A Behaviorist’s Back to School Advice


I always think of this B.F. Skinner quote when I’m making my classroom behavior plans. As we begin this new year, we all know that connecting with students and getting them to perform takes reinforcement. But what we sometimes forget is, kids care less about the “thing” they get than how that thing was given. It’s the little things you do every day to show you care that make the biggest difference.

Here’s to a great school year!



Response Journaling – Give Them Something to Write About


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.

Personal Goal Setting Tips

As adults we often help our children to set goals for themselves. We even take the time to help them in many different ways to help them achieve their goals. However, we often times lose sight of our own goals and therefore have difficulty working on changing our own behaviors for the better. Are you having difficulty setting and meeting your own goals? Perhaps your goal is to read more books, or  learn a new vocation or hobby, or maybe even to lose some weight. Here are some tips to help you successfully meet your goals:

1. Decide what it is EXACTLY you would like to do. What does it look like when you are doing it? Phrase it as a sentence “I am going to……”

2. Break your goal into manageable steps. These are short-term objectives, or benchmarks, that are measurable and observable. What are the benchmarks that let you know you are on track to meet your goal? When do you expect to meet each benchmark and what will it look like when you are doing it?

3. Arrange your environment. Be sure to arrange the environment in a way that best supports the behavior you desire. The environment should both encourage you to engage in the behavior as well as allow for opportunities for reinforcement after the desired behavior occurs.

4. Record your data. Yes, it’s that dreaded word…..DATA! Collect data on your progress. Figure out how you are going to measure your progress. Keep a log of time, activities you do that help you meet your goal, or number of times you perform your desired behavior.

5. Graph your data as you go. A graph is a great visual representation of your progress. Use some grid paper or plug your numbers in an Excel spreadsheet and chart it. Your graph can provide you feedback, and can even serve as reinforcement for your efforts.

Here is a relatively “simple” behavior reduction goal I’m working on:

Goal: I am going to bite my fingernails less than 1 time per month.

Benchmark 1: In 7 days I will bite my fingernails no more than 10 times per day.

Benchmark 2: In 14 days I will bite my fingernails no more than 5 times per day.

Benchmark 3: In 21 days I will bite my fingernails no more than 1 time per day.

Benchmark 4: In 28 days I will bite my fingernails no more than 1 time per week.

This is a simple description of how a goal setting process can be implemented. 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.

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)


What’s the plan?: handling a behavioral crisis

The other day I had a student get very upset with me. Not because of anything I said or did, but because I was someone he was not familiar with. He had asked his teacher for help. His teacher, working with another student, was not available to assist him. She told him he could ask me for help. The student did not like that answer. He began to give me angry looks, and started to posture as if he wanted to fight. I looked at him, so he told me to stop staring. Using my Love and Logic, I responded by saying, “I do what people ask, when they ask me nicely.” He didn’t like that very much.

At this point he charged across the room towards me. I was leaning against a bookshelf with my hand on my chin, (a modified, impromptu modification of the CPI supportive stance), but did not move. He very angrily said he was going to rip my face off if I didn’t leave. I responded by saying, “I hope you wouldn’t, but if you feel the need to, you could try, I would just have to take care of myself and keep us both safe. However a better choice would be to go sit down and wait for your teacher’s help.”

Training to handle this type of situation is essential. I have seen this behavior before, therefore I was able to prepare a quick plan for how I would respond should we enter a full blown crisis. Having a plan helped me to stay calm in this situation:

1. Body position. I positioned my body in a way that wasn’t threatening, but at the same time was also safe and respectful. Coming off aggressively might only prompt the student to return the favor.

2. I set my limits. I could have easily said, “You are not allowed to hit me”, but he almost certainly probably would have tested that limit. So I responded by validating that he did have the choice to become physical. I did not get into a power struggle with him. Instead I informed him of what his choices were and from there he was able to decide which one would gain the more favorable outcome.

3. Awareness of the situation. Yes there was a risk, but I was prepared. My body was in position and I looked for signs the he was going to be physically aggressive. Where were his hands, was he continuing to escalate, was he breathing faster, was he looking for targets? My body was in position and I was ready to do what needed to be done, and in accordance with my training, in the event the student acted out physically.

4. Follow through. Since I saw no escalation, I continued my course of action. I felt no need to repeat my directive. I just gave him time to let the directive sink in and allow him time to process what he was going to do. Thankfully, I did not need to use any personal safety techniques in this situation.

The student grunted, then slowly turned around and walked back to his seat. He then asked if I would help him. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see that coming. But, he asked so nicely, so I acknowledged the appropriateness of his request and proceeded to help.In fact, later we were able to talk about how to get the things he wants sooner using more acceptable behavior choices and bring some closure to the incident.

My main purpose for describing this situation is to point out that this job carries with it a high level of risk. My response in this student could have gone downhill fast. However I responded the way I did being fully aware of the potential risk. I have seen this particular student engage in some highly aggressive and destructive behaviors towards others and his environment in the past. I often tell teachers and parents, “If you’ve seen it once, then you should develop a plan”. A plan keeps me from overreacting or underreacting out of fear. The last thing I want is to escalate a situation because I couldn’t react to a situation appropriately. Developing a plan and understanding the risks of your responses will helps me move forward to work positively in a crisis situation.


This is an example of how a behavioral crisis situation was handled. 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.

Foundations of Data Collection in the Classroom

The term data collection can strike fear into the hearts of teachers. I come across many people who detest the thought of having to collect behavior data on their students. I have to admit there was a time in my personal and professional life when taking data ranked up there with having a tooth pulled or getting a shot from doctor.

As times have changed so has the value of collecting data. Today we here the very common buzz term “response to intervention” as way to analyze how, when, and why children transition through educational continuums. To look at it more simply, how some children gain access to or independence from specialized supports.

But collecting behavior data doesn’t need to be a burden and it doesn’t need to take away from your day. Collecting behavior data for your students can be easy and efficient if you understand the three basic foundations of data collection in the classroom: right reason, make it relevant, and keep it simple.

Foundation I: Right reason

First and foremost, identify the value of collecting the data you seek. Why do you need it and what purpose will it serve? Answering these questions will help you ensure the data you are collecting serves the purpose for which it is intended. Your primary concern when it comes to data collection is making your collected data a useful part of the program. Data collected and analyzed should be used to mold the child’s program, assess the effectiveness of the selected interventions, activities, and teaching techniques, and to look for trends in the child’s behaviors and learning. If the data you collect has no real value, other than being a good visual for meetings, there really is little point in taking data at all. On the same note, data collected for the mere purpose of just doing it, serves little purpose and is a waste of your time.

Foundation II: Make it Relevant

The second foundation is to ensure that one is taking data that are relevant and appropriate for the behavior being documented and for the goals associated with that behavior. There are a number of different types of behavioral data that one can take:

Frequency – This is perhaps the most common form of data collected. Frequency counts the number of target behaviors that occur in a given period of time. When talking about frequency, typically you will here the words “how often does the behavior happen”. Frequency can be expressed in terms of rate.

  • The time period you choose depends upon the behavior you are trying to document. But it can also depend on the setting. If child only displays the behavior in one classroom and they are there for one hour, it would be reasonable that your period of measurement would be in that classroom for a period of one hour. If you were trying to count the number of self-initiated interactions with peers at recess, the period of time for each data collection session might be 20 minutes or so. However, if one were keeping track of how often a child chose a novel activity or item, the period of measurement could be a week or more. Or, if one were collecting data on how many times a child initiated eye contact during a conversation, each data session might only be a minute or so.

How might this be used?

  • Data on the frequency of a behavior are best used when the goal for a program is to increase or decrease the occurrences of a behavior. For example: Jamie will increase the number of self-initiated interactions she makes with peers to play from one to four during a 20 minute recess period.
  • Here’s another example: Joey will decrease the number of verbal or gestural prompts required to stay on task through from four to 1 for every 30 minutes of math instruction.

Ratio – Indicates the percentage of available opportunities that a target behavior occurs. Different from frequency which is a count of the number of target behaviors that occur in a given period of time, proportion looks at the number of target behaviors that occur in a given number of opportunities. If a specific direction is given 20 times throughout the day (opportunities for a correct behavior) and the child responds correctly 15 times (actual correct behaviors) the child exhibited the target behavior 75% of the available opportunities.

As teachers, we use this type of data all the time. Whenever you give students a worksheet or test you are usually measuring by proportion. If a child is given a worksheet with 10 problems and he correctly answers 8 of the problems, then the student exhibited the target behavior 80% of the opportunities.

How might this be used?

  • Data on the ratio, or proportion, of appropriate behavior are best used when the goal for a program is to increase the quality of a behavior. Here’s an example: Camille will increase following 2-step directions from 10% of available opportunities to 70% of available opportunities.
  • Here’s another example: Shawn will increase the accuracy of correctly answering 3 digit subtraction problems with regrouping from 50% of available opportunities to 90% of available opportunities.

Duration – Basically, how long the behavior occurs. The recording of duration data is used when working with behaviors that have a clear beginning and end and occur over a span of time. You can either work on increasing or decreasing the amount of time a behavior is displayed.

Duration can be used for the recording of episodic or chained behavior such as tantrums or crisis events in which there is usually a clear beginning and end but there is more than one target behavior displayed (such as aggressive or self-injurious behaviors). Duration is good data to keep to record progress on maladaptive behaviors that have been worked on to extinguish and would like to show progress, where a single occurrence no matter how long a window (a day, a week, or a month) is still not appropriate, but we would like to show a decrease in the amount of time it may take for a child to recover.

Duration data can be helpful for interventions to increase positive behaviors as well. Duration might be targeted to increase the amount of time a child is engaged in positive alternative behaviors. For example, one might record the amount of time that a child is able to attend to a story, or sit during a social skills group, or focus on a writing assignment. So if working with a child who has a goal like sitting quietly during circle time, one would record how long the child is able to sit until a target behavior is displayed.

How might this be used?

  • The recording of duration data can be used for behaviors that you are trying to either increase or decrease the amount of time spent engaging in the behavior, depending on the situation.
  • Data on the duration of a behavior can also be used for behaviors that one is hoping to decrease or eliminate. For example: Mason will use a menu of strategies to calm himself when someone is getting one on one attention from a adult that he prefers, reducing the average length of his tantrums from five minutes to 30 seconds. Using a stopwatch I would time how long he tantrums before he uses one of those strategies. If a particular tantrum is shorter than his previous tantrum, I will give him some reinforcement. Otherwise, if he is less successful, I will implement some error correction procedure (increased prompting for example).
  • For behaviors you are trying to increase, record how long it takes until the child needs a prompt or displays target behavior. For example: Toby will increase the time he is able to sit quietly on the carpet without a prompt from 15 seconds to three minutes, I would use a stop watch and record how long Toby is able to sit until either I need to provide a prompt or until he yells out unprompted.

Latency — The period of time between the signal (also known as the discriminative stimulus) and the response. In some behavioral circles this is also known as fluency. Think of it this way, it is the time it takes from when the teacher gives a direction and the student correctly responds.

Keep in mind that latency should be considered when the behavior is a performance deficit and not for the acquisition of skills. If a child is uniformly slow to respond be sure the delay is not the result biological processing, for which, behavioral intervention may not be the best course of action. However, there are benefits to reducing latency. It increases the number of possible opportunities for learning over a certain time, allowing for more practice and quicker acquisition of skills. Typically this kind of data is taken when I am intentionally teaching the fluency of a behavioral response and therefore it is often times useful to implement programs designed to specifically reduce latency, or increase fluency.

How might this be used?

  • Reducing latency is important especially when safety is a primary concern. If I am working with a child does not quickly respond in a crisis situation I might develop a goal such as: When Julie is given a direction to go to a safe location, she will reduce the amount of time it takes to respond correctly from 30 seconds to 5 seconds.
  • Sometimes we discover that behaviors interfere with the performance of other skills, such as missing out on instruction. We might therefore develop a goal such as this: When Thomas is given a signal to transition to his next class he will reduce the amount of time it takes to independently transition to the next class from 7 minutes to 2 minutes. I might have an agenda of items for Thomas to go through as he transitions between classes and record how long it takes for him to complete the transition once the class bell rings. If the transition is shorter than the previous one, then I will give him some form of reinforcement.
  • Additionally, latency may be a measure one wishes to track, even when a program isn’t specifically designed to address noted delays in responding. Over-practice of a skill until it is an extremely rapid response may be beneficial in building fluency and ease of application of the behavior.

Inter-response time – Inter-response time is the period of time between behaviors. Typically our focus is on behaviors themselves and not the amount of time between occurrences. However, there are a few purposes for tracking this information. For example if a child asks to use the restroom frequently, you might want to track how much time passes between requests. This data is useful for schedule building. If I know he needs to use the restroom approximately every hour, then I might make some schedule changes to accommodate for restroom breaks.

How might this be used?

  • This form of data is very effective in determining reinforcement schedules. If a student displays a target behavior an average every 15 minutes, then I know that the child should receive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors in approximately 15 minute intervals with the goal being to increase the interval over time. A goal might look like this: Michael will increase the amount of time between verbal outburst from 5 minutes to 20 minutes.
  • Sean will increase the amount of time between requests for restroom breaks from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

Intensity — To what degree was the behavior present?

Because intensity data is often times very subjective, it is less often used. However, there are practical applications for its use. There are times when behaviors are not easily measurable or observable, you are attempting to describe a progression of behaviors, or trying to prioritize behaviors. Create a simple behavior scale where a child’s behavior can be recorded on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the least severe and 5 being the most severe. On this scale each level provides criteria information on what each of those scores represents. This helps to establish some degree of objectivity and specificity for a particular behavior and thus making the tracking of the intensity of that behavior more worthwhile.

How might this be used?

  • Rating scales are often used for describing the intensity of a behavior. For a child who has frequent aggressive outbursts when asked to work, an example might appear like this:
  • 1: Jack initially refuses, but begins work within 10 seconds.
    2: Jack argues, and does not begin work after 10 seconds.
    3: Jack attempts to leave the work area.
    4: Jack knocks over furniture or throws objects and materials.
    5: Jack aggresses using physical contact toward his teacher or a peer.

For each episode, you would record only the most severe behavior, even if more than one occurred.

Foundation III: Keep it simple

The third foundation is finding a style of data collection and analysis that is simple, comfortable, and effective for you. Time is precious and we don’t want to spend more time with our data than with our kids. The style in which you collect and analyze data will be as individual as each person working with a child and with the activity or behavior being documented. Here are a few tips and ideas on collecting and making use of data. See how you can modify these to work for you.

  • Keep an index card or small notebook in your pocket. This can be very handy for any documentation you want to keep throughout the day from tallies, to times, to basic behavior notes. Anecdotal data is the worst data you can use, if you have something tangible to look at to refresh your memory it is much better than trying to recall events on your own.
  • For behaviors that are frequent and countable, one great way to track the number of occurrences is to use small counters. Start the day with a handful of small objects such as poker chips, or plastic counters (there are so many possibilities that I won’t list them) in your right pocket. Each time you see the target behavior during the day, move a chip from the right pocket to the left. At the end of the day, total up the chips in your left pocket and record.
  • Tally counters are very useful for tallying behaviors that occur frequently, quickly, and in a variety of settings where carrying a clipboard or legal pad around might not be feasible. A counter can be used to count the number of times a student calls out an answer, answers correctly, or gets out of his seat. I once counted the number of times a student flashed his middle finger at his peers (it happened that often) using a counter. This list of behaviors you can count with a counter is infinite. I just kept the counter in my left hand and tallied as I taught. Counters are available at many office supplies stores and online.
  • Place a large address label onto your thigh or sleeve for an easy, portable tally or note sheet. It looks silly, but it works, and no bulky clipboards to carry around.
  • A stopwatch can be very useful for recording duration, latency, inter-response times. When I was in the classroom I often times kept a stopwatch or timer clipped to my belt.
  • Pre-made activities such as file folder games are great for data collection. Once the child completes the activity it can be checked for proportion accuracy.
  • Lastly and most importantly, make time for your data! Data is supposed to help you shape the child’s program, therefore it is only useful if you review it and use it.
    • Daily: Take a few minutes at the end of each day to quickly review your data. Some guiding questions to ask are: Did the child have any performance problems or improvements today that you might want to rethink for tomorrow (such as additional/reduced prompting, more/less visual supports, a decreased/increased demand)? Did anything go particularly well that we can build on for tomorrow?
    • Weekly: Take a few minutes at the end of the week to plot your new data points onto graphs (graphs make for good helpful visuals that are easy to interpret). Are there emerging trends which may drive the next week?
    • Monthly: Take a few minutes at the end of each month Are there any patterns telling you how the program has gone and where it might be headed?

Do you have you any tips on making data collection and analysis easier in the classroom? Do you have any data sheets that you have found particularly easy to use? Please feel free to let me know!

9 Quick Tips for Inclusion of Students with Behavioral Challenges

School will be in session very soon. But, don’t panic! This doesn’t mean you have to gather all your materials and write your lesson plans this instant. However, now might be a good time to start getting into the mindset and doing a little preparation for what needs to be done when school starts, especially if you teach students who have some behavioral challenges and will be entering general education classes. Integrating students with behavioral challenges in the general education classroom can be a overwhelming job for a behavior support teacher. There are a vast number of day to day activities that you will perform in order to help your students successfully transition into the general education setting. Here is a list of suggested activities you can engage in to support your student during the inclusion, or mainstreaming, process.

1. Spend time in the general education classroom: Monitor and work with the student in order to develop an accurate awareness of the dynamics of the class, what is working, and where modification of supports need be take place.

2. Share relevant information about the child you are mainstreaming with the general education teacher as soon as possible. Set up visits to the child’s setting and a meeting with the parents to augment this information and to provide a picture of reasonable expectations for the student and yourself on an ongoing basis.

3. Maintain ongoing communication with key stakeholders and other support personnel. Make your needs known and ask for those supports that will increase your effectiveness in the classroom for all students, those with and without special needs. This might include social worker, psychologist, counselor, or therapists. As a teacher in a behavior support classroom, you may also be the contact teacher for students. As such, you will want to make sure everyone is on the same page and that services are provided in accordance with the student’s IEP.

4. Maximize use of all staff. If a teacher assistant is provided for all or a portion of the day, whenever possible, utilize this individual as a helper to not only the child with special needs, but to all students and yourself. A well-trained paraprofessional can also collect valuable behavior and academic data as well.

5. Seek collaboration time during the school day. This will help you better prepare the teacher and student by being to anticipate potential roadblocks and Make efficient use of your time and actively collaborate with general education teachers. Establish clear guidelines that outline the job description of the behavior support teacher and the proportion of time needed for collaboration.

6. Gather and collect behavior and academic data and conduct periodic reviews of progress. Decisions such as when to increase or decrease time should never be based on what we think is happening, it is must be based on results. Performance must always drive your decision-making.

7. Assist with instruction. Assist general education teachers with instruction or follow-up of organizational and study skills. The additional support is almost always appreciated.

8. Assist with the development of skills. Assist teachers in helping students develop social emotional skills (i.e. self-esteem, affective skills).

9. Recognize and seek opportunities to teach the social emotional goals for the child with behavioral challenges while in the mainstream setting and celebrate successes, both large and small.