The CAMI Tests: Reinforcement in the Classroom

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We need to be aware that too much or too little of a good thing can make reinforcement more or less effective.

After seeing some trends over the past year in regards to reinforcement, I presented a quick reinforcement segment during a recent in-service specifically to address some common mistakes made by teachers (and support staff who help them). Some common issues I’ve seen include continuing reinforcement procedures long after they had been shown to not increase behavior, choosing rewards that were excessive in cost (effort, time, and money), or choosing rewards that are not easily accessible and therefore not appropriate, and finally recommending rewards that teachers and parents did not agree were appropriate.

Here is a quick summary that I handed out to attendees. Recently this was updated in order to be more consistent with behavior analytic principles. Please feel free to give me feedback.

The CAMI Tests

In a school setting, we use prizes and other positive events in an attempt to reinforce the behaviors we would like to improve. However, these consequences for behavior will most likely not be successful as reinforcers unless they pass the four-part CAMI tests:

Conveniency Test. Is the reinforcer typically available in a school setting? If not, can it be obtained with little inconvenience and at a cost affordable to staff or parents? A reward system is less likely to be maintained if the cost of obtaining items creates too much of a strain of time, effort, or funds.

Acceptability Test. Do the teachers approve of using the consequences with this child? Do the parents approve the use of the reinforcer with their child? Philosophical differences can create disagreement and therefore inconsistency between implementors.

Example: Janie loves sugary foods and will do just about anything to get them. However, Janie’s parents are using a low sugar diet with Janie. Therefore using food, especially those with high sugar content, might be unacceptable to use. Also, the school has now implemented minimal nutritional value standards. The teacher checks school policy and seeks approval from administrators and the general education teachers before proposing the use of edibles.

Motivation Test. How much access does the student have to the reward? Too much or too little access to a reward will affect the child’s motivation for it. A child who gets too much will have little desire to earn more. A child who gets too little can have strong desire to earn more or give up because he feels he will never get any. When it comes to motivation, be aware of the following 4 conditions that influence reinforcer effectiveness.

1. Deprivation/Satiation: Often referred to as not getting enough or getting too much of a good thing.

Deprivation: Not having access to something that is highly desirable (hungry, thirsty, tired, etc.). This is often used to make an item or activity more valuable or desirable to someone

Example: Joey hasn’t played with his favorite stuffed animal since last yesterday. Because he hasn’t played with his stuffed animal today, he is deprived, therefore, he wants to play with his favorite toy.

Satiation: Satiation refers to having too much (like the full feeling from eating too much pizza). If the same reinforcer is used over and over again, it will lose its reinforcing value.

Example: If Joey played with his stuffed animal when he got to school today, then again before and after lunch and now his teacher offers playing with his stuffed animal to get him to work he may say, “No!” Because his is satiated with stuffed animal play. (it’s a stretch I know, but work with me here)

2. Immediacy: A reinforcer must be delivered as quickly as possible following the target behavior that we are looking to increase, especially on newly targeted skills. The longer the amount of time that lapses between the behavior we want to see increase and the time the reinforcer is delivered, the less valuable the reinforcer will be, and the less likely that a connection between the behavior and its resulting consequence is made.
Example: We’re trying to teach Shaley to raise her hand to get the teacher’s attention. She spontaneously raises her hand to get the teacher’s attention in class, but we don’t respond to this until 5 minutes later, we’ve most likely lost the reinforcing value of whatever we’re delivering for that target behavior. We are now reinforcing whatever Shaley is doing, 5 minutes after hand raising.
3. Size: This refers to how much of the reinforcer you get/are giving.

Example: If Shawn reads 1 sight word card, and he earns a cup of popcorn, we will quickly satiate him and have to look for new reinforcers. A better way to reinforce might be a small cup of popcorn after reading 15 to 20 sight word cards, or completing all his reading work.

4. Contingency: Reinforcement delivery must be contingent, meaning, access to a reinforcer only occurs after the target behavior has been demonstrated.

Example: Brandon’s mother tells him he can read his book after he finishes his chores, Brandon proceeds to get out his book and read on the couch. Although the contingency is stated, it is not being enforced. Until the mother can limit and then provide access to the book provided that chores are complete

Improvement Test. Does the behavior improve or increase as a result of obtaining the “reinforcer”? Just because we think an item, activity, or praise is positive does not mean it works as a reinforcer. What makes an event a reinforcer is that it is successful helping to increase the frequency of the behavior. So if it is consistently not working, it’s time to change.

Example: Thomas rarely completes his multiplication quizzes. You decided to let him play a math game on an iPad when he finishes his multipication quiz. You follow this procedure and you see an increase in how often he completes his multiplication quizzes. Due to the improvement in desired behavior, you might be able to assume that playing math games on the iPad is indeed a reinforcer for quiz completion.

Please note that this is only a guide for implementing reinforcement procedures in the classroom or at home. It is not intended nor shall it be misconstrued as specific advice. Before engaging in any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Question of the Week: Essential Skills for Parents and Teachers

Parenting or teaching a child with emotional and behavioral deficits can be challenging on many levels. What 3 essentials skills (or group of skills) are necessary to be an effective parent or teacher of students with emotional behavior disorders?

Back it Up: Positive Practice in Action

20130104-162714.jpgUnder most circumstances, I recommend positive reinforcement strategies to foster behavior. Punishment is the application of or the removal of an event or stimulus that reduces the future frequency of a behavior. It has been used to reduce disruptive, annoying, and self-injurious behaviors. The term punishment has come to take on a negative connotation due its misuse over the years. However, when used correctly and ethically, certain forms of punishment have been shown to be very effective changing behavior.

Today I’m going to talk about what I call “Back it Up”. This is a term I use when I want a student (or my own kids) to “fix” a problem behavior, usually one that creates a problem for others. It is based on a behavior analytic procedure called overcorrection. Overcorrection consists of restitutional overcorrection and/or positive practice overcorrection. It combines the reductive effects of punishment and the educative effects of positive practice. I’m sure many of you have heard the stories of the child caught smoking and then having to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes. The difference here is that you want the person to practice the correct behavior. Clearly they already know how do it incorrectly, so I wouldn’t have the child practice the incorrect one.

“Back it Up” can occur in several forms. One form is restitution, which is having the person do what a normal individual might do to correct a situation. A child knocks over a another child’s toys, he picks them up. Restitution is intended to help the individual experience the effort needed to restore the damage and may cause them not to repeat the behavior because of the inconvenience of correcting or rectifying the situation. This may cause the person to realize that time and effort are needed to correct irresponsible action. Combine this with a caring atmoshpere and the person may decide to take responsibility for his/her actions. This makes this form of punishment better than other forms because of the intention to teach appropriate behavior and responsibility for ones actions. This is more of a treatment package because it’s not solely a punishment procedure, rather it’s a combination of positive punishment and positive reinforcement. You’re adding an aversive event, having to clean up the toys (punishment), but also providing positive feedback for doing it correctly (positive reinforcement). In Love and Logic terms this is referred to as the Energy Drain.

Another form of “Back it Up” is restitutional overcorrection, where the person corrects the product of their misbehavior by restoring the situation to not just as-good-as, but a better state from before the event. If student were to write on his desk, cleaning the desktop would be considered restitution. However, having the student clean all of the desktops in the classroom is restitutional overcorrection. During a tantrum a student might knock over a chair. Restitutional overcorrection would be that the student would then have to straighten all the chairs in the classroom. If the student yells an insult, he may then have to give a compliment to everyone in class, or give several compliments to the offended person.

The third form of “Back it Up” is positive practice overcorrection. In this situation, the person practices an activity using the appropriate desired behavior. Repeatedly placing trash into the trash container. A student who repeatedly enters a classroom loudly might be required to practice the appropriate steps of entering the classroom and being seated. Part of the intervention is predicated on having the person do what a normal individual might do to avoid the situation. As part of a debrief, I might say, “We could do it this way once, or we can practice doing it many times” (notice I don’t say how many times, this is a deviation from the literature which supports setting a number or length of time). A student who repeatedly hugs people without consent, might need to practice asking and accepting being told no.

Recommendations for implementing a “Back it Up” intervention:

1. Continuously and systematically monitoring in order to provide prompts during restitution or positive practice. When behaviors occur at a high rates, differential reinforcement procedures such as DRO, DRI may be a better option, instead of overcorrection. Whenever possible reinforce incompatible behavior, or behaviors that cannot occur at the same time as the problem behavior. (i.e. having hands in lap cannot happen at same time as scratching you)

2. The person may, and can often times be expected to, refuse to cooperate at first. They may be disruptive such as cry, scream, and whine or even escalate to physically aggressive behaviors. This can be reduced by being prepared, offering limited structured choices, or having students setting overcorrection as part of a goal for changing their behavior. The use of positive verbal prompts and authority statements as well as providing time-out first or during overcorrection helps to minimize disruptions. Consistently applying the intervention helps reduce problems in the long term.

3. Selecting and implementing restitutional and positive practice activities can be difficult at times. Considerations must be made for the behavior of concern, the environment, time, availability of staff, materials, etc.

4. If not careful, overcorrection procedures can inadvertently increase the frequency, duration, or intensity of an inappropriate behavior as well as collateral behaviors. An initial increase of behavior or other similar behaviors is sometimes likely due to reinforcing effects created by the amount of attention associated with these interventions. Make sure to provide minimal positive feedback and attention during overcorrection. Also, be sure that this is not the only opportunity the person has to access social forms of reinforcement.

5. Make the practice as closely related to the type of misbehavior as possible. A child may break an item in the classroom and may not be able to replace it, but he could pick up the pieces. He doesn’t just sit against the wall at recess to “think about it”.

6. Keep observation notes and records, data is essential to determining the success or failure of your intervention.

7. Have I mentioned the word positive (not to be confused with reinforcing)? An intervention that is negative and aversive may reduce problematic behaviors. However, the chances of teaching new replacement behaviors are less likely since punishment procedures alone do not teach behaviors. There is also a risk of new misbehaviors or an increase escape/avoidance behaviors as a result of aversive interventions. Remember our interventions should never cause harm.

I have used positive practice to train students to use their calming strategies. For example, when they practice using their strategies in a contrived “time out” or self initiated break situation, they receive acknowledgement and positive attention for doing so. A student might use this as they feel a problem is about to occur or they might use it to stop a violent behavior. This strategy could be used prior to an event and help prevent other, and possibly more aversive interventions. It’s also great as a follow up to an apology. An apology is more readily accepted when you “Back it Up”!

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.

References

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., &; W. L. Heward. (2007) Applied behavior analysis Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education Inc.

Love and Logic http://www.loveandlogic.com

Who’s in Control?

This is a common theme that surfaces in my discussions with teachers and administrators. I felt it important to share again, since it often times seems more difficult for the adults to give up or share control than it is for children. It’s a somewhat more mentalistic perspective than I normally present, but sometimes doing the work starts with mindset.

imageIf you’re anything like me, you may have a difficult time controlling all the parts of your own life. If you have to control another person’s life on top of that, you’re going to get tired very quickly. Throw in a classroom of little lives to control and you’re on the rode to a breakdown sooner rather than later! As parents and teachers we often battle over control with our kids and students. I admit there are many times that I can be found guilty of the crime of power hunger. The hardest part about power and control is recognizing whether you have too much of it or too little. Our behavior tends to give us subtle hints even when we aren’t overtly thinking about it. We usually react when there is an imbalance of control whether we consciously realize it or not.

Often times we talk about children choosing behavior for control. We need to consider that control can take on more than one form. When looking at patterns of behavior, we have to answer the question, is the child attempting to gain control or does he already have it? We frequently feel the need to take charge and remove all opportunities for control. Having an iron fist of control in the classroom or at home is much like squeezing putty in your hands, as you squeeze tighter the putty inevitably seeps out. However by attempting to exert all the power and control you unintentionally lose it. In an attempt to hoard all opportunities for control, you create a condition in which the children make every attempt to gain some semblance of control in their lives.

Here we have two conditions. In the first condition one person has too much control. In the other condition the person has too little. Most people would like harmony in their lives and most of us would like to be fun to be around. In order to create this harmony we have to be able to create a balance of control. To do this, ask yourself these questions:

What is being controlled?
Contrary to popular belief, “control” itself is not a function of behavior. Therefore you must ask yourself what specifically is being controlled? At its most fundamental, behavior occurs either to gain access to something or to escape/avoid something. Knowing the behavioral function will help you make sure you’re addressing the behavior from the right perspective and avoiding unnecessary power struggles. See Functions of Behavior: Everybody E.A.T.S.

Is there a balance?
Good vs. bad, black vs. white, right vs. wrong, action and reaction, there are always forces at work that create a balance. Is control any different? A big step toward progress is to recognize that the scales of control are off balance.

Who has the control?
Does one person have the upper hand in the situation? If the child has the control, you’re going to need to set limits in order to regain some. If you have the control, guess what, it’s time to give some up in order to restore balance.

What am I willing to share?
Sometimes the hardest decision to make is what you are willing to give up, especially when you are used to having it all. Contrary to popular belief, most of the time, providing a child with choices is actually okay. You can have control by setting the limits and providing structure to the choices, the child gets control over which choice to make. Sounds like a win-win situation doesn’t it?

What am I willing to keep?
Sometimes it’s necessary to hold on to the choices. Situations involving safety usually come to mind here. Everybody has some “have to’s”, just don’t let them prevent you from finding some middle ground.

When we have too much or too little control over our lives we become stressed. When this happens we tend to overreact or under react and end up in the power struggles that we are trying to avoid. Remember that if control is not given, it will eventually be taken.

Response Journaling – Give Them Something to Write About

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This is shortly after starting a response journal with one of my high-risk cases. This student went from high frequency aggression and drawing violent pictures during morning transition time to near zero levels in about a week. Response journaling was one of the activities we used to engage him during that time. (getting a little compliment from a student is always nice)

Response journals can be a great way to get your students to write. Many of the students I support display avoidance behaviors when writing tasks are assigned to them. One recommendation I often make to my teachers is to use response journaling.

Using a journal you engage in continuous dialogue with the student using writing. You can engage them in topics of their liking while still prompting them to expand of topics of your choosing at the same time. Over time you can shape their writing skills with corrective feedback. Using the same language they choose in their writing, for example, I would respond to this using some of the same words (spelled correctly and highlighted in a different color so the word stands out visually.

As I stated earlier, the conversation continues as long as you maintain it. When a student returns the journal you simply respond. All of the students I work with look forward to my responses and then responding in turn. They often let me know if I’ve gotten behind. Even some of my most ardent writing protesters willingly chose to write in their response journals. Here are some sample response journal prompts:

Write a brief story and ask the student to finish it.

Ask about what they like to do most.

What social skill do you like the most? What social skill do you hate the most?

What is your favorite emotion? Which is your least favorite emotion?

What do think about the last homework assignment I gave you?

Write a compliment about the student.

This is also a good activity for parents to do this at home. Think of it as a fun way to talk and be creative with your kids. Whether at home or in school, response journals are a great way to keep in touch with the social emotional needs of your kids while teaching and modeling an important lifelong skill.

Reinforcement from Baby and Parent’s Point of View

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.

Arguing Teens…A Quick Tip

A question of how to deal with arguing teenagers recently popped on the Love and Logic message boards. If you are a parent of a teenager, then most likely you are a parent of a teenager who argues. There’s nothing to fear, you are not alone. You are better equipped to handle arguing than you probably thought. If you can speak in a complete sentence you can most likely handle an argument with a teenager.

It might be helpful for you to remember that parents of the leaders of the house who in the end have ultimate decision-making power. We have one standing maxim as the parents of the house: we provide the basic essentials for living, including food, shelter, and clothing; every else is extra, yet still subject to house rules.

Occasionally (if not more often) teenagers will challenge these rules. It is only natural. I have 2 teens raised on Love and Logic for years. The concept is the same as I would use with younger children, just how you word it may be a little more complicated. These days when a conversation isn’t going how it should I respond by saying something like “Do you want to continue this conversation this way, because I certainly can, OR do you want to try speaking in a way that helps solve the problem for both of us?” another one I use is “Do you want to solve this problem yourself, have me help you, or do you just want me to take care of it? (with the ever-subtle reminder that if I just take care of it, it most likely will not be done in a manner they would like).

Just as with dealing with younger children, ultimately it comes down to:

1. Providing acceptable choices,

2. Allowing them the opportunity to make a choice

3. Following through with the consequences for the choice. (and by the way, not making a choice means that by default, YOU make the choice)