If your a fan of the Simpsons and Applied Behavior Analysis, you should understand the reference. Can you make the connection?
I love clicker training! Over the years I’ve used clickers to train chickens, dogs, fish (using a visual “click”), and even students in the classroom. My first experience using a clicker for shaping was back in 1999 when I attended a two day workshop by Bob Bailey and his wife, Marian Breland Bailey. I learned to teach a chicken how to discriminate between and peck colored discs. In the 1940s, Marian and Keller Breland, both former students of B.F. Skinner, trained animals for animal acts.
A clicker is a device with a metal strip that when pushed, makes a “clicking” sound. The most common form is the box clicker you would find at the checkout counter at PetSmart. See the picture above to see some examples. These days, animal trainers and teachers can buy all kinds of clickers (and accessories) as well as receive clicker newsletters, attend seminars, books and other training materials. Do a search for “clicker training” on Amazon.com and you can see for yourself.
How does the concept of shaping work? Shaping is a procedure based on the principles of operant conditioning. To use behavior analytic terms, we say in clicker training that an unconditioned stimulus, such as food, is paired with a neutral stimulus (the click), and the neutral stimulus eventually becomes a conditioned stimulus. In plain English, you pair the click sound with giving the learner a treat so that eventually the “click” becomes something that is desired because it is always associated with getting a treat. But that is only the beginning.
Shaping is a process of systematically reinforcing successive approximations to an end behavior. Actions displayed that are not approximations to the end behavior are ignored and not reinforced. Through these experiences, the learner acquires the new behavior. So if I was trying to teach someone to sit in a chair, I would click and reinforce behaviors that brought her closer to the chair until eventually she sits in the chair. (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007)
If you’ve never done clicker training, you can easily get warmed up by playing the Shaping Game (also known as the Training Game) with a group of friends or students. You’re going to use a person as your “animal”. You’ve probably played this game before in another form. Remember the Hot and Cold game? The shaping game is similar to the old kid’s game where something would be hidden for a child to find. As the child got closer to the hidden object, someone would say, “You’re getting warmer.” Functionally, “you’re getting warmer” is like the click that tells a learner he is doing the right thing. We actually did this with some special Christmas gifts for our kids. I’ve used a variation of this game, as well as clicker games, in the classroom to teach my EBD students awareness of the response consequence chain. See below how you can play the Shaping Game in the classroom.
The Shaping Game
1. Have one person agree to be the learner (the person whose behavior will be shaped), and have the learner leave the room.
2. Whoever is left in the room will choose a behavior that will be shaped. For example, you may want the person to come in, walk to a particular table in the room, and pick up a glass. Know what you want the learner to do BEFORE you start! Choosing a behavior is important in playing the shaping game. You want to be a humane trainer, and people may be reluctant to do something considered socially inappropriate (like hugging someone they don’t know or who doesn’t like to be touched). Participants are also unlikely to try a behavior they simply can’t do and will result in embarrassment if they try.
3. Now that the desired behavior has been determined, have the learner reenter in the room. She does not know what the behavior is.
4. As the learner starts moving in the right direction, click the clicker. If she goes the wrong way, say and do nothing. Click each time she is approaching or moving toward what you want her to do.
Don’t have a group of students to work with? That’s okay, ask friends or family members to help you practice shaping. This is also a great icebreaker and a fun staff development activity for teachers in behavior support classrooms for EBD and Autism.
Check out Karen Pryor’s site for tips and variations on the shaping game:
See TAGTeach use shaping strategies to teach humans and animals alike.
Cooper, John, & Heron, T., Heward, W. (2007) Applied Behavior Analysis Second Edition. Pearson Education, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
The third installment in my Fish Academy series. My precision in delivering reinforcement continues to improve. Factors such as location and time of delivery are very important to consider in training sessions. If I deliver a reinforcer too far away from where the trick is performed, or if I deliver too long after the trick is performed, the fish can associate an incorrect behavior or an incorrect form of the behavior with reinforcement. When reinforcement is delivered with precision, the benefit is that learning becomes more efficient for the learner. See how it helped Darwin learn this trick extremely quick!
Training is going extremely well. Darwin is making quick progress (and he has the belly to show it). We’ve gone from swimming through a hoop to swimming through a short tunnel to swimming through a longer tunnel. It’s neat to see how both fish have their own personalities and temperaments. They are debunking the myth that a goldfish only has a 3 second memory!
Some notes: Both fish perform tricks swimming away from the light. Therefore I will need to work harder on shaping the behavior of swimming in both directions, or modify (soften) the light source. Also, in order to maintain the EO (desire to eat) I need to be mindful of maintaining the feeding/training schedule and avoiding too many trials in sessions. Otherwise the fish get full (satiate) and food is no longer valued as a reinforcer.
Darwin, my fantail goldfish is taking to training like a duck, errr fish in water. Today he performed his first trick, swimming through a hoop (which you can see in the video below). In fact, he loved it so much, when it was Sisco’s turn, he kept sneaking underneath the curtain to get more chances! We couldn’t stop laughing because he wouldn’t stop. Sisco on the other hand, is not taking to training as well. I’m using softened and cut pellets. He definitely seems to be more of a flake food type of guy. I’m finding that yes, even fish have reinforcer preferences! I’ll try to post more videos as training continues. Enjoy!
Sometimes as parents it can be difficult recognizing examples of Positive and Negative Reinforcement. Often, but not always, in many scenarios both forms of reinforcement can be in effect, depending on your perspective. Here is a scenario (with some graphics) with which I’m sure most parents are all too familiar:
Baby just wants his pacifier, but he doesn’t know how to get it so he cries. If parent gives Baby the pacifier, it increases the likelihood that Baby will cry the next time he wants his pacifier. If Baby cries to gain access to his pacifier, then this would be an example of Positive Reinforcement for Baby’s crying.
In negative reinforcement, an unpleasant stimulus is withdrawn from the equation, once the desired response is generated. Looking at this situation from the parent’s point of view, she just wants Baby to stop crying. So she gives him his pacifier to get him to stop. If he stops crying, then the parent no longer has to listen to the crying (which is what the parent is trying to avoid). The removal of the crying can become Negative Reinforcement for the parent’s behavior of giving Baby a pacifier whenever he cries.
This past week I was involved in a few discussions at work about behavioral function and the term “control” kept being tossed about. A few of the teams kept suggesting that control itself is a function of behavior. However, to say a behavior occurs because of control does not truly describe why a behavior occurs. Is the student trying to gain access to something? Is the student trying to avoid or escape something? What exactly is the student trying to control?
Often times, we easily confuse the form of the behavior with the function of the behavior. The form of the behavior can be influenced by many factors including culture, experience, ability level, and sensory needs (among others). Considering all the factors that can bias our interpretations of behavior, it makes it easy to just call it control, or power, or revenge. But regardless of the what it looks like (topography), analyze the behavior for what the student gains or avoids by engaging in the behavior (function). Consider what happens before the behavior (antecedents), and what happens after the behavior (consequences), and other environmental features in your observations and analysis. When you analyze the behavior and the environmental effects you will ultimately land on the following four functions: escape, attention, tangible, and sensory. All of our behaviors can be attributed to one or more of these functions. I like to use the phrase “Everybody E.A.T.S!” to help me remember:
Escape: A stimulus or condition is terminated or avoided as a result of the behavior. For example a child engages in this type of behavior to escape or avoid a demand or non-preferred task or activity. Ever see a child tantrums when asked to sit down to do homework?
Attention: Interaction from peers or adults is gained as a result of the behavior. For example a student repeatedly cracks jokes in class and the other students laugh.
Tangible: Access to tangibles is gained as a result of the behavior. For example, a child tantrums when he is denied a toy at the toy store, but stops when he gets the toy.
Sensory: The behavior serves no other purpose but to provide access to sensory input. A common example is hand flapping or body rocking, but so is nail biting and even eating.
We must avoid using terms such as control, power, or revenge to describe behavior, for they are vague and inaccurate descriptions of what is gained or avoided. Instead all behavior plans should subsequently be based on an analysis of the observed consequences of the behavior. Ask questions, observe, and use data collection and interview forms to gain more information. A goal for assessment and intervention plan is to identify and provide a better way for an individual to get the same function met through acceptable alternative methods. By doing so we can identify ways to remove the need for student misbehavior.
We all have to put in the time and effort to build positive relationships with students. I’ve recently been working with some staff on building positive relationships with the students in their classroom. Pairing, a process of associating oneself with positive reinforcement through consistently matching yourself with positive stimuli, is a helpful strategy to building (and rebuilding) relationships with students.
Whether it’s a home program or within a classroom, pairing can help establish the relationship between teacher and student. I think pairing is a key component at the beginning of any behavioral program and is essential to the failure or success of your program.
One of the basic premises behind a behavioral program is that students will be much more motivated when they are having fun. Therefore, as a teacher or therapist, you must become fun for the student. Pairing is used to help the child get used to the teacher/therapist and look forward to teaching/therapy sessions. A good way to establish instructional control is for teachers to first connect themselves with positive reinforcement. It begins with noncontingent reinforcement. In other words, the student is first reinforced without having demands placed on him or her. This initially could be in the form of a compliment or tangible item (it depends on what is motivating to the student).
In the beginning, the only requirement for getting access to reinforcement (besides the lack of undesirable behavior) is that the student take the reinforcers from the teacher. Technically speaking, the reinforcement is still contingent, as there must be an absence of undesired behavior (tantrums, aggression, SIB, etc.) for reinforcement to be delivered. However the focus for the teacher/therapist is to seek and provide as many positive reinforcement opportunities for the student as possible.
After this is happening consistently (after several hours or even days), the teacher/therapist must gradually fade in demands; slowly increase the response requirement before reinforcement can be given. Eventually the teacher/therapist will be able to gradually present more demands of varying difficulty. Successful pairing will help ensure the reinforcement value of learning is not lowered while at the same time preventing the increasing the value of escape.
Pairing essentially involves 3 elements which must be in close association with each other:
1) The student The learner who is seeking positive reinforcement
2) The teacher/therapist Becomes the conduit by which the student obtains reinforcement.
3) The student’s desires and reinforcers. The student has to want it, or it’s never going to work.
In order to become a reinforcer themselves, a teacher or therapist will have to capture and contrive MOs/EOs and identify strong reinforcers with which they can be paired. Often times this may mean providing limited access to reinforcing items to certain times of day or under certain conditions in order to increase the desire to obtain them. A teacher/therapist may also have to contrive the setting under which this occurs (such as a space with increased likelihood to obtain reinforcement, such as play areas, play centers, etc.). Once this happens, everything associated with the teacher, especially learning itself, becomes reinforcing.
Whether you are a teacher, therapist, counselor, paraprofessional, administrator, or parent; your position alone does not automatically make you a reinforcing person in a student’s life. Pairing is a systematic way to help you establishing trust and connect yourself with reinforcement. It is this association with that solidifies the child’s view of the therapist as fun and reinforcing. The teacher/therapist becomes a bridge between the student and reinforcers.
This is a simple description of how the pairing process can be implemented in the classroom or at home. I will expand on this in a future post. This is not intended nor shall it be misconstrued as advice. As always, before engaging in any any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
This is an informal survey of people working in the field of behavior analysis and positive behavior support:
In 150 words or less, tell me why you do what you do?
Please post your response in the comment section below.