBA) procedures designed to link assessment to interventions (Skinner, Freeland, & Shapiro, 2003). FBA data can provide practitioners with information that may allow them to identify what is reinforcing inappropriate behaviors in classroom environments. Once these variables are identified, educators can engage in consultation and develop interventions based on their FBA data (Watson & Steege, 2003).

Some inappropriate behaviors are more disruptive than others. Consider a student who is cheating on an exam (i.e., looking at his notes) and a student who is talking loudly and using inappropriate language during teacher-led group instruction. The cheating behavior is typically conducted in a manner that does not attract attention and, therefore, does not disrupt classmates or teachers. However, the loud and inappropriate language during teacher-led group instruction is likely to disrupt educators' efforts to teach and classmates' efforts to learn. In an attempt to cease the presenting disruption, teachers often attend (e.g., reprimand, re-direct) to students engaged in such behaviors. Although this teacher attention that follows disruptive behaviors may be intended to punish those behaviors, in some instances they actually serve as an immediate reinforcement for those behaviors (Gresham, Watson, & Skinner, 2001; Skinner, Neddenriep, Robinson, Ervin, & Jones, 2002).

Knowing that a student's disruptive behaviors are being reinforced with teacher attention suggests several interventions. For example, teachers could apply extinction where they attempt to manage their own behaviors by not attending to the student's disruptive behavior. While such procedures can be effective, extinction may also occasion an initial increase in disruptive behavior rates (extinction burst), enhance the intensity levels of disruptive behaviors, and/or occasion

extinction induced creativity which causes these students to alter the form (topography) of their behavior to one that is potentially more disruptive. Each of these changes in behavior may at least temporarily enhance, as opposed to reduce, the degree of disruption caused by the behavior (Gresham et al., 2001; Lieving, Hagopian, Long, & O'Connor, 2004).

Another alternative is to apply differential reinforcement for a) lower rates of disruptive behaviors, b) incompatible behaviors, and/or c) other behaviors. Thus, if a student is being reinforced with attention for inappropriate behaviors, differential reinforcement could involve reducing attention contingent upon undesired behaviors and increasing attention contingent upon desired behaviors. Researchers suggest using procedures such as labeled praise (e.g., "Ben, I really like the way you are working quietly, good job") in order to make the contingent relationship more salient, especially with young students (Bernhardt & Forehand, 1975; Bernhardt, Fredericks, & Forbach, 1978; Gillat & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1994; Herschell, Greco, & Filcheck, 2002; Kazdin, 1994; Madsen, Becker, & Thomas, 1968; Thomas, Becker, & Armstrong, 1968).

A second concern with applying differential reinforcement in the form of labeled praise is related to students' idiosyncratic learning histories. FBA can provide an indication of both reinforcers that are currently maintaining undesired behaviors and a student's learning history (Gresham, Watson, & Skinner, 2001). When FBA suggests that reprimands, re-directions, and other attempts to punish undesired behaviors are actually reinforcing these behaviors, these data also suggest that the student has an atypical learning history. …

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